Heroin and Prescription Drugs

| May 30, 2016 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

When the governor of Vermont devoted his entire State of the State address to the heroin epidemic that had cursed his lovely state, that occasion became the first time any governor had focused on a single issue in such a speech.

Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont gave that historic address 7 January 2014. He did so because in one year his state had seen a 770 percent rise in heroin addiction!

I do not live in Vermont, but I have faced, up close and personal, the evils of heroin addiction; for when a family member or friends becomes addicts, you experience a hell no decent human being would ever wish upon another – unless they are vile and rotten at the core of their twisted souls.

And once the addictive powers of heroin comes into your life, it never leaves, as we know from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Academy Award winner, who was found dead at age 46 on the floor of his New York apartment from a heroin overdose – when he had been sober 16-years.

When heroin entered our family’s life, I committed myself to learn about its addictive power and to warn others of its ability to take control of one’s life and often to bring death to those who fall victim to its consummate evil.

The two public forums I run, The City Club of San Diego and The Denver Forum, have held three public program on the dangers of heroin. We have heard from two district attorneys, two U.S. attorneys, a sheriff, and chief of police, as well as a noted therapist.

At one of these programs in San Diego, the therapist asked the audience to raise their hands if they had family members or friends drug addicted? Ninety percent of those in the audience of 150 people raised their hands – including the U.S. attorney, chief of police and sheriff.

Many of those in law enforcement have come to believe that jailing drug addicts, absent criminal acts, is not the answer, that medical treatment and therapy for the disease is our only salvation going forward.

Cynics might say law enforcement came to this belated realization of therapy over jail when the sons and daughters of too many middle and upper class white families faced the powers of heroin addiction and demanded answers beyond incarceration; saying a similar concern was missing when it was mostly blacks being jailed.

But I am not a cynic, as I know too many in law enforcement greatly concerned about the heroin epidemic and its lethal effects upon our society, and who also want answers beyond jail time.

Those who live under the spell of heroin addiction and other opiates are able to live productive lives, as is now true with a member of our family, but that requires Methadone or Soboxone medication.

But, here’s the problem:

Only doctors who have had specific training are permitted to prescribe either Methadone or Soboxone. If your primary care doctor hasn’t gone through that training, you must find a doctor who has and is willing to write your prescription, or turn to a psychiatrist, if you can get an appointment, and are prepared to spend $250-500 an hour, and that’s before the prescription is filled – which will cost you another $600 for a month’s supply.

And, if you are an addict struggling to stay sober, but don’t have insurance or the approximate $1,000 to cover the cost of your doctor, psychiatrist or prescription, you will find a heroin dealer and shoot up because its cheap and available.

If your reaction to finding a dealer and shooting up is one shouldn’t do that, then you are ignorant, as I was ignorant, of the overwhelming power of heroin, and the hold it has on those who have come under its horrifying influence.

But until I began writing this piece I was unaware that doctors with appropriate training are able to write the necessary prescriptions, having been told by people who should know better – including certain heads of San Diego area hospitals – that only certified psychiatrists have such authority.

The prohibition against primary care physicians writing opiate prescriptions is due to the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA), which limits that right, in the language of the Act, to those “who meet certain qualifying requirements, and who have notified the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their intent to prescribe this product for the treatment of opioid dependence and have been assigned a unique identification number that must be included on every prescription.”

This overreach by the federal government came about when too many doctors became OxyContin addicted (documented by Dr. John Abramson in his book, “Overdoses America”), and thus imposed these rules; which means, in many cases, it’s impossible for those needing treatment to find it because their choices in doctors or psychiatrists may be extremely limited, if at all – while finding heroin suppliers is no problem.

Which is why Senators Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, introduced The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, which expands “the ability of opioid addiction medical specialists and other trained medical professionals to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as Soboxone for patients battling heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.”

This critical legislation, which would permit primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to treat up to 500 people annually (present legislation limits the number from 30-100), has already passed the Senate’s Health Committee, is a direct results of tortured lives being tortured more because they have a disease and need help but the government restricted the means of help being found.

It is wrong and immoral. And people are dying, as Philip Seymour Hoffman and thousands of others have died from overdosing on heroin, when other means were and are available but denied because the federal government is too often incapable of getting anything right (said this liberal Kennedy/Dukakis Democrat).

Perhaps heroin hasn’t hit your family or friends, so why should you care?

Because, unless we as a society face this epidemic together, it will be the undoing of America. Am I serious? Dead serious, because the heroin epidemic poses a greater threat to America’s future than any terrorist group.

Let your senators and congressmen know you support Senators Markey and Paul and The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act.

It’s not the whole answer, but it will get us there.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at: gmitro35@gmail.com.

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