House Passes Bipartisan Bill To Address Opioid Epidemic

Washington politics has been in the news a lot lately. But one story that may not have made as many headlines as it should, concerned some major progress in America’s fight against the opioid crisis. Late last week (and in a rare bipartisan moment), the House of Representatives passed the final version of a large package that will directly address the epidemic.

 

Dubbed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, the bill aims to increase access to addiction treatment centers, push for opioid alternatives to pain treatment, intercept illegal painkillers at mail facilities and combat the use of fentanyl. So far this measure has been met with an overwhelming amount of support, with the final approval vote being 393-8.

 

Several representatives have spoken out publicly about the measure, emphasizing that it is an important step in overcoming the crisis.

 

“Seldom can we say that federal legislation will actually save lives, but we know this bipartisan package will do just that by improving treatment for those battling addiction, and slowing the flow of illegal, deadly synthetic drugs into America,” Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden told CNN. “While this legislation will not solve every problem, I do believe it includes important policies that will help turn the tide of this tragic opioid epidemic. It will also improve treatment options for those battling other substance use disorders.”

 

It is certainly noteworthy to see Republicans and Democrats coming together to push this forward (particularly in today’s chilly political climate). But some critics argue that the amount of funds allocated to the SUPPORT Bill are lacking.

 

According to Vox.com, experts believe that it would take over $10 billion to quickly reverse the epidemic. This bill would fall extremely short of that goal and, in fact, does not provide a significant increase of spending for the opioid crisis at all.

 

The Vox piece singled out several other programs that received increased government funds during times of crisis. To combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example, Congress set up the Ryan White Program, which generated billions to provide resources and care for those infected by the disease. Of course that allocation was merited, but the argument now is that opioid crisis deserves the same amount of urgency. Truth be told, overdose death rates now greatly outnumber fatalities related to AIDS (or guns or car crashes for that matter).

 

Getting more government funds will certainly be another hurdle to climb, but this bipartisan example is encouraging and we applaud lawmakers for helping to make a difference.

 

A Warning For L.A. Pot Shop Visitors

Los Angeles is certainly a different world today than it was 10 years ago. On street corners and billboards across the Southland, it’s hard to miss a message from a local marijuana dispensary. And while the legalization movement has certainly changed people’s views on the drug and its addictive tendencies, there are still plenty of things to be concerned about. Particularly, illegal pot shops operating throughout the city.

 

This month, the City of Los Angeles has begun targeting dispensaries that are not properly licensed. According to City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, that number could shoot way past 200. In fact, the issue has become so concerning that Feuer himself held a press conference addressing the punishments and risks associated with illegal shops.

 

“The goal of this is to enforce common-sense rules that regulate recreational marijuana, so public safety is protected in our neighborhoods,” Feuer said at the press conference. “Our message is clear: if you are operating an illegal cannabis business, you will be held accountable.”

 

And apparently that accountability is going to be taken very seriously. Business owners who are running unlicensed pot shops could face criminal felony charges, with fines up to $1,000 and a sentence of six months in jail. According to recent stats, 21 local Angelenos have been taken in so far.

 

So what does this mean for customers of these businesses?  For one thing, it’s a red flag to do your research before randomly visiting a pot shop for cannabis. Those who are accused of breaking these rules have been rumored to have tampered with their packaging and (more importantly) their products. Though marijuana’s reputation doesn’t compare to that of a narcotic like cocaine or heroin, a tainted strain could do serious physical and emotional damage.

 

And, as we’ve written about in previous blogs, there are studies that have shown marijuana to be addictive. So if the batches you are receiving are potentially laced or tainted, there is a higher likelihood that they could create unnatural cravings.

 

Interestingly enough, several legitimate L.A.-based marijuana businesses support the measure. They prefer to keep the industry regulated and as safe as possible for customers. Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Cannabis Coalition, went on record saying, “Cracking down on black market retailers is beneficial for the state’s industry as a whole. I applaud the city for doing this. You can’t have a regulated industry without strong enforcement.”

 

States Now Helping With Free Recovery Treatment

For many, getting into a good sobriety program is easier said than done. Besides having to bob and weave through fraudulent practices, there is also the very real problem of cost. People facing serious addictions can often go bankrupt during the process, ultimately limiting the amount of funding they have available for recovery Interestingly, now certain states are stepping in; with grants that allow low-income residents the opportunity for free treatment.

 

Mississippi has recently been singled out as one of the states making a real difference in this area. Just this month, legislators ok’d a $3.58 million grant (via the organization Stand Up Mississippi) that will allow free treatment options for thousands of addicted residents.

 

Approximately eighty percent of that grand total will be used to expand treatment services. After meeting certain qualifications, those eligible will now receive free inpatient or outpatient care; individual, family and group therapy; and access to craving-blocking medications like methadone.

 

Part of the reason this movement received the support that it did had to do with the devastation the opioid crisis has caused in the state. Last year alone, there were 256 confirmed overdoses tied to painkillers. And the actual number is most likely much higher, making Mississippi one of the country’s hardest hit regions.

 

Stats like that, as well as personal connections to those impacted, have begun the reshape the narrative of addiction within the state. Once stigmatized, dependencies are now being heralded as a universal problem that “good, hard-working people” are getting caught up in.

 

“I used to have a low opinion of addicts. I’m ashamed of myself now,” Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher told the press following the announcement. “They are people who need help, and people from all walks of life can get addicted to opioids, even if they get a legitimate prescription from a doctor.”

 

Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant,  has gotten involved too. His administration was responsible for setting up a state’s Opioid and Heroin Study Taskforce back in 2016 and had a hand in the launch of Stand Up Mississippi. Through his influence, organizations like the FBI, the DEA and the Department of Health have been partnering with the initiative.

 

The grant is certainly a step in the right direction and, for the record, some of its funds will also be given to Mississippi law enforcement. Part of the $3.58 million will be used to distribute 10,000 doses of the anti-overdose medication Narcan to officers throughout the state.

 

Tennessee Governor Claims To Have Cut State’s Meth Problem ‘In Half’

When looking for solutions to conquer addiction, we often turn to the national news and headlines that illustrate how other regions are tackling the problem. With that in mind, we were very interested when we saw a story that claimed that former Tennessee Governor Phil Bresden cut his state’s meth problem in half. Is it true? The Washington Post did a nice job of laying out both sides of the argument. And in the end, it did illustrate how political leaders can make a serious dent in the country’s dependency problem.

 

Bresden left office back in the late 2000’s and is now running for a Democratic Senate seat. He said that his tenure as Tennessee governor brought about sweeping addiction change. A big reason for that was the signing of the state’s Meth-Free Act in 2005. This core provision required pharmacies to heavily guard any cold or sinus medication that could be used to manufacture meth. That meant that anyone looking to purchase something like Sudafed would have to get it from the counter and follow a screening process.

 

Truth be told, after that measure had passed the state did see a significant drop in meth lab incidents. In fact, they declined from 2,341 in 2004 to 599 in 2007 (a 74 percent decrease when you crunch the numbers). And that actually is quite notable, as Tennessee was among the top three states with meth lab arrests from 2003 to 2005.

 

But sure enough, those numbers began creeping up again after Bresden left office. Researchers discovered that dealers simply found new ways to create the narcotic, such as buying ingredients from different vicinities. There was also a recorded rise in international meth smuggling, primarily from Mexican drug cartels.

 

Recently, Bresden acknowledged the rise in Tennessee drug cases over the past several years. He described the war on meth as a “moving target” and, if elected to the Senate, vowed to continue the fight, with a particular emphasis on America’s opioid crisis.

 

“I am very proud that Tennessee worked with law enforcement to cut in half the number of illegal meth lab seizures in the immediate aftermath of the Meth-Free Tennessee Act,” he explained to The Post. “Unfortunately, as law enforcement officials on the front lines have always said, addicts would find other ways to satisfy their fix, and much of the meth in Tennessee is now coming from Mexico This war will continue to be a ‘moving target’ that will require a coordinated commitment from the federal, state and local governments.”

 

West Covina Mayor Steps Down Over Addiction

Local addiction stories often pique our interest because they bring this issue home and show people just how close problems like the opioid crisis truly are. Case in point: the abrupt resignation of West Covina Mayor Mike Spence, who saw a promising political career ruined by a dark dependency.

 

Spence actually made national headlines this month, after opening up about his drug battles and the stigma that many addicts receive. Speaking in front of the city council and several congregants, he officially stepped down from his position and had harsh words for those who publicly shamed him.

 

“First of all, I want to apologize for the distraction that my personal feelings have had on the city,” Spence told the crowd. “At this point, I want to announce I’m resigning as mayor of West Covina But before I do, I want to call out that there are people in this community that are mean and bigoted towards people that have addiction.”

 

Spence then became emotional and received a round of jeers for his behavior on the stage. Many actually applauded when he announced he was resigning and openly criticized him for being high on the job.

 

Part of the reason that Spence made the choice to step down had to do with an overdose incident that occurred in a local hotel room on May 4. 911 calls claimed he nearly died after using heroin. This followed a string of negative publicity, including a DUI crash back in 2016.

 

Many were upset with Spence’s behavior, primarily because of his consistent denials. Following the May overdose, he refused to acknowledge any drug use until his speech last week. Though it is admirable that he is speaking out about recovery now, some felt it was too little, too late.

 

“He really disappointed not only the City Council but the residents of West Covina,” City Councilman Tony Wu said regarding Spence’s consistent denials. “I hope he gets more help and I hope his family still supports him in getting through this problem.”

 

Even worse, Spence was regarded as a strong politician before his addictive behavior began taking center stage. Now the city of West Covina is without a mayor and a reputation is tarnished. The lesson may ultimately be to seek treatment immediately after noticing addiction signals. Not only will it salvage your health and well-being, it will improve your livelihood as well.

 

You can watch Mike Spence’s full resignation speech by clicking below…

 

Non-Opioid Painkillers May Be Coming Soon

America’s addiction crisis got some positive news this week after federal officials revealed that they are working to get non-opioid painkillers onto the market in the very near future. As we all know, these prescribed drugs have been wreaking havoc and leading to tens of thousands of overdoses across the country. Now though, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins explained that true progress was being made.

 

“We are learning a tremendous amount about what the neurobiology of pain is all about,” Collins told USA Today. “So many people are dying, there is clearly an urgency to improving the tools that we have to help them.”

 

As the USA article explains, there is a real science behind this approach. One of the big keys of the concept would be creating prescription drugs that do not have to be used as frequently to treat pain. Some researchers believe that there can be painkillers developed that only need to be taken monthly (a lot less frequently than common opioid treatments like OxyContin).

 

But in the current state of things, finding that perfect reliever is proving to be a big challenge. For ongoing sufferers, over-the-counter meds like Aspiring simply don’t solve the issue. And it is important to note that nearly 100 million U.S. adults claim to be living with chronic pain.

 

Huffington Post writer Janna Wagner (who herself suffers from chronic pain) explained in her recent article how the existing alternate treatments have done little good.

 

“Few good treatment options exist for chronic pain patients ― believe me, I’ve tried my share,” Wagner explained. “Knee braces. Canes. Anti-inflammatories. Steroids. Acupuncture. Infusions and shots in my knees. (Yes, in my knees.) Once a skeptic of alternative therapies, I even went vegan, slopped on some arnica and capsaicin cream, digested turmeric and completed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Twice. Many of these alternative treatments are prohibitively costly and not covered by insurance, limiting services for the uninsured or those who are on a fixed or limited income.”

 

 

Our sincere hope is that the feds take that non-opioid discussion seriously. This crisis continues to worsen as the decade goes on and there still doesn’t seem to be any clear cut solutions in sight. Approaching it from a scientific perspective could offer some very positive benefits. Let’s just hope they have the resources and the will to carry that promise out.

 

The Death Penalty For Drug Traffickers?

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is becoming one of history’s most controversial presidents when it comes to addiction. Elected amid the devastating opioid epidemic, he has faced his fair share of critics for his response to the crisis and his failure to act. Now Trump has taken his bold words one step further, by suggesting that drug traffickers get punished with the death penalty.

 

Speaking at a White House opioid summit last week, the Commander-in-Chief certainly shocked the crowd with his statement. But he offered his own rationale on why people who sell narcotics should face capital punishment.

 

“You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them,” President Trump said, referring to drug dealers. “Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” Trump continued. “So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”

 

Many believe that the country Trump was referring to was the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a political war on drugs. Duterte’s harsh enforcement tactics have led to between 5,000 and 20,000 ordered executions, with no proof that usage has actually decreased (per several news outlets).

 

Trump echoed Duterte’ sentiment, though, from the research that we’ve seen, his ideas don’t hold much merit. For starters, classifying addiction as a criminal problem vs. a health problem does nothing to deter to root of these dependencies. Opioid cravings, for example, don’t begin with a drug dealer, they begin with a doctor’s prescription and a pharmacy. Sending dealers to the gas chamber seems counterintuitive to that entire argument.

 

Sanho Tree, program director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, has even more data to combat Trump’s latest proposal. From the research his firm has seen, enforcing harsher sentences on dealers could actually worsen addiction issues in this country.

 

“The types of people we typically capture when we keep escalating the drug war this way are the people who are dumb enough to get caught,” Tree told Refinery 29. “We’ve had a Darwinian evolution of the drug trade at a spectacular velocity because we keep thinning out the herd. They thrive because we’ve done two things to help them: number one, we’ve picked off their competition for them, thereby opening up that economic space. Number two, by trying to restrict the supply of drugs on the street, the demand remains constant, thereby driving up their prices and profits.”

 

So we will give President Trump credit for at least addressing the crisis. But we are very concerned that he is approaching it from the entirely wrong direction.

 

New Penalties May Be Coming For Marijuana Impaired Drivers

California is known for having some pretty harsh DUI laws, and rightfully so. Drinking and driving can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, a stint in jail and the immediate suspension of your license. But what about those who now legally smoke marijuana then get behind the wheel? If State Senator Jerry Hill has his way, there could be harsh punishments for that too, particularly if drivers are under the age of 21.

 

This past February Hill introduced the SB 1273 Bill, which would implement field sobriety tests for drivers believed to be under the influence of marijuana. Those 21 and under would immediately have their licenses revoked for a year and face court time.

 

Interestingly enough, California does not currently have an accurate field tests to measure the amount of weed (or THC) in an intoxicated driver. Breathalyzers, which are typically used for alcohol testing, cannot measure marijuana levels, but other tools reportedly can. Senator Hill has pushed to use oral swabs as an accurate way to gauge THC levels. He also proposed that the concentration would have to be 0.01% or higher to make an arrest.

 

“In my opinion, this would do a lot of good,” Hill told the press last month. “The SB 1273 bill would save lives by making it illegal for drivers under age 21 to drive under the influence of marijuana, just like current law for alcohol.”

 

Since this year’s adjustment of California’s marijuana laws, smoking has become much more commonplace. Though many more freedoms have been enacted, the state has made it illegal for individuals 21 and younger to possess or use cannabis products. Hill’s bill would further that message, by hammering down on teens and young adults who use before driving.

 

Still, SB 1273 would not carry the same levity as California’s alcohol DUI laws. Currently, when a driver is found to be over the drinking limit he or she is immediately put in a squad car and taken to jail. With the marijuana law, the individual would not be taken in, but rather given the option to call a family a member or taxi service. If a sober passenger is with the accused, they can legally drive the person home.

 

Marijuana advocates have already spoken out, however. Many (including the popular online site High Timesclaim that field swab tests are not completely accurate and marijuana can remain in a person’s system for up to 30 days. With that in mind, SB 1273 may have somewhat of an uphill battle; but it is certainly making a point to address the new normal in California.

 

For a full glimpse of Senator Hill’s proposal, click here.

 

The Dangerous Link Between Addiction And Sex Trafficking

There are many upsetting stories happening right now in the world of addiction. Stories that people may not like to face, but are still important to broadcast to the world. One such story has to do with the rise of U.S. Sex Trafficking and how dependencies have helped fuel this dangerous trend. This week several news outlets and U.S. politicians have helped bring this issue to the forefront, which we wholeheartedly support.

 

Research has recently shown that drugs were involved in nearly 40 percent of U.S. child sex trafficking cases. It’s an awful scenario to consider, but it’s happening every day as young girls find themselves hooked on substances and lured into prostitution.

 

According to a 2016 Human Trafficking Report, the majority of these girls are between the ages of 15 to 17. But these types of addiction cases can start as early as age nine, per the data. One of the more disturbing findings was that their traffickers (or “buyers”) keep the money they pimp the victims out for. In the end, the girls are rewarded with hard drugs to further their dependencies and mentally abused into continuing the lifestyle. Addicted teen runaways are also prime targets for the traffickers.

 

Several survivors of this abuse have been speaking with the press. They openly admitted that it was their addictions that drew them into the trafficking underworld. Thankfully police have begun into intervene much more frequently and now, many of the young women who have escaped are becoming recovery advocates and warning others.

 

“Our lives matter too,” addiction and trafficking survivor Angela Renfro told Ohio outlet WCPO.  “And we’re not bad people. We just got in a bad situation.”

 

Speaking of Ohio, that happens to be a region where America’s opioid crisis is wreaking the most havoc. In more recent months, there have been more stats pointing to painkiller addictions and their role in the state’s growing sex trafficking cases. Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have decided to speak out about the epidemic and are sponsoring a new bill which hopes to make a difference.

 

The Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking, or PROTECT Act, aims to add additional drug charges to buyers caught prostituting victims. Harsher sentences would potentially be imposed as well; keeping these traffickers off the streets for a longer period of time, while also addressing the addiction component.

 

“It’s a terrible mix of addiction and human trafficking and sale of drugs and sale of human beings,” Senator Brown told the media. “I am working on a bipartisan bill to deal with this terrible intersection of of sex trafficking and opioid addiction.”

 

 

Mothers Of Overdose Victims Target Trump

We can only imagine the pain a parent must feel when they lose a child to addiction. And tragically it appears as though more and more Americans are joining that club, as the opioid epidemic ravages the country and consumes more lives. Recently, a group of mothers and fathers decided to take their grief one step further and create an overdose awareness campaign directly targeting President Donald Trump. Through a series of letters and social media messages, they hope to raise awareness and implement more government intervention when it comes to tackling this crisis.

 

Delaware native Mary Beth Cichocki is credited with initiating the movement, thanks to a powerful Facebook post she wrote earlier this month. Titled “My Letter To Trump…,” it tells the personal story of her 37-year-old son Matt and the addiction struggle that ultimately claimed his life. Touching on everything from the enablers (one of whom she lists as Purdue Pharma), to Washington D.C.’s  failure to act, to the lies she accuses Trump himself of spreading, it is definitely a powerful piece.

 

[Mr. Trump,] you must recognize that 21 million Americans suffer from addiction,” Cichocki writes. “So your talking against using is futile. What you must also recognize is that addiction is not a behavioral issue. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, ‘addiction is a chronic brain disorder, not merely a behavioral problem or simply the result of taking the wrong choices’. No amount of talking will save anyone living in the throes of this disease. If you are serious about addressing this epidemic in a way that will be effective, then let me suggest you increase your knowledge regarding what works to treat the disease of addiction.

 

You can read Mary Beth’s complete statement by clicking on the link below…

Interestingly enough, Cichocki’s first plan of action focused on the Valentine’s Day holiday. Earlier in the month, she and several of her social media followers put together greeting cards for their lost loved ones and actually mailed them to the White House. And it was the first of many ideas she has to alert President Trump of the true nature of addiction.

 

Other participants, like local mom Paula Mattson, feel like their stories can make an impact. She, herself, lost her 26-year-old son to opioid abuse and has worked to spread the word in her own community by writing, posting and mailing messages to the Commander-in-Chief.

 

“Just saying, ‘Don’t do it’ — my kids all had the ‘just say no.’ That doesn’t work,” Mattson added.  “[Trump] really needs to talk to us who are on the front lives of saving our children’s lives. To not fight back would mean that it’s OK. That it’s OK that this happened to my son … I have to try to get our president’s attention.”

 

 

Florida Sober Homes Put Under The Microscope

For a while, we’ve been reporting about the high number of fraudulent sober homes cheating clients in Florida. Well now noted politicians are entering the equation, demanding federal investigations and intense crackdowns on the “crooked” recovery practices that are operating throughout the state.

 

Republican senator Marco Rubio has become one of the loudest proponents of this measure, taking his complaints to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a letter presented on Tuesday, Rubio asked Sessions “to the fullest extent possible – investigate claims of kickbacks and false statements associated with federal health plans and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for the devastation that they have caused.”

 

Truth be told, there are some horrendous accusations coming out of the state. Everything from illegal patient brokering, to actual drug suppliers making visits to the facilities. Often times, insurance is at the center of these scams. The longer a patient is in a clinic, the more the shady operators can collect.

 

NBC News did a recent profile of some of the unethical practices happening in cities like Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale. Per their website,

 

A recent NBC News investigation interviewed the mothers of several women who died from opioid overdoses after they thought they were receiving treatment at a Florida facility. The mothers recounted the victims being shuffled, during a brief period of time, between multiple treatment centers, excessive laboratory tests, and questionable treatments that resulted in insurance companies being billed upwards of $1.2 million. Unfortunately, these women did not get the help that they needed and ultimately passed away after being ‘treated’ at a fraudulent sober homes.

 

So it actually isn’t surprising to see a high-profile figure like Rubio raise the red flag in his home state. Some of his other points included getting inspectors general at The Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to look into illegal kickbacks. He specifically called out Labor Dept IG Scott Dahl, asking that he notify welfare and pension benefit plans that the treatment centers they cover be verified. And to HHS IG Daniel Levinson, Rubio asked to develop recommendations “to identify and suspend all payments to disreputable treatment centers or sober homes.”

 

Now, of course, there are plenty of reputable sober homes throughout the state as well. But requiring proper credentials and verification is essential in shutting down crooked practices. Treatment centers should be held to an incredibly high standard and we urge anyone in our state to do their own due diligence before choosing a facility for them or a loved one.

 

Trump Gaining More Criticism Over Opioid Epidemic

As we all prepare to hear President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address this week, news outlets are buzzing about how the nation’s opioid epidemic will most likely be overlooked in his speech. The reason networks like CNBC are reporting this is because, in their words, the Commander-in-Chief has failed on his promises to combat the crisis.

 

“When Donald Trump took the oath of office a little over a year ago, he promised that ‘the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,’  staffer Chris Lu wrote on the CNBC site. “However, on one of the most pressing social issues facing these ‘forgotten’ people — the opioid epidemic — the president’s record has been one of talk instead of action.”

 

One big criticism of the President is that he has yet to offer any concrete solutions for stopping the growing amount of fatal overdoses. According to the article, just last week Trump was asked about if there were any solutions he had in mind to curb the epidemic. “I think I actually know the answer,” he responded. “But I’m not sure the country is ready for it yet.” Unfortunately, there was no follow up after that and no one was able to clarify his statement.

 

Vagueness aside, media sites have expressed anger over the fact that Trump may actually be contributing to the crisis. One of his administration’s recent proposals included slashing federal substance abuse programs, as well as Medicaid funding which supports recovery services. He has also vowed to take a harsher stance against drug offenders, which (with the crisis in full effect) may lead to more addiction-related incarcerations.

 

Additionally, the recent tax bill passed by the Trump administration will repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, raising health insurance premiums by 10 percent this year. And though the President did declare a national “health emergency” regarding the crisis last fall, critics have continued to poke holes in his words.

 

“The emergency opioid epidemic declaration has accomplished little because there’s no funding behind it,” former Representative Patrick Kennedy told the site. “You can’t expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis … without putting your money where your mouth is.”

 

It all makes for more divisions within Washington D.C. and anger within many recovery circles throughout the U.S. Will Trump’s State of the Union perhaps make amends with clear-cut answers about combating the crisis? One can only hope…

 

New Bill Hopes To Address ‘Crooked’ Recovery Clinics

It is always disheartening to hear about recovery facilities across our state who refuse to play by the rules. Often concerned more with profits than actually helping people, they have begun receiving a ton of bad press and are hurting our industry as a whole. Well now, California Senator Pat Bates is attempting to push through a new law that hopes to change all that.

 

Titled SB 902 the bill is still very much a work in progress, but Bates has emphasized that its primary focus is to build more health and safety standards for all recovery facilities within the state. The points also emphasize California’s recent reputation as a “Rehab Riviera,” working to attract addicted transplants with false promises of glitz and glamour. In their eyes (and in ours), the work should always come before the fancy marketing campaigns.

 

The Laguna Niguel-based Senator spoke about the new action with Orange County’s Daily Breeze outlet, bringing up the fact that many similar bills have been proposed and failed. Previously she had proposed a law titled SB 1283, which also focused on poorly run recovery clinics, but was rejected by the Senate Health Committee.

 

“For more than 20 years, several bipartisan efforts to address the challenges surrounding the state’s drug rehab history have gone nowhere due to opposition from vested interests,” Bates told The Daily Breeze. “While I’m under no illusion that pursuing greater oversight will be any easier this year, doing nothing is not acceptable for constituents who have contacted me on this issue. The Southern California News Group’s thorough 2017 investigation into the industry makes it clear that reforms are needed.”

 

Bates went on to reference the practice of “patient brokering” and the growing exercise of using middle men to lure patients to luxurious rehab clinics under false pretenses (which we’ve mentioned many times before). Insurance scams are another growing trend among the crooked facilities, with programs that actually feed people’s habits to prolong their treatments and collect larger payouts.

 

The Breeze went on to report that Bates has a growing list of high-profile supporters in her corner. Apparently large groups of parents who have lost loved ones in California treatment centers have joined the cause, bringing their voice to social media and to Governor Jerry Brown’s office via a letter-writing campaign (which he has yet to respond to).

 

And if Senator Bates’ latest bill gets rejected again, she promised The Breeze that she plans to continue the fight.

 

“Creating substantive and positive change in the drug rehab industry will take time,” she added. “But as a former social worker who once worked in some of our state’s most economically deprived neighborhoods, I take inspiration from Winston Churchill’s mantra of ‘Never, never, never give up.’ And as long as I’m around, I won’t. Stay tuned.”

 

White House Puts $504B Price Tag On Opioid Crisis

Ever wonder how much America’s opioid epidemic equates to in dollars and cents? Measuring things like hospital visits, incarcerations, rehabilitations and what have you, Donald Trump’s reps from the White House gave it a whopping $504 billion price tag. And that just accounts for 2015! According to their recent report, the cost is expected to increase drastically before the end of the decade.

 

The Guardian recently published a lengthy story about the Trump administration’s cost analysis. Coming in at roughly half a trillion dollars, the Council of Economic Advisers says the number is more than six times higher than initial estimates. According to their auditors, a bulk of that total was attributed to healthcare, criminal justice spending and lost productivity at the workplace.

 

Though previous fiscal estimates have been issued in the past, the council felt like this one is by far the most accurate. Theirs apparently went much deeper into the “unseen costs,” addressing things like fatality expenditures and crimes related to illicit opioids.

 

“Previous estimates of the economic cost of the opioid crisis greatly underestimate it by undervaluing the most important component of the loss – fatalities resulting from overdoses,” the report writers opened with.

 

Indeed, this is another very visible step that the Commander-in-Chief has taken to address the opioid epidemic. Last month, President Trump declared a “national health emergency” and vowed to put even more federally funded resources together to combat the crisis.

 

As we reported earlier, many still feel that the president isn’t doing enough to fight the problem. Though he vowed to make changes, Trump has yet to actually request dollars beyond the nation’s public health emergency fund to fight the epidemic. And, for the record, that fund’s balance sits at a meager $57,000, per Forbes Magazine.

 

With news breaking about the half a trillion figure, we expect many more critics to rise up and push to increase that budget. But with the current climate of tax reform and budget cuts, it doesn’t look likely that Mr. Trump will set aside any major stipends for this anytime soon.

 

All in all, we believe that the release of the $504 billion figures is a good thing. It is certain to grab headlines and it will show Americans just how devastating this crisis actually is. If anything, our hope is that it will at least get some Washington politicians moving faster to find some governmental solutions.

 

Bill Clinton Speaks At 2017 Opioid Summit

There is no denying that America’s opioid crisis has begun to take center stage with news outlets across the country. And rightfully so, we might add since it is leading to literally thousands of overdose deaths each day. Last week President Donald Trump took to the podium, declaring the epidemic a “health emergency” and yesterday, it was former President Bill Clinton’s turn; as he made an impassioned speech during the Baltimore’s 2017 Opioid Summit.

 

Held at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the annual event drew international attention. President Clinton, not surprisingly, received the lion’s share of the media attention, but it used it well as he addressed the attendees.

 

One of Clinton’s biggest points was the need for support when it comes to dependent Americans. He urged lawmakers to work towards decriminalizing those afflicted and increase recovery efforts.

 

“The good news is that we’re finally acting like grown ups and treating this like a public health problem and not a criminal justice problem,” the former president told the press. “The bad news is the response has been woefully inadequate. What we’re here today to do is figure out what to do next.”

 

Clinton then went on to moderate a round table panel, which included Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, Democratic representative Elijah Cummings and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.  Dr. Wen had previously made news for pushing local first responders to carry naloxone at all times. In the fight against opioid overdoses, naloxone has proven to be one of the only effective tools.

 

To their credit, Baltimore has been acknowledged as a leader when it comes to fighting the crisis. They were one of the first cities in the nation to issue blanket prescriptions for naloxone and offered thousands of residents the opportunity to receive free overdose response training.

 

Rep. Cummings also made a big impact during the panel, setting his sights strictly on the insurance companies who he believes have contributed to the crisis.

 

“We must press insurance companies to eliminate their bias in favor opioid base pain killers,” Cummings told the crowd. “And we must challenge our friend in Congress to expand public health funding.”

 

But, as expected, it was former President Clinton who stole the show. His speech drew so much attention, that it sparked a social media trend and got the #OpioidSummit hashtag to go viral.

 

You can see a portion of it below, courtesy of CBS Baltimore.

 

Trump Declares ‘Health Emergency’ Over Opioid Crisis

Thursday turned into a very eventful day for anyone involved in the recovery community. Splashed across headlines and TV screens, President Donald Trump addressed the nation’s opioid addiction crisis head-on, promising to make sweeping changes over the next 90 days.

 

Declaring it a “public health emergency,” the Commander-in-Chief vowed to mobilize the federal government and take swift action against the epidemic that killing thousands of U.S. citizens each day.

 

“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump told the press during in a lengthy address. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”

 

Adding an emotional edge to the moment, Trump surrounded himself with families of Americans who have been impacted by the crisis. He spoke sternly from the White House floor and called out specific drugs by name, including heroin, Oxycontin and the synthetic painkiller fentanyl.

 

As far as immediate promises go, the President released an order which would allow patients in rural parts of the country to access medication for addiction treatment through telemedicine. Rural America happens to be one the regions hit hardest by the epidemic.

 

There was also a push to redirect existing U.S. grant money to focus on opioid recovery clinics. Insurance improvements may be on the way too, with state Medicaid programs given more freedom to cover treatment programs for the people enrolled in their plans.

 

One other Trump pledge concerned awareness and building out national programs to inform the public (particularly young people) about the dangers of painkiller abuse.

 

“We want to get really tough, really big, really great advertising aimed at persuading Americans not to start using opioids in the first place,” he went on to say. “This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs. It’s really, really easy not to take them.”

 

To add an extra layer of emotion, Trump also referenced his brother Fred; who died because of alcohol dependency. After his speech, however, criticism did begin to emerge, particularly from news outlets who believe he is not doing enough.

 

The New York Times felt there was much to be desired from Trump’s plan and interviewed several Democratic lawmakers who agreed.

 

“America is hemorrhaging lives by the day because of the opioid epidemic, but President Trump offered the country a Band-Aid when we need a tourniquet,”Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey told The Times. “What we need is for the president to seek an appropriation from Congress, I believe in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient opioid addiction treatments.”

 

 

Melania Trump Brings Awareness To Newborn Addiction Issues

Newborn addiction is probably one of the hardest terms to grasp in our field. Innocent babies who are brought into this world dependent on the drugs their mothers used while pregnant. It is an awful scenario, yet one so prominent that there are actually infant recovery facilities designed to ween little ones off their parent’s habit. To her credit, First Lady Melania Trump helped bring attention to that issue this week, speaking with the press at Lily’s Place.

 

Lily’s Place happens to be an infant recovery facility based in West Virginia. This particular location has been plagued with babies of opioid addicts; another prominent issue that has made its way to the White House. Speaking to reporters in a designated press room, Melania made a point to emphasize the dangers of this crisis.

 

“I want to be here to support you and give a voice to Lily’s Place and also for the opioid epidemic,” Trump said. “It’s very much a passion of mine to help children and educate them and also to educate the families and open conversations about opioid abuse.”

 

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway was also at the event, praising the work of Lily’s Place and similar recovery clinics. She made a point to highlight addicted mothers, urging them to receive treatment both during and after pregnancy.

 

“I just hope we give a voice to more places like this and open them more around the country so we could have more families and more mothers and more children,” Conway explained. “We need to open the conversation and to teach children and young mothers how it’s dangerous it is to use drugs and get addicted to it.”

 

Not surprisingly, the topic of healthcare came up during the conversation (something the first lady’s husband has been taking criticism for). President Donald Trump has been accused of doing too little for the crisis and potentially worsening it, with his attempts to cut back coverage for those in need of recovery.

 

Mrs. Trump didn’t provide any specific answers to those call outs, but pledged to continue her mission of addiction education. And for the record, Melania has taken active steps to show her support for the cause. Last month, she held a similar event in Washington D.C., meeting with families impacted by the opioid crisis.

 

We are appreciative that people in the White House are at least acknowledging the opioid crisis and bringing it to the headlines of various news sites. But there is so much more that needs to be done, particularly when it comes to governmental recovery support. Let’s hope Mrs. Trump’s next event moves the needle even more.

 

Opioid Crisis Declared ‘National Emergency’

It’s official. Something we knew about for years is finally getting the attention of the Commander-in-Chief. This week, President Donald Trump declared the nation’s opioid addiction crisis a “national emergency.” What does that mean exactly? According to Trump, it will mean more federal aid and increased attention from the White House.

 

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” President Trump said in a New Jersey press conference. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”

 

If you’ve been following our blogs, then you’ll know this announcement isn’t much of a shock. In July, Trump’s federally funded Opioid Commission (headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) delivered him a report urging that an emergency be declared.

 

We reported that Trump discussed the topic further on Tuesday of this week, acknowledging the country’s growing opioid addiction issues. Though some of his earlier talking points about the subject were a bit vague, the president’s office now has a strict agenda.

 

A statement from the White House said, “President Donald Trump has instructed his Administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

 

While giving this problem a front page headline is certainly a good thing, there are already questions as to whether a presidential national emergency will currently amount to much. According to The Washington Post, this declaration should remove certain bureaucratic barriers, but do little to save the thousands of overdoses happening each month.

 

“There’s no doubt that this shines a brighter light on the epidemic. It remains to be seen how much this will fundamentally change its course,” Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness co-director Caleb Alexander told the outlet.  “No one thinks the recovery from this is going to be fast, emergency or not.”

 

There is also chatter that the DEA will play a bigger role in the epidemic, requiring prescriber education courses for doctors who dispense opioids and painkillers. The anti-overdose medication naloxone may gain more prominence as well, with discussions about providing it to all paramedics nationwide.

 

The only fear stems from the president’s earlier words. Though he wasn’t definitive in his “national crisis” speech, Trump had previously mentioned using this as an opportunity to punish people who use and putting an emphasis on law enforcement.

 

Trump did shy away from that language now, but there is concern brewing from leading recovery advocate organizations.

 

“There is a real fear that the president will clamp down harder on people with opioid-use disorders,” Alexander went on to tell the The Post. “That would be a grave mistake. Simply put, we are not going to arrest our way out of this epidemic.”

 

 

Department Of Justice Launches Opioid Abuse Unit

These days, it  seems like there’s a new painkiller headline every hour. And on Wednesday, a very significant one hit the front page. Nearly all major outlets were reporting on Jeff Sessions and his launch of a new anti-opioid abuse unit within the Department of Justice. According to Mr. Attorney General, this movement should make a major dent in the country’s growing addiction epidemic and “tackle the crisis head on.”

 

“I have created this unit to focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute individuals that are contributing to this opioid epidemic,” Sessions told press members at the Columbus Ohio Police Academy. “I am also assigning 12 experienced prosecutors to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud cases in a dozen locations around the country where we know enforcement will make a difference in turning the tide on this epidemic.”

 

Sessions made his intent very clear and emphasized that this unit will involve the FBI, the DEA and state officials, all of whom intend to prosecute doctors who aid in the spread of opioid abuse. Making the speech from Ohio was also a very calculated move, as that happens to be one of the regions most severely impacted by the crisis.

 

Though it was underplayed, the attorney general also pledged to seek out better treatment methods for addicts. He didn’t go into specifics, but did offer encouragement to the millions currently battling this dependency. His last point was to improve prevention and awareness programs across the United States.

 

And, in a nod to the Commander-in-Chief, Sessions hailed Donald Trump’s efforts to curb the spread of narcotics. He specifically cited the president’s immigration policy, which would allegedly curb the transfer of drugs across the Mexican border.

 

“Under President Trump’s strong leadership, the federal government is finally getting serious about securing our borders,” he added. “Illegal entries are down 50 percent already and the wall has not even gone up.”

 

The press was later given a specific list of regions that will be focused on first with this new initiative. Not surprisingly, the southern district of Ohio was present; as was the middle district of Florida and the district of Nevada. California made the list as well, with a heavy emphasis on our eastern district (focusing on areas within the Inland Empire and Bakersfield).

 

It certainly sounds encouraging on paper, but we all know that actions speak louder than words. This is an incredibly difficult crisis to grapple and it may take years to fully control it. As the months progress we’ll make sure to keep a close eye on the DOJ, with ongoing blogs and status checks.

 

Let’s hope that the attorney general’s final press conference words stick. “The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic,” he closed with. “And I believe these resources will make a difference.”

 

Opioid Commission Declares State of Emergency

There is certainly no shortage of Donald Trump stories in the news this week. But one very important headline that may have slipped through the cracks involves the nation’s opioid commission declaring a state of emergency amid a growing crisis. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie happens to chair this particular organization, which sent a harsh message to President Trump.

 

President Trump,” the statement began, “[Declaring this emergency] would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”

 

And, for the record, there were some very influential political figures behind this message. Besides Christie, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and the Harvard Medical School psychobiology professor Bertha Madras all lent their names to the cause.

 

To the credit of the commission, action plans were clearly laid out to help make a dent in the growing epidemic. Recommendations were made to properly train doctors on painkiller prescribing, arm all U.S. police officers with the anti-overdose med naloxone, and adjust current laws to benefit those in recovery.

 

One other important addendum involved changing medical privacy laws. If that were to take effect, family members of addicted patients could receive updates on their medical status and help monitor prescriptions.

 

There is also supposed to be a second set of commission recommendations to arrive in October. Currently, those involved are doing a hefty audit of the opioid epidemic’s impact on the economy and the medical community. They are also digging into available budgets that can help usher more federal funding for treatment. High school anti-drug programs are also on the agenda for the fall report, which is expected to have a concrete plan of action.

 

Now, of course, we must all keep in mind that the White House has no obligation to follow the commission’s recommendations. Though President Trump did establish this organization through an executive order in March, he can now easily ignore their findings. Trump happens to be under a lot of pressure to tighten budgets and has pushed toward slashing health care reform (which makes a big difference on the commission’s strategy plan).

 

One thing is for certain. The nation’s opioid crisis is not going away anytime soon and (in case you haven’t noticed) is making more front page headlines every day. Ignoring the problem is not only bad for the country, it’s bad for Donald Trump’s presidency. So with this much clout behind it, we are hopeful that Mr. President will acknowledge the data and take swift action.