Opioid Crisis Hits Primetime On ‘Roseanne’ Spinoff

Viewers who had been fans of the Roseanne sitcom reboot were left with quite a surprise following this week’s season premiere. Most people know that series star Roseanne Barr would not be returning due to personal issues, but there was some mystery surrounding the fate of her iconic character. After episode one, however, the truth became painfully clear. In the first few minutes, it was revealed that “Roseanne Conner” had died from an opioid overdose.

 

Reaction was certainly mixed online, with some praising the show for its honest and unflinching portrayal of this deadly American crisis. Others, including Barr herself, felt it was a cheap ploy and somewhat exploitative. Quick to defend the decision, series producer Tom Werner explained that this seed had been planted late last season.

 

“There are a lot of choices in television, but this is a show about a working-class family that is very identifiable to the audience,” Werner told People Magazine. “When we talked about what to do moving forward… if you’d seen the show in the last year, Roseanne Conner was struggling with a drug [addiction]. This is a problem that has affected tens of thousands of people, opioid addiction — 80,000 people died last year dealing with opioid addiction and overdose. We felt that this is something that could shine a light on.”

 

And indeed they did; illustrating everything from the shock of discovering Roseanne’s body, to emotional scenes with her prescription pill dealer. Producers promised that this topic would not go away after episode one. Though the Roseanne character is gone, her addiction and demise will be an issue the family continues to struggle with.

 

Barr, herself, was clearly not happy with the direction. Immediately following the season premiere, she issued a joint statement with her rabbi condemning the manner in which her character was killed.

 

“While we wish the very best for the cast and production crew, we regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character,” Barr’s statement read. “That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show.”

 

We certainly agree that this can be a touchy topic for a primetime sitcom. But while opinions are divided, it is positive to see that the crisis is being talked about in the mainstream media. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny that Roseanne 2.0 has become an important opioid conversation starter.

 

Phase 2 Of The Opioid Crisis

It certainly feels like the opioid crisis has been plaguing America for quite some time. The overdose counts keep growing, hospitalizations are at an all-time high and everything from the work force to the economy is being impacted. Well sadly, many experts are saying we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. In fact, Yahoo Finance claims we are about to enter “Phase Two.”

 

The money and business site highlighted many of the alarming stats associated with the crisis (including the fact that it claimed the lives of over 72,000 Americans last year). It then shared some insights from Narcan inventor Dr. Roger Crystal, which included a whole new level of danger.

 

“I strongly believe that we are now in the next phase of this opioid crisis, where the majority of deaths arise from fentanyl.” Dr. Crystal explained. “It is the strongest of the opioids, 50 times stronger than heroin, it’s also easier and cheaper to make than heroin, and we see it growing year on year.”

 

Indeed, many studies are showing that prescription opioid use is actually declining throughout the country. Now apparently, the crisis is heading into the direction of street drugs and moving away from pharmacies. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are on the rise and have a much higher rate of overdoses. These meds are also more prone to being laced with stronger, more addictive chemicals; which could lead to even more deaths in the coming year.

 

Going back to the 72,000 overdose fatality stat shared by Yahoo Finance, there are some truly scary indicators once you start slicing that number apart. The site added that 30,000 (or nearly a third) of that total can be attributed to fentanyl OD’s; making it among the fasting rising killers in the U.S.

 

A new phase can certainly mean that this crisis has to now be approached in different ways. Targeting dealers and the sources of these fentanyl supplies can certainly be a good first step.

 

And, coming from Yahoo Finance, there are also the monetary ramifications to consider. Their data shows that within the last two years, the economic cost of America’s opioid crisis was as much as $504 billion (or 2.8% of the GDP).

 

Our hope is that this addiction epidemic gets targeted from all angles. Of course, we should still enforce regulations and monitoring of the prescription drug industry. But let’s also not ignore “Phase Two,” which involves a closer focus on imports/exports, criminal activities and synthetic opioid treatments.

 

Addiction Hits Home For Surgeon General

In the past, we have highlighted the important work that America’s Surgeon Generals have done to bring awareness to addiction in this country. Jerome Adams, the latest doctor to hold that title, is no different and actually has a very personal connection to the cause. As he revealed in a recent report, his own brother suffered with a severe opioid dependency.

 

Titled Facing Addiction In AmericaAdams’ powerful essay confronts many harsh realities about substance abuse in this country. In the first few pages, he openly discusses the pain his younger brother’s issues caused the family and why this mission is so important to him.

 

“My family and I are among the millions of Americans affected by substance use disorder,” Adams explained in the report. “My younger brother has struggled with this disease, which started with untreated depression leading to opioid pain reliever misuse. Like many with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder conditions, my brother has cycled in and out of incarceration. I tell my family’s story because far too many are facing the same worries for their loved ones. We all ask the same question: How can I contribute to ending the opioid crisis and helping those suffering with addiction?”

 

He goes on to list many of the hurdles the country is facing when it comes to treatment and recovery. One major call out is the lack of staffing in America’s healthcare industry, as well as a gap in proper training. Prepping people in hospitals (and first responders, for that matter) with lifesaving overdose prevention techniques is crucial, particularly amid this devastating crisis.

 

Speaking from the heart, Adams went on to emphasize a new way of thinking when it comes to addiction. As he puts it, this is not a character flaw nor a weakness of the spirit. It is, in fact, a chronic disease and should be treated as such. Adams went on to emphasize that family members, friends and law enforcement personnel should be non-judgmental in this matter and properly in trained in the administration to anti-overdose medication naloxone.

 

“Through partnerships, we can address the overall health inequities and determinants of health that exist where we live, learn, work, and play,” Adams concluded. “Together we can reduce the risks of opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and related health consequences such as overdose and infectious disease transmission.”

 

When First Responders Become Addicts

On the surface, it may seem a little counterintuitive to hear about addiction among first responders. After all, they are usually on site to help people struggling with dependencies and have devoted their lives to safety and wellness. Well, it is actually not that uncommon for paramedics, firemen and police officers to fall prey to substance abuse; signaling once again that this disease knows no bounds.

 

The Philly Voice recently published an expose on this growing problem, outlining both high ranking and entry level first responders who are now overcoming their addictions. Newly released stats have shown that opioid dependencies have now taken over alcoholism as the primary dependency among this set. Clare Seletsky, director of the First Responders program at Recovery Centers of America, spoke to the outlet about increased challenges paramedics, correctional officers and fire personnel face.

 

“Alcohol addiction was once the preeminent reason first responders would seek treatment, but narcotics has caught up,” Seletsky explained. “Just this year it’s getting equal to alcohol. Six, seven years ago alcohol far surpassed other drugs.”

 

Seletsky also touted a new recovery initiative her organization has put together specifically tailored for first responders. The Valor with Integrity Program for Emergency Responders (also known as VIPER) program offers a safe and supportive environment for drug and alcohol treatment. It also makes a point to address issues commonly associated with these types of jobs, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), crime scene trauma and physical ailments tied to the daily demands of this type of work.

 

Seletsky also emphasized the “trust issue” many people in these professions face while in recovery. Sitting alongside alumni they may have arrested or resuscitated can create awkward or uncomfortable feelings. It can also impact the progress of others in treatment, knowing that they may not be fully honest knowing that there is a law enforcement officer sitting next to them. As Seletsky put it, keeping these types of groups separated improves progress on both sides.

 

The rise in opioid dependencies is something else to consider among this group. The truth of the matter is, people in these fields are often putting their bodies at risk and are much more prone to receiving an injury on the job. Once that occurs and painkillers enter the equation, it is not difficult to slide down the slippery slope into addiction.

 

We have always tipped our hats to the amazing work that first responders do. There is absolutely no shame in there being a rise in addiction among this group and we want to make ourselves just as available to them as we would to anyone else battling a dependency.

 

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.

 

New Fentanyl Safety Video Released

Over the past several months, the synthetic opioid fentanyl has been responsible for a sharp increase in fatal overdoses. For many first responders, dealing with this “street drug” is a bit of an unknown. Most tend to be unfamiliar with its overdose signals, as well as its potential health risks. To help change that perception, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office has released a six-and-a-half minute training video to educate paramedics and police officers.

 

Titled Fentanyl: The Real Deal, the clip delves into general misinformation about the drug and how to properly handle it if you were to directly come into direct contact. Throughout the first portion, real doctors speak to the camera and explain that touching fentanyl cannot put you at risk for an overdose. Interestingly though, there is a warning for using hand sanitizer if fentanyl powder is on your fingertips. This could actually increase its absorption and put a person more in danger for a negative reaction.

 

It is tidbits like this that make the video a useful tool. As DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon explained on the Occupational Health and Safety site, first responders and the public at large need to be aware of these important facts.

 

“We have a duty to protect those who keep our communities safe,” Dhillon explained. “As we continue to fight this opioid epidemic, it is critical that we provide every tool necessary to educate the public, law enforcement, and first responders about the dangers of fentanyl. This video is a positive step in that direction.”

 

This is actually the second training clip to be released about this topic. Back in 2017, the video Fentanyl Safety Recommendations for First Responders was produced and circulated to smaller groups of first responders. As the addiction problem has grown, however, so has the need for a more current (and more viral) piece of media. Hence, the creation of The Real Deal.

 

The long-form clip also delves into airborne risks of the drug and helpful protective gear that can keep first responders safe should they encounter it firsthand. The video closes with logos of support, featuring everyone from the Department of Justice to The President of the United States.

 

“The threat of fentanyl is real,” featured medical advisor Dr. David Tarantino concluded in the clip. “But we’re showing a multi-layered defense that will keep first responders safe while they do their job and keep the rest of us safe.”

 

We certainly recommend that all people in the recovery community spend some time reviewing the video. You can watch it in full, below…

 

The Importance Of ‘Overdose Awareness Day’

This past August 31, an important annual event occurred. Though it may not have gotten as much publicity as we think it deserved, International Overdose Awareness Day did enter the American consciousness for a period of 24 hours. On social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, users shared their stories and hopefully some of the people in power listened.

 

The official hashtags of #OverdoseAwarenessDay and #EndOverdose were posted thousands of times by everyone from Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear to the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome M. Adams.

 

There was also a lot of link sharing to the official webpage of the cause.

 

For the record, Overdose Awareness Day is now in its seventh year. The “International” component is important, because this movement was actually first initiated in Australia. Back in 2001, local Salvation Army rep Sally J. Finn created the campaign to bring attention to the thousands of OD deaths that were happening in her country. Not long after, other regions took notice and symbols like purple wristbands were created to signify its impact.

 

For 2018, the famed news site Vox stepped in to spread the word. Writer German Lopez published a lengthy feature on their homepage, highlighted the stats and carnage this addiction epidemic has caused.

 

Key points included CDC data that showed 2017 to be the worst year for drug overdoses in U.S. history. In fact, their research broke out the totals to be roughly 200 deaths per day related to the opioid crisis.

 

Vox’s chart below helps put a few of those things in perspective.

 

 

To their credit, the people behind Overdose Awareness Day also want their followers to be proactive and help initiate a positive change. Their site includes a wealth of resources for people who are impacted by the crisis. Whether it’s a person currently struggling and in need of recovery assistance or a family member of a lost loved one looking for grief support.

 

The official site also has a Tributes page, where people can read and post details about those who have lost their lives to an overdose. The video below outlines a bit of the mission…

 

Obviously, overdoses and the opioid crisis are things we should be aware of 365 days a year. And we are happy to do our part to continue to bring this topic to the forefront and offer immediate support.

 

The Latest Overdose Stats Are Not Looking Good

If you thought America may have turned a corner in overcoming the opioid epidemic, you are unfortunately mistaken. Sadly, we’re just nine months into 2018 and there is already a very good chance that the number of painkiller-related overdoses will outnumber the totals of 2017. And on that note, last year’s tallies were the worst the country has seen so far; with 72,000 people lost to the crisis.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared the 2017 totals, which translated to roughly 200 overdose deaths per day. They also are substantially higher than the CDC’s 2016 OD count, which came out to around 64,000. And those fatalities have “officially” made drug abuse one of America’s primary sources of premature death. In fact, the opioid overdose totals now surpass lives taken by guns, car accidents and HIV/AIDS.

 

If there is one culprit behind the sharp increase of opioid-related fatalities it has to be fentanyl. The “street version” of the drug (which we’ve covered many times before) has now been commonly laced with dangerous chemicals, greatly increasing overdose risks. 2018 has seen a significant amount of deaths related to this synthetic narcotic and reports from The New York Times claim that fentanyl use is spreading all over the U.S.

 

“There is some early evidence that drug distributors are finding ways to mix fentanyl with black tar heroin, which could increase death rates in the West,” New York Times reporter Margot Sanger-Katz explained in a recent article. “If that becomes more widespread, the overdose rates in the West could explode as they have in parts of the East.”

 

TheFix.com also covered this story and recommended some solutions to potentially slow down the epidemic. Using international examples, they are pushing for more accessible treatment options. France, for instance, has allowed buprenorphine prescriptions to go out regularly to its citizens (something that is roadblocked here) and in that country, there has been a 79 percent decrease in opioid deaths over the past four years.

 

Other potential solutions include allowing for more clean needle exchanges (dirty needles have been listed as a contributor to fentanyl overdoses) and making the OD reversal drug naloxone more available to first responders. It would also be nice for these issues to be brought to a national forum. Though President Trump has made several remarks about the crisis, his administration has yet to take major action against it.

 

We certainly want to be an available resource for anyone who is struggling. If you or someone you love is in the grips of an opioid addiction, please reach out for help before it’s too late.

 

‘Fast Company’ Profiles Innovative Recovery App

There is certainly no shortage of online services that claim to help people battling an addiction. But when your app is getting praise from famed startup mag Fast Companythat is certainly something worth noting. The tech company Data Cubed is behind the hot new iPhone download, which goes by the name ResQ.

 

ResQ is actually based on psychological assessments and utilizes a person’s network of family and friends. It is also targeted specifically toward the opioid crisis, which has earned its fair share of recent headlines. Neurobiologist Paul Glimcher is part of the team who put the app together and made a point to emphasize its scientific elements.

 

“The vast majority of recovery apps out there, and there are hundreds of them, have almost no science behind them,” Glimcher explained to Fast Company. “ResQ translates the assessments that I and other practitioners use in clinics to mobile games. The development team includes both game designers and researchers who have studied opioid addiction under National Institutes of Health grants.”

 

ResQ does implement a wide variety of techniques to assess a person’s penchant to relapse. They range from simple “lottery game” trivia questions, to touch button surveys, to deeper measurements of cravings and loneliness.

 

The app also lets struggling users add contacts from their support network. The peer groups can then view and track their loved one’s progress over time. And this works with both warning alerts, as well as rewards when a person has stayed clean for a significant amount of time. In fact, those in the network receive push notifications to send congratulatory emojis if a sobriety milestone is met.

 

As mentioned above, ResQ was designed by leading professionals in the field. This can be extremely beneficial for the friends and family of a struggling loved one. If the time has come to reach out, trained coaches can tell the networkers what to say and how to handle a potential relapse risk. This also works for counselors and medical professionals, who can monitor progress and potentially adjust something like a methadone dosage, if a high risk user is showing warning signs.

 

One thing that also caught our attention about ResQ was its complete user friendliness. Though these are complicated and difficult topics, the app makes a point to display data in a way that’s easily digestible. It’s also very colorful and upbeat, which can be very welcome for someone battling a dark addiction.

 

To find out more about ResQ, we recommend visiting the app’s official site.

 

When Will The Opioid Crisis Reach Its ‘Peak?’

For a major part of this decade, Americans across the country have been ravaged by opioid addiction. Each year, we hear about increases in overdoses, incarcerations and fatalities related to the epidemic with no end in sight. Now, however, one of the leading U.S. health-care authorities is telling CNBC that the crisis may have hit its “peak” and could slow down in future years.

 

Dr. Tony Cosgrove, who headed the renowned Cleveland Clinic for nearly 13 years, was recently on the CNBC show Squawk Box and issued some pretty bold words.

 

“The opioid epidemic in the United States has peaked,” Cosgrove explained on the show.” “We’re starting to see the understanding of the problem. And we are getting to the point where people are certainty prescribing fewer drugs and people are recognizing how serious this is.”

 

Of course, that statement happens to contradict another round of research that was recently released. But Dr. Cosgrove stood firmly behind his statement (though he did add a few caveats). According to his data, the prescription totals are going down. But Dr. Cosgrove did admit that “street versions” of the drug continue to pose a serious risk.

 

Dr. Cosgrove acknowledged how painkiller dealers are often times lacing their stashes and he emphasized the deadliness of laboratory-produced products like carfentanil and fentanyl.

 

“Carfentanil is 10,000 times as potent as morphine. These drugs are most certainly getting laced,” Dr. Cosgrove added on the program. “We just had an outbreak of deaths in Ohio from drugs being laced with very potent carfentanil and fentanyl.”

 

We, for one, are a little less optimistic when it comes to the slowdown of this crisis. Though it’s nice to hear, the facts don’t quite agree with Dr. Cosgrove’s statements. For starters, there were more than 42,000 overdose deaths related to opioids and fentanyl last year. And that number is continuing to skyrocket in 2018, with all signs pointing to much higher number come December.

 

Nevertheless, Dr. Cosgrove and CNBC shared several factors that they believe will slow the crisis down. One being the actions of President Donald Trump and his initiative to penalize drugmakers for their role in fueling the epidemic.

 

Dr. Cosgrove does appear to have the support of Google, though. The internet giant recently added him to their Cloud Healthcare and life Sciences team as an executive advisor. His role there will involve helping their parent company, Alphabet, lower health costs and improve patient experiences.

 

You can watch Dr. Cosgrove’s full CNBC interview below…

 

HIV Outbreak Tied To Opioid Abuse

There have always been links between HIV and intravenous drug use. Addiction cravings can lead to many bad decisions, which often times include sharing dirty needles. Now with the rise of opioid abuse, that issue is rearing its ugly head again; particularly in working class communities across the east coast.

 

Lawrence, Massachusetts is the city making headlines this week, after new a study showed a significant spike in HIV contractions throughout its borders. Consisting of just 80,000 citizens, the small town registered 52 diagnoses over the past several months. That is double the amount of HIV cases from the year prior, leading city reps to declare an official “outbreak.”

 

And yes, opioids are being deemed the culprit. Specifically its the synthetic offshoot, fentanyl, that’s receiving most of the blame. Police have uncovered several illegal manufacturing operations throughout Lawrence, which distribute the drugs via injectable vials. Worse yet, this particular strain delivers an extremely short (and addictive) high, leading to more frequent injections. Fentanyl’s cheap street price is also a concern, as it is becoming more and more available to desperate people sharing needles.

 

“People just don’t care,” Tufts University School of Medicine infectious disease rep Thomas Stopka explained in a recent Huffington Post article. “When it comes down to it, if you’ve got a bag in your hand and somebody next to you’s got a dirty needle, you’re not going to run and find a clean one.”

 

Sadly, these cases aren’t just limited to the city of Lawrence. Nearby Lowell, Massachusetts is experiencing its own outbreak as well. Dozens of more HIV cases have been diagnosed in that city and the risks are rising as the opioid crisis grows.

 

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) has also gotten involved, sending a rapid response team of Epidemic Intelligence Service officers (also known as “disease detectives”) into both communities. They discovered that the majority of these cases involved white men between the ages of 20 and 39. 90 percent of them had also been infected with hepatitis C as well, which is also strongly correlated with intravenous drug use.

 

One other interesting footnote to these findings is the fact that Massachusetts has robust local health systems in place, with near-universal coverage for its residents (HuffPo called it “the gold standard for access to health care”). So if this can happen there, there are grave concerns about the epidemic spreading.

 

Stopka feels that needle exchanges and sterile syringe availability is one quick way to make a dent in the outbreak.

 

“Lack of access to sterile syringes is paramount,” he concluded. “If it can happen in Massachusetts, which has all the support in the world and all the services in the world, it can happen anywhere.”

 

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.

 

Opioid Prescriptions May Not Be Slowing Down

Though we see dozens of news stories, documentaries and political ramblings about America’s opioid crisis, one question (above all) deserves to be raised. Are these drugs being distributed less across the U.S.? And shockingly, according to new research provided by Forbes, the answer may be no.

 

That’s right. With as much publicity as the crisis is getting, prescriptions for these painkillers are not slowing down. And while we certainly agree that treatment, recovery and care for those addicted is a primary concern, a key component of stopping this epidemic is making these drugs less available.

 

Forbes cites the Mayo Clinic for providing this latest data. Their research claims that over the past 10 years (since the epidemic truly kicked into high gear), opioid prescriptions have remained consistent and not decreased. Worse yet, those that have gone to Medicare patients have reportedly increased since 2008. Interestingly this contradicts similar research conducted by The Center Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has created even more confusion within media circles.

 

Reps for the Mayo Clinic claim their investigation began because of skepticism. Ultimately, they wanted to validate whether the CDC’s “encouraging” findings about reduced prescriptions were actually true.

 

“We wanted to know how the declines were experienced by individual people,” lead study author Molly Jeffery, Ph.D., told Forbes in a statement. “Did fewer people have opioid prescriptions? Did people taking opioids take less over time? When we looked at it that way, we found a different picture.”

 

So, Dr. Jeffery and her associates began digging into anonymous insurance claims data obtained from OptumLabs. When zeroing in on people covered by Medicare Advantage plans, they were able to determine that these patients were taking an average daily opioid dose that equated to nine 5-milligram oxycodone pills in 2012. Last year, that dosage declined only slightly to eight pills (a very small difference, if you ask us). And more than 51% of disabled Medicare beneficiaries per year were using opioids, compared to 14% of people on commercial insurance plans and 26% of non-disabled Medicare patients. So despite the press and presidential declarations, this true change in opioid prescriptions is minimal at best.

 

In conclusion, the authors did understand that painkillers serve a positive purpose (in theory). But doctors doling out prescription after prescription should really take a step back and evaluate when they are truly necessary.

 

“What can doctors do to help change the course of opioid use in the U.S.?” Dr. Jeffery concluded. “They should think seriously about whether long-term opioid use by any patient is really improving his or her ability to function. If it isn’t, they should look seriously at other pain-management options.”

 

 

New Campaign Aims To Help Addicted Vets

The opioid crisis is certainly wreaking havoc across all segments of America’s population. And one group that has been hit particularly hard are military veterans. To help bring that issue to the forefront, famed Delta Force operator Norman Hooten is launching a campaign to assist current and former servicemen battling addiction.

 

Hooten gained notoriety back in 2002, when his story was told on the big screen in the famed movie Black Hawk DownHis heroics were legendary and to his credit, Hooten has continued to use his fame for good causes. This past decade he earned a doctorate in pharmacology, and he’s been using that degree for a high-profile partnership with the U.S. Veterans Administration (also known as the “VA“).

 

When speaking to People MagazineHooten shared an all-too-common story about some of his battle brethren. Two fellow officers who were with him during the famed Black Hawk Down Battle of Mogadishu survived fully intact. The tragedy was, they successfully fought their way through war but eventually died on U.S. soil due to substance abuse.

 

“When they come home and die of opioid overdose, I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Hooten told People. “I started to realize how bad the opioid epidemic was and I decided to do something about it.”

 

Now as a VA pharmacist, Hooten is using his previous notoriety to educate fellow vets about the dangers of addiction. He continually speaks nationally and authors online blogs and articles that are shared with those who are enlisted. Hooten is also working to reduce the shame stigma often associated with addiction. He knows firsthand how traumatic going into battle can be and how common it is for those who have served to use substances as a coping mechanism.

 

The VA is extremely proud of Hooten’s work and his second career as a military pharmacist.

 

“Norman Hooten’s dedication and commitment to serving his fellow veterans is what VA is all about,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie added in the article. “Other veterans should consider following his lead, choosing to give back to our nation’s heroes.”

 

Clearly Hooten’s feel-good story is having an impact. The People article became one of their most-shared stories of the past month and social media responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Though there is no denying that we have a long way to go to free veterans from the opioid crisis, people like Norman Hooten are making a very positive first step.

 

Grandparents: The ‘Unsung Heroes’ Of Opioid Crisis

Over the past year, we’ve published several articles about how the opioid addiction crisis is ripping American families apart. And within all that turmoil, there has been one segment of the population that has consistently (and quietly) come to the rescue. We’re talking about grandparents,who (according to a new article on TheFix.com) are now taking in their children’s kids following arrests, treatment stints and even fatal overdoses.

 

The tragic story that we touched on earlier concerned children of addicts who are forced into foster care. But for every kid that accounts for that statistic, there are 18 to 20 more who have been taken in by grandparents or other family members.

 

This is all a very noble effort, though it is creating more financial hardships across the U.S. Most of the seniors now caring for grandchildren are retired and living on small fixed incomes. Having to cover food, lodging and care for new family members can be devastating for their bank accounts. In fact, 20 percent of grandparents raising grandchildren are now living below the poverty line.

 

But these loved ones are still showing no hesitation when it comes to helping out. Donna Butts, an executive director of the advocacy org Generations United, has called out these relatives as American heroes.

 

“With the opioid epidemic, it seems so much more severe and, in some ways, more hopeless,” she explained. “Which is why I think the grandparents and other relatives that are stepping forward are playing such a critical role because the hope is with the children.”

 

But, the article goes on to say that many of these seniors are walking in to volatile situations. For the kids, having to watch their parent overdose, go to jail or even die is extremely traumatic. This can leave deep emotional scars, which certain grandparents aren’t always equipped to deal with. In the case with teens, this could lead to rebelliousness or even young ones using themselves.

 

The advice here, is to educate seniors about the resources available to them when it comes to trauma.

 

“What these grandparents really need is to understand the impact of trauma on the children and try to help support them as they deal with that,” Butts added. “Also, they need to have access to trauma-informed services, the services that can really help them to overcome what they’ve experienced.”

 

So while this is a very honorable effort, it is one that shouldn’t be handled alone.

 

CNN Profiles Recovery Success Story

With so much bad news circulating about overdoses and the opioid epidemic, we were happy to see a major outlet take time out to share some positivity. CNN offered a little inspiration this week, by profiling a formerly addicted mother who has turned her life around and discovered sobriety. Crystal Champ made headlines back in 2017 after a police officer adopted her baby following a drug arrest. Now she is seven months clean and serving as a beacon of hope to others impacted by the crisis.

 

When cameras first caught Champ last September, she was near death and homeless on the streets of Albuquerque. Dependent on both heroin and crystal meth; she was not only putting her life in danger, she was jeopardizing the survival of her unborn child.

 

Champ’s story really took off thanks to the heroics of local New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets. Holets became her “guardian angel,” helping to get her into recovery and offering to care for the newborn. Baby Hope was born in October and (true to his word) Officer Holets took her in and is raising her as his own.

 

In the meantime Champ did go forward with recovery, entering a local treatment facility and getting clean against all odds.

 

“Crystal was completely hopeless,” recovery rep Kat McLaughlin told CNN. “She was at the deep end of the spectrum. Using the hardest drugs in the most extreme ways. Now I am so proud of her. She left everything in her old life behind, and she’s started completely fresh. Not many people have the strength to do that”

 

Today, Champ is seven months clean and speaks to the Holets family regularly. She has not yet seen her daughter, but in time plans to stage a full-fledged reunion. Thankfully, little Hope is developing at a healthy pace (which is quite miraculous, when you consider that her mother was shooting up while pregnant).

 

Crystal openly admits that there is still a long road ahead and she currently resides in sober-living home. But, with a picture of Hope and the Holets family in her bedroom, she is inspired each day to become stronger and healthier.

 

Holets too, is excited to see Champ make a full recovery.

 

“I, deep down, kind of wished upon a star that something like this could happen,” he explained. “But this kind of stuff only happens in movies and books with happy endings. Usually, in real life, you don’t see stuff like this.”

 

You can watch the full story of Crystal’s journey via this CNN clip below…

 

L.A. Warning Issued About Contaminated Heroin

The opioid epidemic is continuing to wreak havoc across the country, which has led to several red alerts in our own backyard. One important one that arose this week came from Los Angeles County Public Health officials, who issued a stern warning about black tar heroin strains that are being dealt throughout the city. This particular batch is reportedly contaminated with bacteria, which has led to wound botulism and, in several cases, death.

 

Our own local outlet, The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, plastered the warning on the front pages of their site. Sadly, this community has experienced a large share of ER visits and arrests related to the opioid crisis. And nationally, heroin use has been a major contributor to the problem. According to recent stats, it has now surpassed gun homicides as a leading cause of U.S. deaths.

 

In regards to the bacteria, the alert is primarily focused on intravenous users. Injecting the drug has shown the greatest risk for wound botulism, particularly if needles are inserted into people’s muscles. It is also worth noting that the contaminated batches look exactly like regular ones and “cooking” the drug will not kill the germ. Apparently the infections are not contagious between people, but if multiple users tap into the same batch, there is a high likelihood that botulism will occur.

 

The Department of Public Health also detailed the logistics related to these infections. At its core, botulism is a toxin which attack’s the body’s nerves; leading to muscle weakness. The primary warning signs to look out for are drooping eyelids, blurred vision, difficulty speaking, swallowing issues, shortness of breath and severe coughs. Often times, these symptoms can be mistaken for a drug overdose and may occur within days or weeks of injecting a contaminated batch.

 

San Diego, our neighbor to the south, recently suffered their own outbreak of this epidemic. It is thought that the contaminated heroin batches are related to shipments that came through that city.

 

As of right now, the biggest call to action is to visit the Substance Abuse Prevention and Control website or call their toll-free number at 844-804-7500 if you know someone experiencing symptoms, There are also educational resources about botulism that can be found via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. We urge everyone to spread the word about this and work to get heroin-addicted loved ones into treatment immediately.

 

Addicted Parents Forcing More Children Into Foster Care

There is no doubt that an addiction can cause tremendous damage to a family. Often times, it can lead to parental neglect and force children into the foster care system. Tragically that number is on the rise according to a new article on The Hilland it’s requiring state officials to re-examine their approach to treating addicted mothers and fathers.

 

Truth be told, America’s latest foster stats are alarming. In the last four years, U.S. children placed into state care has risen by as much as 30 percent. And it is not surprising to see these increases align with the explosion of America’s opioid epidemic.

 

“A huge number of children [are] coming into the system now because of parental addiction to opioids,” executive director of the Ohio Family Care Association, Wendi Turner, told The Hill. “Children that are coming into care are staying in care longer because there’s a higher risk of relapse with their parents. I really don’t think our state was prepared.”

 

Indeed, Ohio happens to be a state hardest hit by the crisis. You can just how significant the national foster care numbers are by looking at the map below.

 

And in case you didn’t notice, our home state of California is illustrating some significant increases as well.

 

One of the big issues to consider is how much this type of care will cost taxpayers. Many state budgets are already spread thin, which has led some legislators to to work through alternatives to keep families together.

 

In Massachusetts, for example, the state has invested in residential treatment programs that allow children to stay with their parents.  A local rep actually felt that type of setup could help mothers and fathers complete the recovery process.

 

“Having the children there will be a motivation for parents to stick to their treatment plan,”  Massachusetts’s Office of the Child Advocate rep Maria Mossaides explained. “The hope is, once you’ve finished your treatment and are stable, we can then reintegrate you into your old work and apartment and things that will keep you clean and not create unsafe circumstances for children to be taken away.”

 

But not every state has the resources available to carry out these types of treatment. And worse yet, there have been reports about shortages of qualified foster parents. Clearly this crisis is creating far more damage than individual addictions. And if more is not done to combat it, we’re fearful that these types of situations will only get worse.

 

Insurance Companies Under Fire Over Opioid Crisis

It’s easy to point fingers at doctors and prescribers when it comes to America’s opioid crisis. But could there be other factors to blame? According to a new study shared on TheFix.com, insurance companies may also have played a hand in this deadly epidemic.

 

Now the research was quick to point out that many of these carriers could have contributed unwittingly, but it does appear as though damage was still done. Based on a 2017 analysis of 15 Medicaid plans, 14 Medicare plans and 20 private insurers, it was revealed that many companies are not applying evidence-based”utilization management” rules that could cut down on addictions. The data appeared to show that not enough limits were put on refills or initial prescriptions for these types of painkillers.

 

“Our findings suggest that both public and private insurers, at least unwittingly, have contributed importantly to the epidemic,” study author Dr. G. Caleb Alexander said on the site. “Opioids are just one tool in the pain management tool box, and unfortunately, many of the plans that we examined didn’t have well-developed policies in place to limit their overuse.”

 

Often times, insurers can put quantity limits on pharmaceutical products to ensure that patients don’t receive more than they need. Though, for the most part, this was enacted with opioid prescriptions, the study claims that the limits were simply too high. For painkillers like OxyContin, many companies capped scripts at a 30-day supply instead of the shorter limits recommended by the CDC.

 

There also could have been steps taken that require doctors to begin prescribing less addictive painkillers (such as NSAIDs) before moving on to opioids. Beyond that, authorization regulations could have been enacted too; which mandates that medical professionals call the insurance company for approval before writing any prescriptions. Even The New York Times touched on the story, providing data which showed that multiple large insurers limited access to less addictive (but more expensive) alternatives.

 

“Insurers can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution,” Dr. Alexander concluded. “The good news is that an increasing number of health plans are recognizing their contribution to the epidemic and developing new policies to address it. The bad news is that we have a very long way to go.”

 

So while we agree that insurance companies don’t deserve the brunt of the blame for this, they can certainly start changing policies today to help curb the crisis.

 

Small Children Are Accidentally Overdosing On Prescription Meds

America’s opioid epidemic is wreaking havoc in more ways than one. Not only is it leading to tens of thousands of fatalities a year, the crisis is also causing a tremendous amount of collateral damage. The worst side effect, which CBS News reported on this week, concerns small children overdosing on prescription meds left out by their parents.

 

The irony is, the medication that is creating the most problems for young kids is not OxyContin. It is actually buprenorphine, a drug designed to wean people off of opioids. Whether it’s accessible medicine cabinets, careless open bottles or plastic boxes on the nightstand, thousands of children aged six and under have been exposed and sent to the ER for ingesting pills.

 

Investigators told CBS News that between 2007 and 2016, there were more than 11,000 emergency calls made to U.S. poison control centers because of a minor overdosing on buprenorphine. Worst of all, 11 children died because of an accidental OD.

 

“Although buprenorphine is important for the treatment of opioid use disorder, pediatric exposure to this medication can result in serious adverse outcomes,” consulting doctor Gary Smith told the site. “The medication can cause extreme drowsiness and/or vomiting when taken improperly.”

 

Research uncovered by CBS also pointed to non-accidental overdoses of buprenorphine, which has become more common among kids aged 13 to 19. These teens admitted to “experimenting” with their parents’ meds and also had to be admitted to the ER. In total, four deaths have occurred because of this circumstance.

 

What is also worth noting, is the rise in buprenorphine prescriptions in recent years. As the crisis worsens, more of these anti-addiction pills are being given out. In fact, over the past five years distribution of the drug has risen from 100,000 each year to 800,000 each year. This can certainly raise the risk of underage exposure.

 

Though buprenorphine has shown some success in helping to decrease opioid abuse, Dr. Smith is issuing strict warnings to any parents who gets prescribed it. For one, he recommends a safe storage practice; which means keeping it far out of reach from children in the household. He has also spoken out to the drug’s manufacturers, urging them to use safer “unit-dose packaging” for all of their products.

 

“Studies have previously shown that unit-dose packaging — a form of child-resistant packaging — can decrease pediatric exposures to buprenorphine-naloxone products,” Dr. Smith emphasized. “Drug manufacturers need to use these for all buprenorphine products to help prevent unintentional access and exposure by young children.”