Drug Addiction

CRISIS IN OUR DISTRICT

If I had the answer to this crisis, I would be the smartest person on earth. The first point to consider, with that being said is, this is a real crisis. In 2016, 64,000 people died from prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids. That is 20% over 2015 and 100% over 2005. By comparison there were 40,000 traffic fatalities and 33,000 homicides. Overdose deaths have become so severe, it is lowering the average life expectancy of the population. We already rank 31st in the world. How much lower can we go?

We need to do so many things it is difficult to know where to start. We need to significantly increase the federal budget for fighting addiction. So of course the budget Walden supports does not do that. It calls for a 2% increase in 2018. The Affordable Care Act included Medicaid funded treatment for thousands of addicts. Walden is personally responsible for the repeal bill to eliminate this option. We need to greatly expand the use of medication therapies like methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine. These drugs allow people to return to work and rebuild their lives. Evidence show these drugs guard against relapse into addiction as well. Less than a third of the drug treatment centers take this approach. Instead mental health agencies place the poor in ineffective, short term programs with no follow up. Sounds like we are back to that successful Nancy Reagan program of “Just Say No”. The federal government could encourage broader acceptance of this treatment by requiring staff physicians and practitioners in VA hospitals receive training, expand Medicaid / Medicare funding, and require these medications as approved by the FDA, be available at treatment centers that receive federal funding. (Source NY Times Oct 2, 2017).

And let’s be clear about the source of most of these drugs. They are made by pharmaceuticals and prescribed by doctors. Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, top ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Council writes “this epidemic is the direct result of a calculated sales and marketing strategy major opioid manufacturers have allegedly pursued over the past 20 years to expand their market share and increase dependency on powerful, often deadly pain killers”. “To achieve this goal, manufacturers have repeatedly sought, among other techniques, to downplay the risk of addiction to their products and encourage physicians to prescribe opioids for all cases of pain in high doses”. In one instance, McCaskill opened an investigation into the drug company Insys, maker of a potent fentanyl opioid, where the company sought to bypass the normal approval process, and have it provided to patients who did not need it. This drug, by the way, can cost as much as $20,000 a month.

And as the TV ads often say….wait there is more. These same companies also ironically make the drugs to combat addiction where they have raised the price on some, such as naloxone from $690 to $4,500.

As in too many things today, we can trace the root cause right back to profit. As I always say, I am not adverse to profit, but in this case, it is killing 64,000 people a year.