Overcoming Opioids: Easing an Epidemic 1 Doctor at a Time

BY CARLA K. JOHNSON

AP MEDICAL WRITER

MONROEVILLE, Pa. (AP) — The U.S. opioid epidemic began in doctors’ offices as drug companies marketed the pills to an ever-widening circle of patients. An estimated 2 million Americans are now addicted to opioid pain relievers and nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve prescription drugs.

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How the Feds Are Going After Fentanyl Suppliers

Like everything else it touches, the internet has revolutionized drug dealing. Anyone with an internet connection can buy enough black-market fentanyl to kill off a small town—including federal law enforcement, whose strategy for stemming the flow of the killer opioid into the United States and slowing the tide of fatal overdoses is doing just that.

But since there are many, many more fentanyl buyers and sellers than there are police, it’s slow, slow going.

Newsweek brings us the story of a recent bust of an Ohio couple, who are accused of buying fentanyl on dark web drug marketplaces and redistributing it around the country. Since May, a federal task force has been making undercover buys from websites offering such deals as “100mg of Fentanyl HCL 98% purity $105+35 for Express-1 days shipping,” and hoping that some fentanyl reseller would be brazen (or dumb) enough to leave a sufficient trail for cops to follow and be found out.

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Pot Matters: Deadly Drug Policies

The death rate for young Americans has increased by 8 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to a recent analysis by the Washington Post—and the driving force behind this increase is the current opioid epidemic.

From the Post: “Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states, according to a Washington Post analysis. The death rate among African Americans is up 4 percent, Hispanics 7 percent, whites 12 percent and Native Americans 18 percent. The rate for Asian Americans also has increased, but at a level that is not statistically significant.”

The Post looked at mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  For context, the 10 leading causes of death in 2015 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide. These account for 74.2 percent of all deaths in the United States.

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Prosecutors’ Lawsuit Says Opioid Drug Makers Deceived Public

BY SHEILA BURKE

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new lawsuit invokes the plight of a baby born dependent on opioid drugs, as three Tennessee prosecutors and the baby’s guardian accuse several drug manufacturers of unleashing an epidemic through deceptive marketing that downplayed the risks of addiction to painkillers.

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Killer Opiate Fentanyl Is Everywhere—And It’s Making Police Overdose

The police officer responding to a drug bust in East Liverpool, Ohio—a small city 85 miles southeast of Cleveland near the Pennsylvania border—was following procedure: He’d donned gloves and a mask while searching a car and handling the seized material, a white powder that was almost certainly some kind of opiate.  

But somehow, he spilled some of the powder on his uniform shirt.

After another cop pointed it out, he brushed the mystery powder off his shirt with an ungloved hand—and promptly passed out.

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Prescription Drugs Still Vanishing at VA Hospitals

If you are in need of prescription opiates, make your way to the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital. Not because VA hospitals prescribe opiates to anybody for any reason, even when it is very bad and dangerous to do so—though they do that, too—but because VA hospitals do a very bad job at stopping employees from stealing armloads of the stuff.

In February, the Associated Press discovered that opiates are going missing from VA hospitals at double the rate private hospital employees are swiping prescription pain pills. In response, the VA announced a “zero tolerance” policy, putting the doctors, nurses and other staffers at its nearly 1,200 medical centers and clinics around the country on notice… who then starting stealing even more.

As the AP reported on Tuesday, another 36 criminal investigations into pill theft were opened between Oct. 1 and May 19 of this year, “an increase from a similar period” the year before.

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Feds Admit Marijuana May Treat Opiate Crisis

For now, the United States is still (mostly) a free country, and people are (within limits) allowed to speak their minds.

For example: Vice President Mike Pence is free to believe that evolution may not be a real thing and the world was in fact created by God in a shade under seven days—as appears to be the case, based on his own statements—just as graduates of the University of Notre Dame are free to take a long walk rather than listen to the prattle of a creationist who is responsible for Indiana schools using textbooks that declare humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together.

In a somewhat similar way, mainstream Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—the latter of whom is the president’s point man on solving the county’s opiate crisis—are “free” to say, publicly, that marijuana won’t do anything to help stop the flood of overdoses, a line also uttered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February.

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Report: Most Heroin Is Tainted by Fentanyl

North America’s opiate crisis has followed a linear, almost predictable script, like a tragedy in five acts piling grief upon grief in an arduous, tedious dirge with no relief (or end) in sight.

First, pharmaceutical companies and doctors conspired—sometimes unwittingly, sometimes deliberately—to flood the country with pain pills. Then, when law enforcement crackdowns on “pill mills” made prescription opiates scarce and black-market pills exorbitantly expensive, heroin use surged—and with it, deaths from drug overdoses.

From there, the crisis has only escalated, with awful, steadfast speed.

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How Donald Trump Will Make the Opiate Crisis Worse

On its face, Donald Trump’s proposal to eviscerate the position of the “national drug czar” is about the only reasonable proposal to come from an administration that is almost gleefully erratic, confused and outright fiendish.

A relic of the Ronald Reagan “Just Say No” era of drug-war hysteria (and sealed with a kiss of approval from Sen. Joe Biden, one of the architects of today’s mass incarceration crisis), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is best known for spending your precious tax dollars on alarmist public service announcements—unsubtle propaganda of the kind that made creating a prison state a popular thing—and “official reports” that selectively use dubious data to support spurious conclusions contradicted elsewhere.

ONDCP is also required, by act of Congress to oppose any and all efforts to legalize marijuana or reschedule any other drug; it’s an inflexible anachronism and does more harm than good.

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Pot vs. Pills: Will Cannabis Help End the Opioid-Abuse Epidemic?

With the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in Congress, the GOP has vowed to move forward with its longtime pledge to undo the Affordable Care Act. While it remains to be seen what approach the Republicans will take to replace the ACA, overhauling the country’s health-care system presents a timely opportunity to address an epidemic gripping the nation: the explosive growth in opioid addiction and abuse.

The numbers are staggering. The total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the United States jumped from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013. In that time, Americans accounted for nearly 100 percent of the hydrocodone sales in the world and 81 percent of oxycodone sales. This explosive growth in opioid use has resulted in a surge of opioid-related deaths. In 2015, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths, a fourfold increase since 1999 that accounted for 63 percent of all drug-related deaths. As a result of this increase, drug-related deaths for the first time exceeded the number of deaths from car crashes in the United States.

With over two million Americans addicted to prescription painkillers and an additional 600,000 addicted to heroin, there’s a growing urgency to find alternative therapies that can slow or reverse this epidemic.

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