Sharing Scooby’s Story

My son Jaron was a person with substance use disorder and now he is an angel. I will not let his addiction define him! He was so much more. He was a brother, an uncle, nephew, cousin, best friend, and son! He was my only son. My baby, my Scooby.

ScoobyJaron was like a shooting star that burned out too fast. He could walk in the darkest room and make it so full of life and happiness. Jaron got his first pain pill at 14 yrs old from a friend who took it from their house’s medicine cabinet. Jaron’s 18-year battle with addiction began with that pill.

After those 18 years, Jaron ended up homeless. For a while, he had his own place, then he lived with family. He slowly lost everything to his addiction. He sold his cars, his pool table, TVs and stereos, you name it. He got rid of it so that he could keep using.

He went to drug court while looking at time for four felonies. His bail was way too high for anyone to get him out. He pleaded with me: “Mom, please borrow the $20,000 to get me out.”

He spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, and his birthday in jail. We did get to have a few minutes together on Christmas when we did a video visit.

Now, we will never ever have another Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, or any birthdays or Mothers Day with him again. All we have are pictures and memories.

On a Friday night, Jaron lost his battle with substance use. I thought this time he had it, and he thought he had it too. He was so convinced he had won and he took one last chance. Jaron never thought he would lose his life on that last ride, but what he thought was heroin was 100% fentanyl.

When I got to him, his body was still warm. He looked like he was sleeping, except he was not on the couch, he was on the floor. I hugged him and I kissed his hand were the needle was. I covered him, because he hated to be cold.

A part of me died right then and there with him. It seemed like forever before the paramedics, police, and medical examiner were finished. They loaded my baby up in a van and stuck him in a cold black bag.

ScoobyI did his eulogy. it was the last thing I could do for him. At his funeral, he was all dressed up in his favorite clothes: shorts, a white T-shirt, his sneakers, and a Giants jacket. Pictures and little mementos were placed in with him. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was cold and hard. It was like touching a stone, but I couldn’t stop touching him and kissing him because I knew I would never do it again.

The hardest part of that day was walking out of the funeral home, knowing I would never see his beautiful face again on earth. My Scooby, my baby.

I know many people are fighting the same demon Jaron did. If just one person gets sober because of his death, it will make some sort of sense.

Hear My Roar

By sharing your story, you can help turn the tide on the opioid epidemic. Help us wage the first-ever #BILLIONSNOTMILLIONS postcard roar to save lives.

Join us in a nationwide printed postcard ROAR featuring your stories and photos during September’s National Recovery Month. Thousands and thousands of voices will come together to demand that opioid manufacturers and distributors pay our communities #BILLIONSNOTMILLIONS in reparations for the devastation they played a key role in and profited from.

Simply visit HEARMYROAR.org to be part of this historic movement!

There you can create a printed postcard with your own story and photo or, if you’d prefer, easily adopt someone else’s story in their honor. We’ll send the hard copies and you can share your postcard on Facebook & Instagram asking your friends and family to help you make a difference by joining the ROAR too.

Send one postcard for $2.00, or for $10.00, send a full set of six to President & First Lady Trump, your two Senators, your Congressional Representative, your Governor, and your State Attorney General. The charge covers addressing, stamping, printing, and mailing, plus helps sustain ongoing advocacy and programming to combat this crisis.

Help us honor those in recovery from addiction and those we’ve sadly lost.

Together we’ll fight for the resources needed to fix this public health emergency once and for all!

Thank you for visiting HEARMYROAR.org and for being part of this historic ROAR… a ROAR too loud for big pharma or our elected leaders to ignore!

That Hole In Your Heart…

It never heals. For some of us, it grows larger, causes even more pain and despair, and wakes us in the middle of the night more often than before – if that is humanly possible.

Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to any parent; a piece of us dies when our child dies. And while the death of every child is soul-crushing to any loving parent, losing a child to addiction or overdose creates an extra burden of anguish. He or she might have struggled for years; the family was likely torn apart and perhaps went bankrupt; the medical system invariably failed us, and the criminal justice system seemed to play a huge role although we were battling an illness. Then there is the crippling stigma that does not surround any other illness: the often unasked questions from others, lingering beneath the surface; the unspoken moral judgment; even self-doubt.

I know this because I lost my beautiful boy, Austin, to an accidental overdose after a nearly six-year journey, just when it seemed he had turned the corner and was finally on the mend. The call came saying he was gone. A few days later I waited on the stoop for FedEx to bring me Austin’s ashes in a box. My world would never be the same.

We want to bring families of loss together once and for all. Today we are announcing the creation of a private Facebook group that I will be actively involved in, called Loved Ones Facing Addiction.  If you lost a loved one to addiction/overdose, I urge you to join. I hope you will also consider holding a fundraiser on Facebook on National Overdose Day — August 31 — to help Facing Addiction with NCADD raise much-needed funding for our critically important work.

 

Families of loss have never been unified so their powerful voice could be heard and influence felt.  Sadly, it is a massive, determined group. We lose 350 people, usually young adults, to addiction/overdose each day — the equivalent of a huge jet falling from the sky…with no survivors. Some 140,000 people a year — twice as many as we lost over two decades in Vietnam. More than two and one-half million families devastated just since the year 2000.

I co-founded Facing Addiction (now proudly with NCADD) to help build a movement to finally do something about America’s addiction and opioid crisis. Through our partnership with former US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, we know what needs to be done in America to slay the addiction dragon, we just have never done it.  And so Facing Addiction with NCADD is now “doing it.”

We need your support.  And I promise we will never let you down.  We all have way too much invested in this cause.

Addiction Is A Human, Not Partisan Issue

My friend Tyler died earlier this year from an accidental heroin overdose – on the sofa in his recovery home. His death was preventable, and not because, as some people say, he had a “choice” not to use. Tools like evidence-based treatment, recovery supports in the first five years of recovery, and naloxone to arrest overdoses could have saved his life.

Addiction is a public health crisis that is abetted by many corporations, ignorant policies, and business leaders. Some of the people pouring gas on this fire are the very people to whom we trust our friends, children, and loved ones.

In three and a half years of recovery, I’ve met many unscrupulous and negligent opportunists in our country’s $35 billion addiction treatment industry. These bad actors charge exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for basic services that people new in recovery need. They supposedly provide early recovery support such as housing, but there is virtually no accountability and zero oversight.

That’s what I found when I visited the recovery home in Pasadena, CA where Tyler died. In a house full of people with a substance use disorder, all of whom were at great risk for an overdose, there was no naloxone. The staff did not have an overdose protocol. When I asked them what had happened, they threw their hands in the air, waving off accountability.

They had the audacity to tell me, “Tyler clearly just didn’t want to get sober.”

My friend tried hard, multiple times, to achieve sustained recovery. The failure of this recovery house cost him his life. His death affects his family, his loved ones, and his entire community. The stakes are too high, for people who are extremely vulnerable. There is a Tyler in every family, in every school. I knew it was too late to help my friend, but our community had to take action to protect other people just like him.

Full of grief and desperately seeking a solution, I drove to Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office and brought two other members of our recovery community. We asked for a meeting and educated our member of Congress on what was happening in her own backyard. Congresswoman Chu listened to our stories, nodded, and gave us a very rational reply: “It sounds like we need better policy.”

HR4684Using our experience as people in recovery who had gone through the treatment and recovery home continuum, my best friend Garrett Hade, who was also friends with Tyler, and is in recovery from heroin himself, joined the team at Facing Addiction with NCADD to help author the legislation that would address and prevent deaths like Tyler’s. With our help, Congresswoman Chu introduced H.R. 4684, the “Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act” in March of 2018. It passed the House earlier this month without a single opposing vote.

A unanimous vote in support of H.R. 4684 is a signal of meaningful change in the midst of the opioid epidemic. It shows that facing addiction is a non-partisan issue for Congress. H.R. 4684’s unanimous vote demonstrates that elected officials can cooperate when they’re voting with their heads and hearts. It also provides a roadmap for citizen engagement for the future. Good policy can come from policymakers who invite people in recovery and families to the table.

To stop this epidemic, and save the people we love from preventable deaths, we need to ensure that the people affected by the crisis have a seat among the decision makers. There is no substitute for lived experience. That means No decisions about us, without us.

As multiple pieces of legislation make their way through the House, they’ll be bundled together with packages currently taking shape in the U.S. Senate. Yet, without voter support, loud voices calling for action, and families demanding that our tax dollars fund solutions to this crisis, some of the most important elements of these bills might collect dust on the shelf. If we want funding for life-saving recovery supports that actually work, we need to contact Congress members and demand that this public health crisis is addressed as a crisis, not used as window dressing to look good in the midterms.

Otherwise, we’re turning our loved ones over to people who are unprepared and unwilling to help. If something goes wrong, our families and communities need to have recourse. We deserve accountability. We deserve transparency. And we deserve to know that the people treating and caring for people with this chronic health disorder are ready to handle the worst.

To build a safer, healthier nation and ease the massive strain addiction places on our communities, businesses, social services, and criminal justice system, we must work together to become a constituency of consequence. We have the power to demand accountability, action, and funding from Congress. We won’t settle for empty promises. This recent unanimous vote shows that our leaders are willing. We need to show them the way.

RYAN HAMPTON is an outreach coordinator at Facing Addiction with NCADD, author, and person in recovery from heroin addiction. His book AMERICAN FIX: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis — and How to End It is being published by St. Martin’s Press in August.

Understanding Opioid Demand and Dependence

Prescription opioid painkillers are linked to rising overdose death rates. Prevention efforts focus on limiting the supply of opioids. However, a new approach suggests that concentrating on reducing demand could be effective also.

Medical sociologist and professor Susan Sered says that current legislation, which calls for expanding prescription monitoring programs, amping up the ability to seize illegal drugs at U.S. borders, training health care providers in proper prescribing practices, and improving drug disposal systems are directed toward supply reduction. As a form of “secondary prevention,” she suggests, we need to look at the root causes of opioid addiction.

Sered asks, “Why are so many Americans willing to ingest substances that, they most likely know, can lead to grievous harm?”

The answer is in the factors that cause people to need addictive medications: specifically, pain.

For the past decade, Sered has conducted research in Massachusetts, studying women who were incarcerated and have substance use problems. She said, “The Massachusetts women with whom I have been conducting research for the past decade began their substance abuse careers in pain, either mental or physical. In some cases, the pain was a consequence of childhood or intimate partner abuse. In other cases, the pain set in because underlying health problems were not attended to properly or in a timely manner.”

Sered says that understanding pain, and changing the way that we cope with it, is a method of primary prevention that is being overlooked by lawmakers. She points out, “Primary prevention – which deals with the reasons that people turn to opioids in the first place – is mentioned in the Senate bill in only a few places but is not developed either in terms of a research plan nor in terms of public health strategies.”

Furthermore, prevention efforts focus on shallow, ineffective social and media programs like “Just Say No.” Pain is a complex issue, and for many people, especially those who cope with chronic pain, saying “no” to opioid medication isn’t an option.

Neither is taking time off from work, or pursuing alternative pain treatment that may take longer than popping a pill. Sered said that when substantive help wasn’t available to her research subjects, they turned to psychotropic and pain medication from doctors or drug dealers or both. Unable to take time to heal, the women relied on medication that they may not have needed. Sered said, “Often, the pain wasn’t taken seriously by employers, who insisted that minimum wage workers show up even when they are unwell, family members or health care providers.”

Sered also acknowledged that gender, class, and race are potentially predictive factors in addiction. She pointed out that data indicates opioid use is primarily a male problem, and that white men in low-income ZIP codes are more susceptible to developing an issue with opioids. That means, she says, that we need to look at not just the neurological aspects of addiction, but the sociological ones, too.

She asks, “Information of this sort lays the groundwork for primary prevention. What is it about being male in a white low-income community that causes pain and makes opioid use attractive as a means of dealing with pain? Are there occupational or educational policies that encourage or discourage substance abuse? And can those policies be adjusted in ways that reduce pain as well as substance abuse?”

Identifying the root causes of pain, both physical and cultural, and offering a more complex, compassionate solution that focuses on primary prevention may stem the tide of the drug epidemic. Painkillers cause people to lose their lives. To create life-saving, meaningful change, we need to dig deeper into the issues that precede addiction.

The Courage To Face the Truth

Within an hour of landing at the Buffalo, NY airport in July, I am helping my little sister get to the bathroom at Kenmore Mercy Hospital after she has been revived with Narcan. I don’t know it yet, but Jenny will die in six days. She has just turned 44.

Since then, every day I’ve tried to understand how my sister, a college-educated suburban mom, died of cirrhosis of the liver from opioid addiction and alcohol addiction without my family ever having an honest conversation about it. She didn’t do a single stint in rehab or have any interventions. She really never had a chance, because we didn’t have the courage to face the truth.

How did this disease sneak up on our family? My two sisters and I grew up in a working-class home with many advantages, and all of us graduated from college. My dad is a Vietnam combat veteran and a Bronze Star recipient (although he’d never tell you that and would be angry that I brag about it here). My parents are extraordinary, humble, reserved people.

Jenny was smart, athletic and pretty, with a quick sense of humor. And about three years ago, I started thinking something was wrong. She was taking a strange cocktail of medications prescribed by some of the “best doctors in Buffalo,” and had developed increasingly noticeable symptoms, including shaking hands, stuttering, weight loss and personality changes. We let my sister lie to us for years as she quietly descended into a world that was alien to all of us.

In my reality, it started with a phone last July from my sister Colleen, a nurse, telling me to come home. I arrived in Buffalo the next day with a blank check, impatient to get Jenny discharged, but within hours, I realized that this was something entirely different and that we were too late.

I hadn’t seen Jenny since Thanksgiving. She was radically transformed. The whites of her beautiful light green eyes were an awful jaundiced color, with clear liquid bubbles all over her eyeballs like a monster in an old horror movie. Her bony legs stuck out of her hospital gown. Her skin was an unnatural yellow-maroonish color. She was in and out of lucidity, moaning for the Dilaudid she was used to getting at her local hospital in generous doses (and overdoses). A nicotine patch was on her arm, which struck me as absurd.

We are a close family but not affectionate. That week, I held Jenny’s hand a lot and touched her hair. I don’t think I had ever touched my sister’s hair before, and now I feel it all the time on my right hand. I put drops in her eyes, rubbed her swollen feet, fed her Ensure. We watched movies and recited quotes from her favorites such as “Step Brothers” and “Forrest Gump,” funny movies we’ve watched together many times. I kept saying “I love you, Jenny” like Tom Hanks says it in the movie, and I was ashamed to realize I couldn’t remember the last time I had told my sister I loved her.

Colleen and I slept at the hospital every night, getting up every 45 minutes to help Jenny go to the bathroom. It was chilling to watch her look up from the portable toilet in the dark with those eyes when we couldn’t make it to the regular bathroom. She was embarrassed even in her medicated daze.

On day four, things started to go fast. “Do not resuscitate” orders were signed, and for the first time in my life, I saw my mother visibly shaken, although she didn’t cry. I’ve never seen my mother cry. We moved into a hospice room down the hall, and the morphine flowed more regularly. The remaining two days were spent sitting quietly by Jenny’s bed.

She died quietly with my parents on either side of her bed holding her hands. My mom had a baseball cap on. It was so quiet. Colleen and I sat at the foot of the bed, looking at a perfectly framed picture of Jenny and our parents, one that I’ll never be able to unsee.

It has been four months, and I still can’t believe she’s dead. I don’t know why our family didn’t talk about this sooner. We could have survived this awful disease if we had faced it together. For the rest of my life, I will regret not having the courage to force the moment to its crisis with one honest, uncomfortable conversation about drugs and alcohol while Jenny was alive. She might still be here.

Our story isn’t the saddest story. But it’s a chilling example of how shame, denial, and a completely broken health care system to treat substance use disorder render patients and families helpless in the opioid crisis.

Right up until she died, Jenny denied having a problem, despite her stick legs and monster eyes and the fact that two exhausted sisters were shuffling her to the bathroom. I guess that’s what we do in the end with this scourge. We suspend disbelief to give the people we love some dignity while we do the wet work: the messy, smelly, awful and kind things. We take them to the bathroom, clean them up, touch their hair, feed them, laugh and cry.

We finally say all the things we want to say. We are our best selves, even if it is too late.

Broken Crayons Still Color

I am a woman who does not look like what she has been through.

I have yet to meet someone who has gone through what I have.
I’ve always believed that “broken crayons still color”.
I turned my tumultuous past into a great testimony!

I became heavily addicted to prescription painkillers in 2002 after a knee surgery before there was an “Opioid Epidemic”
I had never experimented with drugs ever in my life and quickly fell in love with how painkillers made me feel.
A doctor began prescribing me 100’s of painkillers, and shortly thereafter, my chase for the powerful pills would begin.
My sole goal became to seek as many doctors as I could to get prescriptions for pain pills.
I was very private some of the closest people to me had no idea that I had an addiction.

My life quickly turned upside down, and I lost friends, condos, apartments, vehicles, I sold all my beautiful clothes and jewelry.
I moved back with my parents, they didn’t understand what I was going through.
I would have very bad withdrawals and they just thought I was sick, but didn’t understand that the withdrawals were from me running out of painkillers.

Chekesha EllisFor 11 years I heavily used painkillers. I isolated myself and hid my addiction.
In 2010 I ended my chase for prescription painkillers.
My father whom is a Pastor and my mother, prayed with me, I grew up in a very religious home, and was raised to have faith in God.
Miraculously in August of 2010, I got stopped cold turkey, and have been free since.

In 2014 I became a public figure when my story was published on the front page of a newspaper.
In the beginning, I was very scared, embarrassed and paranoid about my story making the front page of the newspaper.
Yet my healing grew the more I began sharing my story.
I believe that this journey is not one, that one can tackle without having FAITH and believing in a higher being.

Chekesha Ellis & PoliceI am now a Recovery Mentor becoming a licensed Interventionist.
I personally help people struggling with addiction, and have helped many individuals get into detox centers, and rehabilitation centers and providing support for their families.
I give them hope, because I’m living proof, that if you want your life back you can have it! You have to take one day at a time.
It’s not a walk in the park, and everything I went through was worth being able to save lives now.
I’m a community activist, who has worked with police departments going out into the schools and the community to share my story.
This is my passion.

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned throughout my journey is “Not to STEREOTYPE People”, because I was addicted in silence for over a decade, and because I looked so wonderful on the outside, people never saw my cries for help, people very close to me couldn’t discern how heavy my heart was, how sad, lonely, and depressed I was.
I was near death, and when I came out on the other side, I learned that people are fighting for their lives, but don’t even look like it!
Never judge a book by its cover.

This opioid epidemic has turned into a pandemic, and it will only get worse, many more lives will be lost.
My wish list consists of doctors and Pharmaceutical companies being held responsible and held accountable for prescribing mass amounts of opioids.
Thank you for reading.

Opioid Distribution Execs ‘Regret’ Role in Drug Epidemic

Earlier this month, five drug-distribution executives spoke before a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight panel investigating pill dumping in West Virginia by wholesale drug distributors. This is the first time a corporation has expressed regret for involvement in the opioid crisis.

One of the executives, George Barrett of Cardinal Health, apologized for his company’s role in the opioid epidemic. Although he didn’t take responsibility, he said, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish we had moved faster and asked a different set of questions. I am deeply sorry we did not. Today, I am confident we would reach different conclusions about those two pharmacies.”

Barrett did not accept responsibility for the epidemic. The other executives who were asked to testify were Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of Miami-Luken; John Hammergren, chairman, president, and chief executive of McKesson; J. Christopher Smith, former president and CEO of H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug; and Steven Collis, chairman, president and CEO of AmerisourceBergen. According to The Washington Post, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), chairman of the panel, asked the executives whether they believe the conduct of their companies contributed to the widespread opioid problem. Barrett and three others denied it.

Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of the board at Miami-Luken, answered, “Yes.”

The five companies were investigated for shipping millions of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to two small pharmacies in West Virginia. According to The Washington Post, “the investigation revealed that McKesson and Cardinal Health shipped 12.3 million doses of powerful prescription opioids to the Family Discount Pharmacy in Mount Gay-Shamrock, W.Va., from 2006 to 2014. The panel also is investigating deliveries Cardinal made to the Hurley Drug Company in Williamson, W.Va., which received more than 10.5 million pills during that same time period. A single pharmacy in Kermit, W.Va., a town of about 400 people, received nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills during two years.”

The three-hour testimony was attended by some of the lawyers who are representing counties, towns, and cities in the massive, consolidated case against Big Pharma being heard in Cleveland. In those suits, many of the drug distributors are being sued for damages. The reparations, for the most part, would be used to offset the strain of opioid addiction on local resources. Many of the lawyers representing different municipalities stated their cases will demonstrate distributors skirted their legal responsibility in order to profit.

America Admits It Has An Opioid Problem

A new poll shows that 7 in 10 Americans feel that opioid addiction is a very serious problem for the country, and most feel the federal government should be doing more to address it. According to CBS News, 71 percent of people across political lines and age and income levels call the issue very serious.

When Americans were asked who they blame most for the opioid addiction problem, 23 percent of people said pharmaceutical companies who make and sell the pain medication and 19 percent said doctors who prescribe the medication. Of the people surveyed, 16 percent said they blame dealers and gangs who bring drugs into the country.

StigmaTroubling: 28 percent of Americans, the largest group, said they blame people who abuse pain medication for the opioid addiction problem. Blaming people for substance use issues is one of the main factors that contributes to the stigma of addiction. Shame and silence, as well as ignorance about substance use disorder, keeps people from seeking help for their illness. Suggesting that people are at fault also overlooks the highly addictive nature of prescription painkillers, and how easy it is to develop a dependency on medication, even when used as prescribed.

It’s also troubling that more Americans would blame people with substance use disorder, when the drug epidemic hits increasingly close to home. More than four in 10 people, 45 percent, said they personally know someone who has suffered from opioid addiction. That includes one in five, who say the sick person is a member of their immediate family.

Although raised awareness about opioid addiction and the problems related to the drug epidemic are a step in the right direction, it’s critical to focus on helping people. Only 10 percent of people seek medical help for addiction, according to the Surgeon General’s 2016 report on substance use. The drug epidemic victimizes people of every race, gender, and social class. What’s needed is more education, intervention, and access to help, including medication-assisted recovery.

Across partisan lines, the large majority of Americans say the federal government should be doing more to address opioid addiction. Treating the epidemic like what it is — a health crisis — is a step toward saving lives and helping people sustain their recovery.

Woman Walks 2,220 Miles For Overdose Awareness

Heather Starbuck is hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness about substance use disorder. As she walks the 2,220-mile trail, she’s sharing the story of her late partner, who died of a heroin overdose in 2017.

Starbuck says that her fiance, Matt Adams, had been in recovery for two years when he suffered a fatal overdose. Adams’ issues with opioids began when he was prescribed OxyContin for an injury. When the pills ran out, he started using heroin. However, in recovery after a six-year addiction, Starbuck says Adams found joy and stability. He met Starbuck early in his recovery.

Courtesy Heather Starbuck
Courtesy Heather Starbuck

“In his recovery, Matt hiked all the time with a signature purple bandana and it really helped him stay stable and happy. Then when everything was unraveling and out of control after he died, I was depressed and couldn’t get out of bed, I felt like I couldn’t move, like I was going to die because of my grief,” Starbuck said.

She decided to follow in Matt’s footsteps and set out on the Appalachian Trail, although she had nearly no backcountry experience. She said she “had never started a campfire in her life or had ever gone backpacking. She said she bought the bulk of her gear 48-hours before hitting the trail and has learned many lessons about survival along the way.” She wears a purple bandana, like Adams did, and when she shares his story with someone, she gives them a bandana, too.

“It’s a true symbol of solidarity for those on the road to opioid recovery, one of the hardest addictions to overcome,” Starbuck said. “Matt always wore his purple bandana, so it is also a reminder of Matt. Of this beautiful person who struggled every single day, against a fight I could never even imagine.”

Starbuck also investigated the effect of the drug epidemic in the Appalachian region. According to the CDC, residents of the Appalachian Region are 55% more likely to die from a drug overdose than residents of the rest of the U.S. Starbuck spoke to peer counselors and those in recovery at Snowbird Treatment Center in Cherokee County, which has the highest overdose rate in the region. 54.5 people die of an opioid overdose per 100,000 every year in that part of North Carolina.

Raising awareness on a person-to-person level, Starbuck said, is critical to fighting the drug epidemic. On her hike, she’s met with recovery groups and parents who have lost a child to an overdose.

“It was a calling for me to heal and try to connect with people and learn from people from the Western North Carolina region and make sense with the madness that’s going on,” she said.

A Child’s Life Hangs In The Balance

Excerpt from: A CHILD’S LIFE HANGS IN THE BALANCE

by Katherine Ketcham

author of The Only Life I Could Save (Sounds True, Inc., April 1, 2018)

 

I sat in the corner of the pediatrician’s office listening to the doctor talk to my 18-year-old son.

“I understand you are here because your parents are concerned about your drug use,” she said. Her back was to me, and she spoke in a soft voice. I leaned forward to listen.

Ben must have nodded his head. She asked what drugs he used. Alcohol, but just on the weekends at parties. Marijuana, maybe once or twice a week. Cigarettes, but not very often, maybe one or two a day.

Liar! The word just slipped into my mind, and I immediately pushed it away, feeling ashamed of myself. What kind of a mother calls her son a liar? But still, he wasn’t telling the truth. He was, as we say in the addiction world, “minimizing,” “rationalizing,” “justifying.” Hadn’t he just confessed to me that he smoked weed every day, before school, at lunch, and after school?

Oh Benny, I thought, fighting back the tears, remembering the little boy who loved to snuggle with me, who giggled when we rubbed noses, who never failed to give me a kiss goodbye even in middle school—when did you change? When was the F word inserted in each and every sentence and sometimes between each and every word? When did you stop telling us how much you loved us and start shouting about how you hated everything, including your sisters—your sisters!—and how you couldn’t wait to get the hell out of this stupid house with our stupid rules and this stupid town with all its stupid people?

The doctor didn’t see the changes in you because they were hidden underneath the surface of a healthy-looking young man, nearly six feet tall and still growing, 185 pounds, freckles (oh, how I loved those freckles), polite, clean t-shirt tucked into his jeans, vital signs all normal. And that red hair. Where did he get that, I wondered for the hundredth time. Maybe from a grandparent, but on whose side and was it the same side where he got the genes that predisposed him to addiction? The doctor didn’t ask him about his family history, which was truly flabbergasting to me. Don’t doctors always want to know whether a parent, grandparent, or sibling has a disease that might have been passed along through a genetic inheritance? Ben’s father is an alcoholic in long-term recovery (30+ years), and that side of the family is riddled with alcoholism. But the doctor never asked those questions.

She asked about his grades. Good, he said, and now he was telling the truth because he got all As and Bs; his teachers loved him because he smiled a lot, handed in his assignments on time, and even though he was a goofball who loved to make people laugh with his funny faces and silly voices, he wasn’t disruptive; he was just a good kid. A good kid with a bad problem.

Well, she said, and in her voice, I could hear a reassuring smile, I don’t see a problem. I’m not worried about occasional marijuana use, but the drinking concerns me a bit—can you cut down? Sure, he said. No problem.

She shook his hand and thanked him for coming in. I followed behind them, my cheeks flushed with shame. If I had a tail, it would’ve been between my legs. Because I didn’t stand up and say in a firm, strong voice, “He’s not telling you the truth, and even if he is, occasional marijuana use is not okay for kids because their brains are developing, and he just told you he’s using three drugs EVERY WEEK, and YOU ARE NOT FUCKING CONCERNED ABOUT THAT?”

I was polite. I didn’t want to be the book-writing-author-know-it-all. I was intimidated by her—a doctor, after all. Sure, I write books about drugs and addiction, but I don’t have a PhD or MD after my name. But still, really, why do I know so much about addiction, and she doesn’t seem to know anything?

Ben and I drive home and don’t say a word to each other. His legs are jumpy, and his fingers tap tap tap his jeans. I know what he’s thinking: Wow, glad that’s over! Time to get high!

And I’m thinking, with a mixture of pain and shame and grief and guilt: When I needed an ally in this fight to help my son, what I got instead was a virtual prescription for him to continue using. I have never felt so alone in my life.

What happened next took my breath away. A few days later, I told the story of our doctor visit to the family support group in my town, and two mothers nearly jumped out of their chairs, both talking at the same time and speaking the same words: “That’s what happened to me!” We resolved, then, to do what we could to educate doctors about the epidemic of drug use in our town and the desperate need to listen to the parent’s side of the story. We’re not “over-reacting,” as some people think, nor are we “helicopter parents” or “enablers” or any of the other labels and diagnoses assigned to us. We’re reaching out for help because our children are at great risk.

Great risk. I do not exaggerate. Six of our children in this small group in our small town are now dead from drug-related causes: overdoses, infections, suicide, fatal accidents, gang violence. At some point in the trajectory of their young lives, a doctor, counselor, teacher, or friend might have intervened and possibly saved their lives.

That same week, I approached a pediatrician and asked if he would be willing to help us educate other doctors and health care professionals. He responded with honesty and humility. “I don’t know anything, really, about addiction, especially adolescent addiction, because it wasn’t part of my medical training. But I have two young children; I see the problems daily, and I’m willing to learn and ready to help.”

 

Katherine Ketcham has co-authored 17 books, 10 on the subject of addiction and recovery, including the New York Times bestseller “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption,” with William Cope Moyers. Her latest book is “The Only Life I Could Save: A Memoir.” Ketcham has led treatment and recovery efforts at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center in Washington State, and in 2009, she founded the Trilogy Recovery Community.

Funding the National Institutes of Health

Last month, the National Institutes of Health announced that it won’t accept funds from drug makers to fund research aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic. The research plan, budgeted at roughly $400 million, would seek to develop new medicines to treat addiction or serve as alternatives to opioids, according to Stat.

NIHOriginally, NIH Director Francis Collins has said, pharmaceutical companies would pay for about half of the research. Now, it appears that the NIH will not be taking money from drug makers. The change, which some people are calling “abrupt,” is a response to a working group recommendation about ethical industry partnerships. The recommendation suggests that, because of the role of certain drug makers in perpetuating the drug epidemic. In its report, the NIH advisory committee specifically cited Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt, two opioid manufacturers currently being sued for their opioid marketing tactics.

The report said, “Since there are certain ethical and reputational risks associated with accepting funds or scientific assets from companies that may have contributed to the opioid crisis, NIH needs to take appropriate steps to consider those ethical boundaries and to minimize those risks while aiming to benefit patients and public health.”

Due to this recommendation, Collins said the NIH would only accept industry help and government funding for the research. The main goals of the plan are to set up a clinical trial network, establish common biomarkers for drug development, and share data. NIH will take no money from drug companies interested in teaming up.

“I fully embrace [the] recommendation that NIH should vigorously address the national opioid crisis with government funds and decline cash contributions through partnerships from the private sector,” Collins said in a statement.

The ability to turn down Big Pharma’s offer of funding was due in part to action from Congress. According to Stat, “Lawmakers, beyond a broader increase in NIH funding, allocated $500 million to the agency for opioids research alone, half to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and half to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.”

A spokesperson for NIH said, “It would have been difficult to move forward at an optimal pace prior to the Congressional allocation of funds for opioid and pain research.” They also stated, in an email to Stat, that the decision to decline cash contributions from industry was based only on recommendations from the NIH working group and Foundation for the NIH, an external organization that serves as a go-between for industry and government on similar partnerships.

New Study Attempts to Revive Harmful Stereotypes About Addiction

Substance use disorder, which we also refer to as addiction, is an illness. However, for centuries, it has been misunderstood as a “moral failing.” People with substance use disorder, in recovery or not, were treated as morally weak, inferior, and sinful.

In the last decade, thanks to many hard working advocates and activists as well as allies in our communities and in the medical field, substance use disorder is being recognized as what it is: an illness. The DSM-V, a diagnostic guide for mental disorders, now includes a definition for substance use disorder. The SAMHSA website says, “Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of substance use disorder is based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.”

As the opioid epidemic continues to expand exponentially, affecting more families, communities, and individuals, people in mass have faced the urgency of services and supports for those addicted. This understanding is beginning to help more people with substance use disorder get access to life saving tools like recovery housing, criminal justice-diversion programs, and evidenced-based treatment.

NaloxoneThere is still deep, ingrained prejudice against people with substance use disorder. This tends to often appear around harm reduction methods, such as the use of medications like methadone, syringe exchanges, or even the overdose reversal medication, naloxone. Some people argue that harm reduction should not be available, and that it somehow “enables” the person to keep using. That harmful belief costs people their lives. The importance of naloxone cannot be understated.

From the Surgeon General’s recent advisory to carry naloxone, to overdose awareness trainings led by Facing Addiction with NCADD Action Network partners, naloxone is a known life saver.

However, a new two-year study by Jennifer L. Doleac and Anita Mukherjee claims that naloxone can actually increase the number of overdoses, opioid-related crimes, and opioid-related deaths. The study, titled “The Moral Hazard of Lifesaving Innovations: Naloxone Access, Opioid Abuse, and Crime” concludes that “While naloxone has great potential as a harm-reduction strategy, our analysis is consistent with the hypothesis that broadening access to naloxone encourages riskier behaviors with respect to opioid abuse.”

This line of thinking is one of the reasons we have a drug epidemic in the first place. Doleac and Mukherjee state: “However, naloxone access may unintentionally increase opioid abuse through two channels: (1) reducing the risk of death per use, thereby making riskier opioid use more appealing, and (2) saving the lives of active drug users, who survive to continue abusing opioids. By increasing the number of opioid abusers who need to fund their drug purchases, naloxone access laws may also increase theft.”

Suggesting naloxone encourages opioid use is like saying people with asthma are enabled by their inhalers. By this logic, an inhaler encourages people to breathe unsafely: without an inhaler, their lungs will “learn to breathe normally.” Or, to extrapolate Doleac and Mukherjee’s second point, if we keep giving people with asthma their medication when they have an asthma attack, they’ll just keep needing more help.

This study contradicts other research that confirms the benefits of naloxone. A recent National Institutes of Health study of two groups of heroin users found no increase in high-risk behavior resulted from increased naloxone access. And an economics paper from last year found that naloxone access laws typically resulted in a reduction in opioid-related deaths of between 9 and 11 percent.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner, who issued a citywide prescription to any individual wishing to purchase naloxone last year and has been a vocal advocate for addiction response, told Stat: “I think what’s important for us to take into account is that this [study] is not science in medical best practice. The last thing that we need in the middle of an opioid epidemic is for information to come out that further stigmatizes addiction and can cost lives. I think we have a duty to a higher burden of proof.”

Wen also criticized the study for what she characterized as misleading methodology. For instance, Doleac and Mukherjee used opioid-related emergency room visits to gauge population-level addiction trends. Those visits could also rise in response to better public health campaigns informing drug users of how to seek treatment: that increases in health care system connections for those struggling is not necessarily a bad thing. Also, the study looked at a varied set of laws that Wen said likely had disparate impacts on actual naloxone access.

“Given the substantial change in the riskiness of the drug supply, I think the overdose death numbers would have been been substantially higher had we not deployed naloxone to the extent we did,” said Chris Jones, the director of the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory.

We know naloxone saves lives. It can’t be the only tool we use to help people in crisis, but there is no doubt that it is beneficial.

My baby didn’t have a chance.

My 21 year old son passed away last May 16th 2017 from an accidental overdose of Heroin/Fentanyl. It began last April 2nd when he had a motorcycle wreck with significant injuries. He crushed his hip and dislocated his hip joint.

I was so scared I was going to lose him then. I knew he would have his reconstructive surgery and even with a long road to recovery, he would mend. I thanked God every day for sparing my son’s life! Of course, he was legitimately prescribed pain medications. Six weeks later, he ran out of his prescription early because he loaned some out to a family member and was promised he would pay him back the very next day when a family member got his filled.

The next day came, and he received excuses why he wouldn’t be paid back what he loaned out. He was in so much pain and hurting so bad and was told he could get something much stronger that would help him. I realize he agreed to it, and that breaks my heart even more.

He had a fear of needles, I know that to be fact. He was injected in his right arm, his dominant hand, detective even said no way he could’ve injected himself with his dominant hand in dominant arm, we do know that was his 1st time trying it, and he was injected with three times the lethal amount. My baby didn’t have a chance.

I want to raise awareness and advocacy because if his story can save one life, I feel he’s accomplished something all the way from Heaven.

No Naloxone In New York City Pharmacies?

In 2015, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray kicked off a city-wide plan to prevent opioid-related deaths. According to the new initiative, New Yorkers would be able to get the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at participating pharmacies without a prescription. The city provided a list of locations that provide the medication.

Ryan Christopher Jones
Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

That was three years ago. This year, The New York Times investigated how the initiative has actually impacted New York. The Times found that of the 720 pharmacies listed by the city as “carrying naloxone,” on only about a third of them actually had the medication on the shelf and would dispense it without a prescription.

What was wrong with the list? According to New York’s health department, part of the problem may be the criteria for being listed. If a pharmacy on the list did not have naloxone in stock, but merely offered to order it, they were considered eligible. Willingness, not having the medication on hand, was enough to meet the program’s guidelines. However, some pharmacies who met the first requirement failed on another: they offered naloxone, but required a prescription to dispense it.

According to The New York Times, “Some pharmacy workers inaccurately said that only the person in need of the drug could buy it, and then only with a prescription.”

Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times
Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

Areas of the city that were heavily affected by the drug epidemic, such as the Bronx, did not have better, much-needed access to naloxone. More people died of opioid-related overdoses in the Bronx than in any other borough in 2016, yet, according to The Times’ investigation, only about a quarter of the more than 100 pharmacies on the list had naloxone and followed the protocol. When the medication was requested, pharmacists seemed “bewildered” and didn’t understand how to dispense it, or even what the medication was for.

The naloxone program was created with the idea that anyone, including minors, could walk into a participating pharmacy and leave with the medication. This was made possible under a standing order: “Pharmacists were to use the city health commissioner’s name, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, in place of a prescribing physician’s. They were to show the customer how to administer naloxone and bill their insurance.”

However, the lack of actual availability, in addition to the lack of knowledge about naloxone and protocol for dispensing it, points to a failure of communication. To remedy this, Dr. Bassett told The Times that “in addition to contacting stores on the list, the department would send workers to as many as 800 independent pharmacies in neighborhoods with high rates of overdose deaths.”

Naloxone has made headlines in recent weeks, as the United States surgeon general, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, issued a national advisory recommending that more Americans carry it and learn to use it. This was the first advisory from the Surgeon General in more than a decade.

Furthermore, local groups and government agencies are making an effort to provide naloxone and teach people how to use it. According to The Times, “Since last July, more than 70,000 naloxone kits have been distributed to the police, health care providers, homeless shelters and community-based organizations. When the mayor recently announced the city would spend an additional $22 million a year on anti-opioid initiatives, bringing annual funding for its HealingNYC program to $60 million, he said some of the extra funds would go toward increased training and distribution of naloxone.”

Focusing on overdose prevention in pharmacies, however, is still important. Many opioid users, including people with chronic pain, may need naloxone but not consider themselves to be at risk for an overdose. The stigma of syringe use, and of substance use disorder, may prevent people from accessing naloxone when they’re in need.

“People might go to pharmacies who would never go into a needle exchange,” said Van Asher, who runs daily operations and the syringe exchange at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx.

One of Facing Addiction’s partners, START, is helping educate people about naloxone, and taking on the drug epidemic. Dr. Lawrence S. Brown, the CEO of START, said,  “Naloxone is one of the keys to any plan to address the opioid crisis head-on. At START, every new clinician is trained in naloxone administration and provided a naloxone emergency revival kit. For this life-saving medication to be so difficult to obtain is a grave issue, but we believe it can be and will be addressed. There is no other option. Until then, we will continue to strive to be a leader in keeping our most vulnerable New Yorkers safe at all times.”

An overdose can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone using opioids. Our partners are stepping up to ensure that naloxone is everywhere an overdose might be.

My Son Deserved More Than 30 Days

I’m writing to tell you about the loss of my only son to a heroin/fentanyl overdose. Samuel was just 19 years old when he died.

In February of 2015, Samuel made a phone call to his big sister asking her for help. You see, he loved me so much that he couldn’t bear to hurt me by telling me himself. That day in February, Sam was home with me, sleeping. I came home and noticed my daughter’s car at my house. This was unusual for a Tuesday. I thought to myself “ What a nice surprise!”

But when I came through my front door, it was a moment I’ll never forget. The look my children gave me was so sad and serious. I thought someone died.

Susan JacobsOn this day, we found out that Samuel was addicted to heroin. He had reached out for help. Yet, I feel like we failed him. We immediately started making phone calls, trying to get him into a treatment center as soon as possible. My daughter wanted to take Samuel home to her house in hopes of getting him away from his source. We also immediately changed his cell phone number in hopes of taking away his source for heroin.

We checked him into a treatment center the following Monday. He could only stay for 30 days. He seemed to be doing great, but we did get him a prescription for Vivitrol, the shot that blocks heroin’s effects. It wasn’t necessarily for prevention, but so he’d be safe if he should suffer a relapse.

Upon his release from the center, we had decided and Samuel agreed to live with his sister, go to meetings and get a job, as well as enroll in college. He accomplished all of this within a two-month period.

Things were going very well for Samuel. I couldn’t be more proud of him. Little did we know, he was still struggling.

I’ll never forget June 19, 2015. That’s the day I got the call from my daughter, saying that Samuel wasn’t breathing. Samuel had been working the early morning shift. He came home and laid down on his bed for a nap.

My daughter yelled, “Hey, Sammikins! You going to sleep all day?” There was no response. She immediately started CPR and called 911. He didn’t make it.

Our lives are forever changed. Samuel was smart, caring, and handsome. I could go on and on. He was always a great student. He played lacrosse. He came from a very loving family.

Susan Jacobs FamilyI miss my son all the time. I stop at the cemetery often, on my commute to work. I survive because of my faith and strong support of my friends and family. I still struggle every day because I miss my only son.

Here is what I wish I had known. I wish I had known that addiction treatment takes a lot longer than just 30 days. I wish that my daughter didn’t have to find her little brother, who she loved dearly, dead from an overdose.

I’ve learned that there are a whole lot of lives lost every day to heroin. I’ve learned just how powerful heroin is and how very hard it is to get out of active addiction. I’ve learned that anyone could easily develop substance use disorder: addiction doesn’t discriminate.

I wish that people could get help for their addiction immediately. I wish that our government would do much more to help people.

I want to help others by telling my story. What helps me keep going is that I know it would hurt my son so much to see how his mom hurts every day. My life is forever changed and will never be the same. I’m a different person without Samuel. I’m a grandmother now, and I’m still a mom for my daughter.

I don’t have a choice: I have to keep going. I pray that this story helps others.

PURPOSE: Peer Support for Parents

PURPOSE (Parents United with Responsive Parents for Online Support and Education) – A Facebook Support Group for Parents of Teens in Treatment

Marya My name is Marya Schulte and I am a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. My research focuses on helping teens and families affected by substance use disorders. I am a licensed clinical psychologist and have experience as both a therapist and researcher within this field. I have been at UCLA for over five years now; prior to coming here, I treated veterans at the VA Long Beach. I am particularly interested in learning how technology, such as social media, can be used in positive ways – such as promoting education and providing emotional support.

Currently, I am looking for parents who may be interested in volunteering to participate in a new study. The study is designed to test out how helpful a peer-led, private Facebook group could be in providing information and support to parents. I wanted to create an easily accessible, peer-led support group for parents – something that did not require them to drive somewhere, take time off work, find childcare, etc. When I have talked to parents and providers over the years, they have often commented on the logistical barriers for coming to sessions or getting to support groups. I wanted to provide a safe space that did a similar thing to in-person support groups but in a medium that people are already using: Facebook.

Study participation is easy – interested parents/guardians do a five-minute phone-screen, and if still interested and eligible, then they will do an hour-long phone interview. After the interview, parents will be assigned either to be a member of the Facebook group, or to carry-on as they normally do (no PURPOSE Facebook group). For the parents assigned to the PURPOSE Facebook group, they are encouraged to “like,” comment, and post within the group. However, there are no requirements for the level of engagement in the PURPOSE group. After two months, all parents will be asked to participate in a second phone interview. Parents receive $50 after the first interview and $60 after the second.

The study is open to parents of teens ages 13 to 18; teens must be engaged with some sort of outpatient treatment. Parents can be located anywhere in the country – they just need a valid Facebook account (they are welcome to use a fake name if they prefer not to use their own personal account). The group is private and closed. Those not invited to the group cannot see who is in the group and what is posted.

My hope is that this study is the first step in creating larger online communities. What I learn from this project can inform future research and be used to help more and more parents that have a son or daughter suffering from a substance use disorder. This work is important to me because I have seen how substance abuse can impact families. Parents often feel afraid, overwhelmed, and very much alone when going through this journey of trying to help their child through recovery. As a result, they neglect their own need for support and self-care. And perhaps participation in a research study or support group just feels like “one more thing” on the already long to-do list, but I do hope parents view this as an opportunity to give and receive support without even leaving their home. Learning from one another can be truly powerful.

If you are interested in learning more about participating in the study, then contact me by phone (310-267-5289), email ([email protected]), or direct message me via Facebook (search for Marya Schulte). I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the study and participation in it.

I Didn’t Know How To Help

My daughter Tara Lynn was 26 years old, and addicted to heroin.

Four years earlier, in tears, she asked me for help. I proceeded to get her into detox. Little did I know that it would be a long road of relapses, detox, rehabs, jail, and finally death.

Tara LynnTara was a born athlete. She played soccer and basketball with plenty of college opportunities. She passed up those chances because she was tired of playing. She started committing felonies, ended up in jail several times, and finally was admitted to the Middlesex County drug court program.

After ten months in jail, Tara had six months of sobriety. However, when she got out, she died from fentanyl poisoning. Tara had some problems with attending 12-Step meetings. She just did not want to go, nor did she get a sponsor. These are crucial elements in getting and staying sober.

Her boyfriends during this time were all in active addiction. The only abstinence she had was while she was in jail.

I wish I had the chance to make better decisions regarding her recovery.

Addiction-Related Legislation Helps Oregon Recover

In March, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed two bills and an executive order declaring addiction a public health crisis. New deadlines, a timeline, and a 2020 due date are getting Oregon on track to face addiction in a realistic, sustainable way.

PHOTO: ERICKA CRUZ GUEVARRA/OPB

Under this new order, the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission would need to deliver a plan to combat the drug epidemic by 2020. Calls for action started almost a decade ago, in 2009. However, canceled meetings, staffing issues, and other administrative problems have held up progress. Now, along with the new deadline, one of the bills will give the commission the power to hire staff.

A second bill, which Brown also signed on the same day, also covers the drug epidemic. It will require a study of barriers to addiction treatment with a pilot project. It will also require drug prescribers to register with Oregon’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority said the declaration would not unlock additional funding or require any action by the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission. A spokesperson for Brown told KGW News they were not aware of the bill having other direct effects.

Oregon was ranked 51st in the United States for access to mental health and addiction treatment. Advocacy group Oregon Recovers has been active in supporting legislation that would protect people with substance use disorder. By putting people in recovery in leadership roles, creating points of accountability or authority within the government, and improving treatment, prevention, and aftercare measures, Oregon Recovers aims to make Oregon “the recovery state” within five years.

Brown’s signing of the executive order and recovery related bills is a win for recovery in Oregon.Mike Marshall, Director of Oregon Recovers, told KGW that “the bills and order will help move the state away from sporadic treatment that starts and stops when a drug user moves between different parts of the system, and toward coordinated, long-term support.”

Arkansas Sues 52 Opioid Manufacturers and 13 Others

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit against 52 opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson, as well as 13 other distributors, physicians, pharmacists and retailers. This action makes Arkansas the 17th state to sue opioid manufacturers due to their involvement in the American drug epidemic. The lawsuits claim that manufacturers used misleading marketing practices.

“The reckless actions of these opioid manufacturers have wreaked havoc upon Arkansas and her citizens for far too long,” Rutledge said in a statement.

The Arkansas case is different from other lawsuits against opioid manufacturers because it brings together cities and counties in a single civil case. “Our case is unique in that regard, because it focuses on a remedy that will solve this problem,” Jerome Tapley, an attorney advising the cities and counties in the suit, told CNN.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Little Rock, says opioid manufacturers spent millions of dollars on misleading marketing. Promotional materials, which were distributed to doctors, patients, pharmacies, and other potential customers, were not transparent about the risks of addiction and other side effects of opioid medication. Instead, the companies’ marketing minimized or misrepresented the risks and played up the benefits of using the drugs. The lawsuit claims that opioid manufacturers “falsely touted the benefits of long-term opioid use, including the supposed ability of opioids to improve function and quality of life, even though there was no ‘good evidence’ to support their claims.”

“Each manufacturer defendant knew that its misrepresentations of the risks and benefits of opioids were not supported by, or were directly contrary, to the scientific evidence,” says the suit.

The suit is seeking a jury trial in Arkansas determine how much money the companies should pay in reparations. The settlement would be used to create mental health clinics, drug courts, opioid abuse treatment clinics and other treatment programs in Arkansas. The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association that represents wholesale distributors of opioids, including two named in the suit, called the drug epidemic a “complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response.”

“The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” Senior Vice President John Parker said in a written statement. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

The three major companies named in the suit have not all filed responses, and they have given public statements to the press.

Johnson & Johnson:

“Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications.”

Purdue Pharma:

“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.” They are “deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis” and they are dedicated to working toward a solution.

Endo, the third major company named in the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment. “We are unable to comment on legal matters relating to specific member companies,” industry group PhRMA told CNN in a statement.

 

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