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Overprescribing Opioids: Four Doctors Prescribe 6 Million Pills in 1 Year

Overprescribing Opioids: Four Doctors Prescribe 6 Million Pills in 1 Year

Author: Justin Mckibben

Despite the fact that over 91 people die every day from an overdose due to prescription drugs, some people still struggle to realize that prescription drug abuse is the driving force behind the current opioid epidemic. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):

  • 4 out of 5 heroin users started out abusing prescription pain medication
  • 94% of people in treatment for opioid addiction surveyed in 2014 switched to heroin from prescription opioids.

One of the biggest issues is that powerful opioid painkillers are being overprescribed. Whether due to aggressive marketing tactics used by Big Pharma companies or the corrupt ‘pill mills’ where doctors were dishing out excessive prescriptions of potent drugs to be sold on the street, prescription opioids flooded the neighborhoods across the nation, helping create one of the worst addiction outbreaks in American history.

But it wasn’t just the fact that drugs were making it onto the streets. In general, even legitimate opioid prescriptions were astonishingly high. While too many people still think the only problem is heroin or street drugs, the facts show us that opioid painkillers were still largely overprescribed in recent years, which contributed to the current crisis.

Too ‘Legit’ to Quit

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 92 million U.S. adults in 2015 were taking a legitimately prescribed opioid. That translates to 38% of the adult American population.

There were an estimated 240 million opioid prescriptions in 2015, nearly one for every adult in the general population. Even the Deputy Director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Wilson Compton, said,

“The proportion of adults who receive these medications in any year seemed startling to me”..”It’s an awful lot of people who take these, mostly for medical purposes, but within that, a significant percentage end up misusing them,”

So while a lot of these prescriptions were going to treating serious conditions, how many ended up on the street or being abused at home because they were overprescribed?

The same NSDUH survey found that 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids they obtained through illicit means. Overall, Dr. Compton states that these results indicate medical professionals are doing a poor job of appropriately prescribing these medications.

The trend didn’t end there. According to a new report, nearly 3 million people who had surgery in 2016 became persistent opioid users, taking the drugs 3-6 months after a procedure. The report also states that due to overprescribing, 3.3 billion pills were left unused by patients, which left them open for diversion or misuse.

Some pain management advocates insist that pain may end up being undertreated due to the rising scrutiny of opioid prescriptions.  Many of these advocates say it is extremely difficult to truly know if opioids are overprescribed because pain is too hard to objectively quantify. Therefore, some patients may actually need more relief resources than others.

Yet, prescribing rates are still, at the very least, questionably high. Especially considering by most estimates that over 50% of opioid pills legitimately prescribed are unused by patients, which suggests significant overprescribing certainly exists.

4 Doctors, 6 Million Pills, 1 Year

One recent case in particular that stands out concerning overprescribing of medications is the story of a small northwestern county in Arizona where 4 doctors prescribed nearly 6 million opioid pills in a 12 month period. The data provided by the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program did not list the doctors by name, but did give detailed information about the prescriptions.

Out of all 4, the top prescribing doctor is responsible for:

  • More than 20,000 opioid prescriptions
  • Equaling out to over 1.9 million pills
  • That comes to 7,350 pills a day

The second-place prescriber is responsible for:

  • More than 15,000 prescriptions
  • Equaling out to nearly 1.6 million pills

The other two doctors totally a combined 2.4 million pills prescribed.

The four doctors in question are located in Mohave County, which as of 2016 is home to approximately only 205,249 people. That comes out to about a 30 opioid supply for every single person in that county.

Now while pain may be hard to objectively quantify, these numbers are obviously unsettling. Even the executive director of the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, Kam Gandhi, could not explain why or how these four physicians were able to issue so many opioid pills.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to specify exactly what actions are being taken by his office concerning this development. However, according to AZ Central Doug Skvarla, who directs the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program, said that information has been passed on to Brnovich’s office for “an open investigation.”

Illicit Use of Prescriptions

There are plenty other issues with opioid prescriptions being taken advantage of all over the United States. Pain management advocates often argue that the problem isn’t about opioid prescriptions; it’s the people that misuse and divert the medications. In other words, that the people abusing opioids frequently don’t have a legitimate prescription. A lot of opioid pills being abused are obtained illicitly.

Many people won’t use their whole prescription. Many will actually give pills to a loved one who doesn’t have their own pain treatment. Or they will sell their remaining pills. Pill mills and ‘doctor shopping’ allowed for the even worse spread of excessive opioid prescriptions. Like in Illinois, where one individual received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 different prescribers and filed them at 20 different pharmacies. In some cases, the individual filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies in one day.

There is absolutely a high demand on the illegal drug market for prescription opioid painkillers. As a former addict who spent over 7 years using, buying and selling opioid medications on the street, I can say there is plenty of ways to get these drugs without a prescription.

However, if we back-track a little bit, how did so many potent medications get onto the streets if there is no overprescribing?

Feeling the Pain

Pain management is absolutely necessary. There must be resources and effective medications available for those suffering from serious medical conditions or recovering from life-altering procedures. There is no denying that we have to provide effective pain relief options for patients who desperately need it. So, of course, this is a difficult conversation to have, because many people can take these medications are directed and be fine when they are gone. Some people require long-term pain treatment, but it does not result in a severe addiction.

Still, the fact is that if these medications weren’t being prescribed more than medically necessary, they would have never flooded the underground drug marketplace as rapidly and as abundantly as they did. Between doctors overprescribing (sometimes for kickbacks), patients working the system and manipulating physicians, and the aggressive marketing tactics of Big Pharma going unchecked, there are plenty of elements at play.

Undoubtedly when we examine the opioid epidemic we cannot ignore any contribution. We have to make efforts to combat the spread of heroin addiction. There has to be an intensive effort to deal with the incredibly deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, and people also have to acknowledge their own choices and do their part to move forward. It might be a difficult and painful process, but it is necessary.

Still, overprescribing of opioid medications cannot be ignored. We should explore all options concerning prescription monitoring programs, enforce current regulations of drug distribution, and develop innovations in pain management therapy.

According to one report, even just a 10% reduction in surgery-related opioid prescribing would reduce:

  • The number of excess post-surgical pills available for diversion or misuse by 332 million
  • The annual number of patients who go on to persistent opioid use after surgery by 300,000
  • Annual drug costs by $830 million

Not only can we do better to treat those suffering from chronic and severe pain, but we can do better to make sure these potent and habit-forming medications don’t end up in the wrong place. For those who abuse prescription opioids, or who have found themselves using heroin, we need to provide safe and effective treatment options. Palm Partners Recovery Center has been treating people struggling with drug dependence and substance use disorder for decades, focusing on holistic and comprehensive care. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Legal Marijuana Coming to New Jersey and Virginia?

Legal Marijuana Coming to New Jersey and Virginia?

Author: Justin Mckibben

The elections held this past Tuesday may not have directly addressed the status of marijuana, but voters in multiple states did elect officials who are adamant about making legal marijuana more available.

Next Year in New Jersey

One of those states is New Jersey, who’s outgoing governor is Chris Christie, chairman of the White House commission on opioids.

Last week Democrat Phil Murphy, who made legal marijuana one of the cornerstones of his campaign, won the state over. This creates a radical change for the state. For years Chris Christie has blocked attempts to legalize cannabis, and even maintains his opposition to it while fighting to help the country get a grip on the opioid epidemic.

Phil Murphy has been pretty open about his support for marijuana legalization. According to Forbes, Murphy even talked about it during his primary night victory speech saying,

“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,”

“And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”

Apparently, it isn’t just Murphy in the state that is looking forward to pushing this legislation along. The Democratically-controlled state Senate is expecting to bring up legal marijuana as early as next year. In regards to the topic, earlier this year Senate President Stephen Sweeney said,

“We are going to have a new governor in January 2018. As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it.”

Voters in Virginia

Voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia also elected an official who advocates for loosening restrictions on marijuana. Current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession. While it may not be as liberal a stance as Murphy, it is still a big step in a lot of people’s minds. Northam writes,

“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia.”

But it isn’t just about the individuals. Northam also points out the resources going to this issue. He has written to the Virginia State Crime Commission as part of its review of the effects of marijuana decriminalization.

“Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement—enough to open up another 13,000 pre-K spots for children,”

Again, not that he is pushing for complete legalization, but to stop stiff penalties for those with small amounts of marijuana. Northam also advocates for research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch, he has stated,

“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants,” he said in an interview Monday. “So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes.”

He isn’t alone in Virginia either. Even the Republican state Senate leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. questioned whether or not small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime.

Marijuana in More Areas

But it isn’t just these two offices that indicate there may be more change coming for marijuana policy. In other areas around the country, there are other notable shifts that may dramatically impact marijuana policy.

  • Athens, Ohio

77% of voters in the college town eliminated fines and court costs for possessing or growing up to 200 grams of marijuana.

  • Wayne County, Michigan

In an area that includes Detroit, voters now allow cannabis businesses to operate in more areas and to stay open longer. Michigan is expected to have a marijuana legalization bill on the 2018 ballot.

  • Philadelphia

Lawrence Krasner won the election for District Attorney. Krasner has been outspoken about the benefits of marijuana reform. According to Krasner,

“One of the things we see in other jurisdictions is that, where marijuana is readily available, there’s a 25% reduction in opiate/opioid overdose deaths.”

“So if Philadelphia is looking at 500 opiate/opioid overdose deaths a year, a district attorney, by choosing not to enforce against marijuana usage, can potentially save 125 lives. That’s what a district attorney should exercise his or her discretion to do.”

It seems between lightening the punishments for possession, expanding programs for legal marijuana, and electing officials that will advocate for its use, marijuana may have already seen some real change this November.

What to Remember about Legal Marijuana

It is important to note for anyone who has a history of substance use disorder that the legal status of a substance does not make it safer. You could argue that marijuana is much safer than opioids like prescription drugs or heroin. While marijuana is not as lethal concerning overdose deaths, it still should not ignore the risks.

Marijuana reform has the potential for some positive and negative outcomes. Ultimately voters will have to consider weighing the pros and cons of reform. Either way, it is important to remember that any substance, legal or not, can be addictive. While marijuana may become more accepted on a legal level, it is still unhealthy to abuse this drug. If you find yourself abusing this or any drug it is very important that you seek safe and effective treatment resources.

Because drug abuse is always destructive, marijuana abuse is no exception. If you or someone you love are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please seek help. Regardless of whether a drug is legalized or not, losing control of your use can lead to something much worse. We want to help. You are not alone. Call toll-free now. 

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Big Pharma Propaganda: How Drug Companies Feed the Crisis

Big Pharma Propaganda: How Drug Companies Feed the Problem

Author: Justin Mckibben

Overprescribing of powerful prescription medications is just one part of how the current American opioid crisis came to be. While incredibly dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl came pouring in from across the globe, the pharmaceutical industry right in our own backyard thrived off of the devastation it was helping create. And as more people became aware of how prescription drugs were contributing to one of the worst drug epidemics in the country’s history, Big Pharma has come under fire for a number of things over the years. To name a few, we’ve seen arguments against drug companies for:

With recent reports, such as the explosive piece of 60 Minutes last month, we have also been exposed to the corruption, greed and a disregard for the well-being of the consumer.

The Big Pharma propaganda machine has paid out countless dollars for criminal and civil settlements over the years. Now even state officials are resorting to lawsuits against drug manufacturers in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis.

So how did all this happen? How deep does the Big Pharma propaganda go? Some of this you might already know, but some of it might actually surprise you.

Prescription Politics

In case you didn’t know, the pharmaceuticals and health products industry spends the most money on lobbying politicians. And not even by a little.

  • Big Pharma and Health Products spent $3,714,580,815

That means that Big Pharma spends:

  • $1,134,783,913 more than 2nd place- Insurance Companies
  • $1,717,237,691 more than Oil/Gas Companies

The pharmaceutical industry, including dealers of medical products and nutritional/dietary supplements, is consistently a top contributor more to federal campaigns than any other industry.

In essence, drug companies spend big money on politics.

Whether we can always see it or not, this kind of financial incentive is more than likely playing into our current work on policy. For example, moves to pass legislation earlier this year were called into question by one source who pointed out 13 senators who were trying to push through a bill that would benefit the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from these companies between 2010 and 2016, including:

  • Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led the way with more than $471,000
  • Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell with over $433,00 in donations

FUN FACT- Many lobbyists working on behalf of Big Pharma companies have previously held government jobs.

Information Manipulation

Truthfully, drug companies spend several years before a drug even makes it to the market on planning a strategy for selling it to you. Part of that strategy is proving drugs have value for treatment. However, according to some industry insiders, a lot of the time there is not enough comprehensive data to prove that value.

What you might also find surprising is that some of the earliest information drug companies have published about their products aren’t actually from credible sources. Ad agencies will hire writers to produce articles on behalf of the drug maker highlighting benefits of a drug. But the data is often cherry-picked and incomplete.

These articles are then sold to the public as ‘scientific’ because they are printed and published by some of the biggest scientific and medical publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Those articles are then picked up by television and other news sources.

So essentially, drug companies often team up with marketing companies to fool not just doctors, but the public into thinking their product provides something that has yet to be proven. Big Pharma propaganda corrupts the research into their drugs and makes people believe their products are safer and more effective than they are.

For more important information on the dangers of prescription drugs, download our FREE E-BOOK “Big Secrets of Big Pharma: Why They Secretly Hope You Get Hooked”


Big Pharma’s Billions in Ads

It isn’t just behind the scenes that Big Pharma propaganda takes place. Drug makers spend around $21 billion a year just to pedal products through advertising. One big problem for Americans is that many of their promotional techniques have been called out for being false advertising or misleading, to say the least.

  • 2015, the industry spent a record-breaking $5.4 billion of direct-to-consumer ads alone.
  • The same year, Americans spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs.

Some sources indicate there are about 80 drug advertisements per hour. While drug companies want people to think it is raising awareness, it is most definitely a commercial to sell you something.

Many pharma companies even have deep financial ties to medical communication companies (MCC) like WebMD or Medscape. This is just one more way they can influence physicians and consumers without people realizing the drug makers are funding the information.

Doctors Recruiting Doctors

But the drug makers don’t stop with recruiting politicians to support them. They also utilize doctors to help them push their products. The main target audience in most of the campaigns pushed by Big Pharma propaganda is not necessarily the consumer as much as it is the person who writes the prescriptions.

Drug companies giving kickbacks to doctors is nothing new.

So drugmakers create an advisory board, where some of the most successful and well-respected doctors are put on the payroll with huge payoffs to help drug companies design a marketing campaign that will help promote the drugs to other doctors. Once these doctors have helped highlight the best ways to convince other physicians these drugs work, they themselves validate the drug in a way that encourages other doctors to prescribe the drug.

Drugs to Treat Drugs

A while back there was an ad that ran during the Superbowl that caught the attention of a lot of people. It was an ad selling an anti-constipation drug for those so dependent on prescription opioids that they were suffering from constipation as a side effect.

This is another huge problem with how drugs are marketed to us… in tandem.

Instead of suggesting an alternative treatment, drug companies want to give you more drugs to combat the effects of other drugs. Doctors will often prescribe a second medication for no other purpose than to treat the effects of the first medication. Big Pharma propaganda can literally sell you the illness and the medicine in the same marketing campaign. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine describes this as “prescribing cascade”.The study indicates that the practice of using drugs to treat problems with other drugs is a key component to the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals in healthcare.

Another devastating way this has taken place is when doctors prescribe powerfully and potentially habit-forming narcotic medications to combat illicit drug use and substance use disorder. Heroin addicts are being treated with other strong narcotics, which can actually have their own withdrawal symptoms and side effects. They even highjacked the opioid overdose antidote and several makers gouged the prices to offensive new heights during the rise of the opioid epidemic.

Drug Companies Abuse of Americans

Now let us be fair; modern medicine does provide us with some life-saving resources that can be paramount to the health and wellness of our population. Thanks to great strides in medicine doctors are able to treat some conditions or illnesses that were once thought of as a death sentence. Today, we have some of the greatest opportunities to receive quality care with innovative and well-researched treatments.

However, the fact remains that drug companies have been caught red-handed more than a few times misrepresenting their products, hiding the side-effects, falsely advertising their benefits and even recently some huge names in pharmaceuticals have been accused of bribery and racketeering to sell potent and extremely dangerous drugs.

So, what can be done?

  1. We can take a closer look at how Big Pharma propaganda influences or elected representatives and their decisions on policy.
  2. We can pay attention to how the information provided by pharmaceutical companies or marketers is not always as reliable as it may seem.
  3. Look into excessive advertising for potent drugs
  4. Do more to combat drug makers from paying doctors to promote their drugs to other doctors.
  5. Pursue other forms of treatment that don’t require expensive and powerful drugs.

When it comes to drug abuse, maybe we shouldn’t let the drug companies continue to make massive profits from a problem they have a large hand in creating. There needs to be more commitment to finding alternative treatments that don’t rely so heavily on drugs in order to help people get healthy.

Holistic drug addiction treatment is a unique and effective way of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. The fact that powerful drugs help cause addiction, let us not forget the value of offering healing options that don’t require more drugs. Building a strong foundation with personalized therapy and innovative treatment opportunities helps thousands of people all over the nation overcome addiction. Palm Partners Recovery Center is committed to providing quality care for those dealing with drug abuse, whether it is illicit drugs or prescription drug dependence. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.   

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

 National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

Author: Justin Mckibben

Being the month of THANKSgiving, not to mention the month of Veterans Day to show appreciation for the armed forces, it should come as no surprise that November is recognized by many as National Gratitude Month.

But we know that true gratitude is more than saying “thank you” for what others may do or the things we are fortunate enough to have. Gratitude gives us the ability to look past the negative parts of our situation, our lives or the world we live in and focus on appreciating all the good that we do have. Practicing daily gratitude allows us to create a more profound understanding and connection with ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us. Gratitude creates compassion and empathy; it helps us to be more involved and more self-aware.

But this writer believes that true gratitude takes action. So this month, in observance of National Gratitude Month, I encourage people to take action to share that gratitude with others.

The Practice of Being Grateful

Back in 2015, November was officially proclaimed National Gratitude Month throughout the US and Canada by National Day Calendar. The initial announcement for the observance comes from Stacey Grewal, an author, spiritual mentor and coach who advocated for the proclamation. Grewal stated,

“Gratitude is an essential ingredient of a happy, fulfilling life,”

Grewal herself has been proclaimed a “gratitude guru” who wrote the book Gratitude and Goals.

10 years ago in 2007, Robert Emmons began researching gratitude and found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational well-being. Practicing gratitude also impacts the overall experience of happiness. All this is typically not a momentary improvement. Many of these benefits turn out to be long-lasting.

Benefits of Gratitude

  • Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being
  • Greater optimism and happiness
  • Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crisis
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Amplified energy levels
  • Strengthened heart
  • Improved immune system
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved emotional and academic intelligence
  • Extended aptitude for forgiveness
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, depression
  • Reduced headaches
  • Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
  • Heightened sense of spirituality

There are even a number of events and activities to get involved with this month, including the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge where one can sign up for a daily email that suggests opportunities to practice gratitude in new and interesting ways.

But you don’t have to commit to any event or challenge to help promote gratitude.

Giving with Gratitude

Looking at the definition of gratitude on the all-knowing Google, we find it as:

“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Right there we see the inclusion of the concept that gratitude means to at least be willing to take some kind of action, i.e. showing appreciation and returning the kindness.

The way I express my understanding of gratitude is like this:

  • If I am grateful for my job, I show up and work hard
  • If I am grateful for my home, I respect it and honor it, along with anyone who may live there
  • Being grateful for those who have helped me, I help whoever I can when I can

My expression of gratitude means making every attempt possible to ensure I do not take the gifts I have for granted. We should not neglect the things or the people we have in our lives as if we know they will always be there. When we become complacent, our gratitude might slip away.

Recovery from addiction gives us so much more to do with that gratitude.

Grateful for Recovery

In recovery from drugs or alcohol, it can be especially important for many of us to stay grateful. In the recovery community, we hear people all the time talking about how grateful they are to be alive, or how grateful they are to have another chance at life or a fellowship of support in recovery. All of this is so important, but again it takes action.

If we are grateful for the opportunity to get better, we should not squander it with defiance and neglect.

If we are grateful to be alive, we should focus on living better lives and doing something meaning with our lives; even if to you that simply means being a better parent/spouse/child/sibling in your family.

Being grateful reminds us of the kindness of others and the strength that they gave us to get ourselves out of addiction. So we should live by example and help those who still need help, recovering or not. With all the benefits of gratitude we’ve mentioned, it only makes sense that someone in recovery from addiction would want to take advantage of National Gratitude Month as an excuse to exercise that part of themselves. Treating others as if you are already grateful for the opportunity is training for the mind, body, and spirit. For those working to overcome addiction, gratitude can be a

Share the Love for National Gratitude Month

If you want to get involved, it is pretty easy. Just be grateful every chance you get.

In the world, as it is right now we could use more love and gratitude. With so much going on in such divisive times, like the opioid crisis and overdose outbreak tearing apart so many lives, we should take every chance to bring our communities together.

Or if you want to help share the love and raise awareness, share this article with your friends and use #NationalGratitudeMonth on social media posts.

Have an amazing November! Remember to be grateful and to show that appreciation and kindness with action and goodwill toward others!

It’s been said that healing can come from the places you least expect it. Make sure to appreciate the opportunity. For those who are looking for something to be grateful for, it starts with the fact you are still here. If you are suffering or lost, maybe its time for a new foundation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

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