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New Florida Bills: One to Protect Addicts and One to Punish

New Florida Bills: One to Protect Addicts and One to Punish

Author: Justin Mckibben

Sometimes new policy can be good. Sometimes, not so much.

The opiate epidemic in America has hit some states with staggering rates of overdose and death. The paralyzing truth gripping the nation today is that more people are dying from drug overdose than homicides and car crashes. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers collectively decimate entire communities. People from all over are starting to push officials and lawmakers for more progressive and effective solutions.

Addiction has led to an overdose outbreak that shakes the country to the core, everywhere. Now, Florida lawmakers are pushing for new legislation to try and protect and serve those who suffer from an overdose. One of the first bills on the 2017 agenda is one that hopes to change how law enforcement treats overdose victims.

Although, another bill is trying to turn things in a very different direction.

Florida HB 61 Bill

Florida Representative Larry Lee, a Democrat from Port St. Lucie, has filed a proposal titled HB 61. If approved, this piece of reform would require several new policies for healthcare providers, starting with hospitals.

  • It would require hospitals to screen overdose victims to determine the need for additional health care services
  • Prohibits hospitals from discharging overdose patients to a detox or treatment facility until stabilized
  • Requires attending physician to attempt contact with patients primary care physician, or other treatment providers, who prescribe controlled substances to notify them of overdose
  • Requires hospital to inform medical director of treatment center (if patient is currently in treatment) of the overdose
  • Hospital must inform overdose victim’s family or emergency contact of overdose
  • Must inform contacts what drugs they suspect to have caused overdose
  • Attending physician must provide list of drug treatment providers and information about Florida’s Marchman act and Backer act in case the family or contact wishes to seek legal action to protect the addict

The Big Change in HB 61

Lastly, what is probably the most progressive part of this legislation, is the HB 61 bill would prohibit criminal charges from police officers and prosecutors against the overdose victim for possession of any drugs found on them during the incident.

This final aspect of HB 61 this writer thinks is a big deal, because from personal experience I have seen and heard many stories of individuals not calling for help in the event of an overdose out of fear of prosecution. In some cases people actually die because of the fear of criminal punishment. Adding this kind of measure to the bill is an attempt at eliminating the loss of life due to fear of discrimination. Even if it is not a perfect system, this kind of reform takes first responders and law enforcement a step closer to dealing with addicts who are fighting a fatal illness like sick people instead of criminals.

Florida SB 150 Bill Attacks Fentanyl

From across the aisle we see another push from Republican Senator Greg Steube from Sarasota. The question is, will this push go in the right direction? On December 12, he introduced bill SB 150. This is set to be a direct attack on fentanyl.

For those who are not yet familiar, fentanyl is an incredibly powerful, and lethal, opioid painkiller. It’s medical use is to sedate surgical patients and relieve chronic pain. However, being several times more powerful than heroin, it has crept into the illicit drug trade in various parts of the country. And with its arrival also came a horrifying increase in overdose and death.

This proposal means to make 4 grams or more of fentanyl a first-degree felony through:

  • Manufacturing
  • Selling
  • Buying

November 20, the Palm Beach Post released an analysis of people who died in 2015 from heroin-related overdoses. Out of the 216 individuals profiled in this report, 42% of the cases were found to involve fentanyl. So of course, with Steube coming from a district hit particularly hard by the opiate epidemic, it is logical to want to do everything you can to cut the flow of fentanyl off.

Yet, some say that this kind of strategy is too close to the concept of mandatory minimums.

Is SB 150 Too Close to Mandatory Minimums?

For those who need more clarification, mandatory minimum sentencing laws were a “one-size-fits-all” strategy implemented originally back in 1951 against marijuana, then repealed in the 1970s, and refined in 1986. In 1973, New York State enacted mandatory minimums of 15 years to life for possession of more than 4 ounces of any hard drug.

The idea is that regardless of the individual or the circumstances that a certain crime will have an inflexible punishment across the board. Ever since their introduction, criminal justice advocates have fought these laws, and they have always been surrounded by debate and controversy.

Essentially, some are already saying that SB 150 will ruthlessly make addicts into victims of the already overpopulated prison system. To be clear and fair- the bill does not seem to directly require a specific prison sentence like mandatory minimums, but it’s similar in that it treats every issue related to fentanyl the same.

The issue has already been argued time and time again that non-violent low-level drug offenders have spent excessive amounts of time in prison for possession of a substance. In some cases, an individual will do more time behind bars for possessing a large quantity of drugs than someone who has actually killed someone. Some have come to the conclusion that this tactic just doesn’t work.

The fear with SB 150 is not about the manufacturers or the dealers as much as it is for the consumers. Sometimes individuals purchase drugs on the street believing it to be heroin or another substance without even knowing there is fentanyl in it. So this bill would make first-degree felons out of desperate addicts?

What is Right?

The big question we all face at the end of the day is- what is the right thing to do? How is the best way to handle something that feels so utterly out of hand?

Well, it would seem like its time to finally let go of the archaic stigma. More states and law enforcement officials are turning to compassionate and supportive progress. Many places in America are starting to do everything they can to help people struggling with addiction to find help before it is too late. So why move backwards?

In my opinion, strictly based on what has been presented so far, SB 150 seems dangerous. There are countless advocates out there who say that intensifying the punishment is not how you deter the crime. Especially when it comes to addiction, because this kind of method still suggests it is a moral failing and not a psychological and physical illness.

HB 61 seems to be trying to call health care providers to action and add more accountability on the front lines in the fight against the overdose outbreak. At the same time it seems to move in the opposite direction of SB 150 by trying to limit the persecution of addicts. HB 61 makes more room to help preserve life and offer treatment and solutions. By now we should already know, the solution isn’t a War on Drugs, it is community and compassion.

These are some of the initial responses to recommendations recently made by the grand jury. Every day there are countless people suffering. And every day there are countless more recovering and fighting to help others recover. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are not alone.

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Fraud and Fentanyl: Big Pharma Executives Busted in Kick-back Scheme

Fraud and Fentanyl: Big Pharma Executives Busted in Kick-back Scheme

Author: Justin Mckibben

In the midst of the nation’s opiate addiction crisis, fentanyl is like a virus. It is spreading in reach and destroying the lives of thousands, and with overdose deaths climbing every day this incredibly powerful element is more present than ever. The fight has not only been on the streets with illicit dealers, but also within the pharmaceutical industry. Big Pharma executives are being brought to task now that the contribution of prescription narcotics is more obvious than ever.

The part that makes this case so unique is that federal prosecutors are bringing racketeering charges against several Insys employees. Criminal charges are almost unheard-of in cases involving pharmaceutical companies. What does this mean about the future of fighting corporate greed?

Insys Therapeutics Inc.

One company, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has been heavily under fire recently, and new light has been shed on the dirty dealings of these sales-managers and even CEOs. Six former executives and sales-managers from Insys Therapeutics Inc. were arrested this past Thursday. The charges, according to the Justice Department, are:

  • Conspiring to defraud health insurers
  • Conspiring to bribe doctors into needlessly prescribing Subsys, the company’s fentanyl painkiller

These Big Pharma executives may soon find out how much they hurt the people they are supposed to heal.

Setting the Stage for Subsys

Before we get too far into the details of this appalling story of corporate greed and corruption, let us explain the substance itself. This writer feels it is vital to set the stage for the conversation with a foundation of comprehension. It will help people understand the true gravity of these crimes if they understand the drug itself.

The drug Subsys, approved in 2012, was sanctioned to treat acute cancer pain. This potent opioid analgesic is to be sprayed under the tongue for quick absorption of fentanyl. Most people know now after seeing the state the country is in that the fentanyl narcotic carries an extremely high risk of dependency, abuse and addiction.

This brings us to the horrific truth of these crimes; that many agencies believe doctors and nurses were encouraged to prescribe the drug for unapproved uses, despite knowing how powerful and even lethal this drug can be.

The Kick-Back Scheme

According to reports, the scam put on by these Big Pharma executives was an operation in “sham speaking programs.” How did it work? Allegedly, doctors and nurses were paid to attend dinners at “high-end restaurants” that disguised as speaker programs. Typically, this kind of event is for educational activities with professionals. However, these events were described as “gathering of friends and co-workers” who had no power to prescribe medications.

The “speakers” we said to be paid fees up to several thousand dollars. The names of health care providers were falsified on sign-in sheets to ‘legitimize’ the meetings.

According to the federal court’s affidavit, one health care provider who actually did participate in these sham programs received illegal kick-backs to the tune of an estimated $83,000! The purpose of these payments; to influence these providers to prescribe Subsys, even when unnecessary.

The scheme didn’t stop at expensive dining. Prosecutors say there were other elements to this massive racketeering style operation, including:

  • Insys employees being assigned to work the offices of doctors who used their drug
  • The drug company hiring the relatives of health care providers
  • Insys set up a system to defraud insurers. Their employees pretend to be calling from a doctor’s office to speak with insurance representatives.

In Alabama, one doctor had a sales representative from Insys assigned to attend to all of his needs. That same doctor took a job as a paid speaker for the drug, and once put on their illegal payroll went from writing two Subsys prescriptions a week… to 11 a week!

Big Bad Big Pharma Executives

According to the indictment the list of names includes:

  • Michael L. Babich- Former chief executive
  • Alec Burlakoff- vice president of sales
  • Joseph A. Rowan- former regional sales director

So the trail of shady sales tactics and dirty money leads all the way to the tip-top of the Big Pharma executives.

You would hope that given the fact that these people made billions of dollars a year off of manipulating doctors, lying to insurers and endangering countless lives that they would face some kind of real prison sentence, right?

Nope, not really.

War on White Collar Crime

The War on Drugs doesn’t touch the corruption of the War on White Collar Crime, especially in the drug industry. Most people may not even realize that in recent years Big Pharma executives have paid billions of dollars to settle claims with state and federal prosecutors. Why? Because it’s been said the pharmaceutical companies sold drugs for uses that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

But sadly, bringing criminal charges against these Big Pharma executives is still rare. Despite calls from various groups to hold top executives more accountable, most will never see a jail cell.

The irony here is that we have prison systems choking with overpopulation from people serving years behind bars for non-violent, low-level drug crimes. Many of these convicts are addicts themselves who have been trapped by a system that promotes punishment over treatment. Yet those who have made millions up millions of dollars by bribes and fraud to push drugs like fentanyl, that kill thousands of people, get a slap on the wrist and a fine.

Criminal Charges Bring a New Change

This new perspective is taking the fight to those who sit in positions of great power. Instead of singling out those who are already beaten down, it targets those who make great profit of the pain of millions. Patrick Burns, the acting executive director of Taxpayers Against Fraud, is an advocate for corporate whistle-blowers. In regards to the recent arrests of the Insys Big Pharma executives, he stated,

“It’s just like bank fraud and mortgage fraud — no one in the big companies ever seems to go to jail… If this is the start of a real change in how we deal with corporate crooks, it’s a very big deal.”

The United States attorney in Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement,

“Patient safety is paramount, and prescriptions for these highly addictive drugs, especially fentanyl, which is among the most potent and addictive opioids, should be prescribed without the influence of corporate money.”

“I hope that today’s charges send a clear message that we will continue to attack the opioid epidemic from all angles, whether it is corporate greed or street-level dealing.”

After consistent outrage about the hypocrisy of Big Pharma in the War on Drugs, it seems many are sick and tired of the pharmaceutical industry taking advantage of the system to make them sicker.

Hopefully, this will change more than the penalties, but also the entire prescription drug process in some way. As drug policy changes, along with the stigma, revolutionary ideas in treatment are available to help save lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Badlands of Philadelphia: Almost 50 Overdoses in One Day

Badlands of Philadelphia: Almost 50 Overdoses in One Day

Author: Justin Mckibben

In America, estimates say nearly a thousand people died from drug overdose per week in 2015. This year, we see how this problem continues to grow and strike some cities with terrible intensity. Drug overdose was the leading cause of death in Philadelphia, claiming 700 people that year. One place in particular has earned a name for itself: “The Badlands.”

The Badlands of Philadelphia is an area encompassing the Kensington neighborhood and parts of North Philadelphia. Residents gave this part of town the infamous “The Badlands” title because of its high rate of crime including homicide, drug trafficking and gang activity. Just this past week nearly 50 residents in the Badlands of Philadelphia suffered overdoses from what narcotics officers believe was tainted heroin.

Luckily, according to an NBC Philadelphia report, there were no fatalities during the outbreak of overdoses on November 17. However, several individuals had to be revived using Naloxone. That is the opioid overdose antagonist that has seen expanded access all over the country in an effort to stop the ever increasing body count.

Record numbers of overdoses like this are popping up in various parts of the country, and it is an exclamation point to the story of the opioid epidemic in America. This was one very bad day in the Badlands of Philadelphia, but will it get worse before it gets better?

Badlands of Philadelphia: Following the Pattern

Philadelphia Police is working on laboratory tests to determine if these drugs are part of a growing problem with tainted narcotics. Many overdoses in several states have been linked to tainted heroin that has been mixed with Fentanyl or other synthetic analogues far more powerful than the illicit drug itself. This is not be the first time a bad batch of heroin has hit the Badlands of Philadelphia. Gary Tennis, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, had some powerful words concerning the way the epidemic has been handled until now.

“If we had ISIS terrorists roaming the streets, killing a thousand Americans a week, [or] ebola or some exotic disease, we wouldn’t tolerate it for a minute… But because of the stigma around this disease, we continue with policies federally, state and local, that are fundamentally inhumane.”

The Badlands of Philadelphia also made headlines in May of 2016 when the experimental painkiller W-18 was allegedly found within its territory. The dangerous W-18 is causing considerable hysteria in Canada and the United States.

Badlands of Philadelphia: W-18 and Fentanyl

As a recap from previous stories back in May of 2016, W-18 is a synthetic opiate and psychoactive substance similar to heroin. However, it is horrifically more deadly. W-18 is one of the most powerful opioid of a series of about 30 compounds. Experts go as far as to describe W-18 as being:

  • 100 times more potent than fentanyl
  • 10,000 times stronger than morphine

Though fentanyl or W-18 are yet to confirmed as the cause of the outbreak of overdoses in the Badlands of Philadelphia, fentanyl is considered to be responsible for a upsurge of overdoses that health officials say has risen 636% since last year.

  • In 2013, 25 people died as a result of Fentanyl overdose in Philadelphia
  • In 2015, 184 people died as a result of Fentanyl overdose
  • The 2016 99 people died from Fentanyl overdose in Philadelphia in just the first four months

Between 2013 and 2015 is a seven fold increase in death. One can only imagine where the number will be by the end of this year. According to NBC news, Philadelphia also has some of the cheapest and most potent heroin in the nation. Reports claim that purity levels of heroin reach an estimate between 80% and 90% purity. That alone is incredibly deadly. The addition of unpredictable and synthetic drugs only magnifies the threat to life.

Badlands of Philadelphia: Not the Only “Badlands”

Philadelphia is not the only state with a section of “Badlands.” In reality, the “Badlands” are basically everywhere. In every major city, in every state, there are people suffering. A recent report stated that one American dies every 19 minutes from a heroin or opiate overdose. Not doesn’t include alcohol or any other drugs that contribute to the destruction caused by addiction all over the nation.

The new report from the U.S. Surgeon General highlights the distressing truth in the statistics. To understand the depth of the addiction crisis in America, one needs only to look around. The report says 1 in 7 Americans will face a substance use disorder. Sadly, only 10% of those will get the necessary treatment to save their life.

In the presence of great suffering there is still hope. People are finally working together to try and shed the stigma of addiction in many communities. The progress that is possible in holistic treatment is life changing, and taking the first steps can make all the difference. If you or someone you love is struggling, call now.  

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Palm Beach County Hosting Narcan Training

Palm Beach County Hosting Narcan Training

Author: Justin Mckibben

According to some statistics, opioids killed nearly 30,000 Americans in 2014. This includes illicit narcotics and prescription painkillers. In the last two years there have been reports from all over the country of surges in overdoses and deaths, leading one to believe that number has been magnified with the growing epidemic. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in our country.

1 in 4 families are directly impacted by drug overdose. Whether that is you or not, you can see the impact it has on our communities. Now Palm Beach County is continuing to advocate for more resources to help the people most at risk fight back.

There will be Narcan Training events for local communities of Palm Beach County starting this month. The first seminar will be in Boca Raton, Florida at the St. Jude Reception Hall. This is about saving lives, and with so many lives be lost and others suffering, the time is now to learn how you may save a life.

The Problem in Palm Beach County

In 2014 there were an estimated 2,062 deaths due to prescription drugs. Many of these were opioid-related deaths, and heroin accounts for thousands more. In Florida, the total drug-related death toll increased by 14% in the first half of 2015 compared to 2014.

Palm Beach County saw an overdose rate increase of 425% so far in 2016 compared to 2015. There were 13 overdoses alone in Delray Beach last weekend. Hundreds more overdoses happened throughout Palm Beach County last month. The opiate epidemic has not spared any corner of the county, and many government officials and community organizations are pulling their resources in an effort to create strategies to prevent drug overdoses and save lives.

More about Narcan

Narcan, or the generic form Naloxone, is a life-saving opiate antidote. Some examples of opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Vicodin

An opioid overdose can cause breathing to slow down or stop completely, putting someone’s life in immediate danger. Narcan works by blocking the effects of opioids and can actually reverse an overdose in order to get medical attention to someone who is in need.

One major plus is that Narcan has no euphoric effects and cannot get someone “high” so abuse is not an issue. The overdose antidote is essentially harmless if there are no opiods present in someone’s system. If given to a person who has not taken opioids, there will be no effect. Narcan can still be effective when alcohol or other drugs are present with opiates.

Administration to opioid-dependent individuals may cause symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating

There are other measures that can be taken to help ease these symptoms as well.

Expansion Programs

Narcan and Naloxone expansion programs have become a huge part of states everywhere trying to solve the overdose death outbreak. Many communities have equipped their first responders with Narcan kits and given training on how to administer the antidote. Some police departments in Palm Beach County now carry Narcan or Naloxone kits. Now these programs are trying to empower more people in Palm Beach County.

The first free seminar on Narcan Training is October 24th at 6 o’clock PM. The training takes place in the St. Jude Reception Hall in Boca Raton, Florida. For more information and events, visit the website here.

The seminar is open to the public and will be teaching participants more about the dangers of drug overdose, as well as about Narcan.

Palm Beach County has seen what an opioid overdose can do. It has also seen how effective Narcan and Naloxone can be to helping prevent an overdose from turning into a death. Not only are there expansion programs out there making the medication more available, but the community in Palm Beach County is actively working to help the people understand how to utilize their resources. Putting this life saving medication in reach and teaching people how to use it can help us from having to helplessly watch our friends, family members or neighbors die.

Palm Beach County also has a strong recovery community, and many people got there through effective and innovative holistic drug and alcohol treatment. It is incredibly important to preserve life, and beyond that to improve the lives that are saved. Drug and alcohol treatment can be the first step to a new life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

New Drug Carfentanil More Dangerous Than Heroin and Fentanyl

New Drug Carfentanil More Dangerous Than Heroin and Fentanyl

Author: Justin Mckibben

In case you have never read one of my stories on Ohio, I am a born and raised Buckeye. While living away from home for a few years I have taken every opportunity to read about progress in my birth state and spread the word. I have also had to write some disheartening stories that make me afraid for the people I grew up with and the neighborhoods I knew my whole life. However, when a new drug hits Ohio and causes shattering damage I have to step up and say something.

Right now the entire country is fighting a hard fight against opiate and heroin addiction. Overdose deaths tear families and communities apart. Law makers and law enforcement reel trying to keep up. Meanwhile every day a new drug seems to crop up and reap more havoc in cities on all sides of the nation. This time we see a surge of overdoses in the Tri-state area that are truly terrifying, especially considering a new even more powerful substance is suspected.

New Drug Named Carfentanil

This new drug is suggested to be incredibly more potent than any other forms of opiate substances on the street. Carfentanil is said to be:

  • 10,000 times stronger than morphine
  • 100 times stronger than Fentanyl
  • Used as an animal tranquilizer

Officials are saying this is the MOST potent opiate out there. In that case, this is beyond horrifying! Data has already concluded that Fentanyl alone is 40-100 times stronger than heroin. Now they are suggesting that Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than Fentanyl?! It is almost difficult to even comprehend a new drug could possibly be 10,000 times more powerful than pure heroin!

And that last note- this new drug is a sedative used on large animals. Not just any animals, we’re talking bears and elephants!

New Drugs Deadly Dose

Deaths across Hamilton County are rising at an alarming rate and many suspect Carfentanil as the common factor. This drug is actually being used in combination with heroin and amplifying the impact. So far cases have already been reported in:

  • Cleveland
  • Cincinnati
  • Columbus

In just 9 hours in Columbus authorities counted at least 10 overdoses possibly connected to Carfentanil. 2 were fatal.

  • Akron

During just 3 days in Akron authorities suspect Carfentanil could be linked to 25 overdoses. 4 were fatal.

Health officials and county leaders spoke out at the Hamilton County Health Department urgently issuing a public health warning created by this new drug mixture. Officials state that in just a few days there was a massive increase in drug-related emergency room visits.

Greater Risks

In case you weren’t already freaked out- it is not just injecting this drug or ingesting it intentionally that puts people are a critical risk. The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition is also urging area police not to conduct field tests on heroin because Carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin or even inhaled.

As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Hamilton County Coroner, warns-

“Narcan may not save you from this one,”

Narcan (or generic Naloxone) is the opiate overdose antidote. To say even this valuable resource may not actually be able to save you from an overdose with Carfentanil is a frightening concept. Tim Ingram, Hamiton County Health Commissioner, said with a troubling hint of realism-

“This is clearly going to… kill a lot of people.”

People often say the truth hurts. This is one truth that is devastating to consider. Knowing that there are so many struggling addicts in these areas is terrifying and tragic, because one can only imagine how many will unknowingly fall victim to this vicious new element in the already treacherous world of drug addiction.

The next question is- where else is this stuff being slipped into street drugs and poisoning people?

This does not have to be the end. Drugs are only getting more dangerous, but effective treatment is also becoming more holistic. For the addict or alcoholic who still suffers there are thousands of people just like you who have recovered and who want to help you. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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