Author: Justin Mckibben
Many months back, when President Trump was still on the campaign trail, he was asked about the opioid epidemic in America during a Q&A in Ohio. He said the solution was about cutting it off at the source through the southern border. President Trump continues this narrative in a more recent solo press conference, suggesting the United States is becoming a “drug infested nation,” and he added,
“Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars.”
So what is President Trump’s plan to fight addiction, and will it help addicts?
President Trump on Cartels
By now we all know President Trump believes there is a direct correlation between the drug epidemic in America and what he calls an epidemic of illegal immigration. In the past he has pointed to the infamous border wall as the answer to cutting off the heroin trade into America, which he seems to believe is the primary source of the problem. During his press conference he adds,
“We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs,”
President Trump went on to say,
“We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety.”
To be fair, we must acknowledge the relevance of cartels in the drug trade. Since the 90’s some statistics show that the primary supplier of heroin to North America is pretty consistently Latin America and Mexico.
However, to believe that Mexican cartels are the only element of the opioid epidemic is a mistake we can’t afford to make. And blaming an entire country for drug dealers and gangs is a bit out of step with the history of drugs and gang violence in America. While it cannot be denied that Mexican cartels have a role in all this, solving the addiction problem is a lot bigger than that. Besides the fact that heroin is not only from Mexico, heroin is definitely not the only problem.
President Trump on China
For example, what do you know about fentanyl? That is, the incredibly dangerous opiate that has created such a overwhelming panic as a result of steep spikes in overdoses and deaths. Did you know it originates from Chinese suppliers?
According to some lobbyists, there are some clues that could imply President Trump plans to prosecute drug traffickers and close shipping loopholes that include drugs coming in from China and other areas.
So far, however, there isn’t much mention out there about these ideas. It seems the majority of the statements being made openly are singling out Mexico. It might be time to talk more on these other areas they plan on addressing. There is some value to stopping these dangerous drugs from getting here, but we also have plenty of problems here already.
President Trump on Opioid Epidemic
President Trump did release details during his campaign about his intentions for taking on the opioid epidemic, stating he plans to:
- Increase Naloxone access- the opiate overdose medication
- Encourage state and local governments to provide treatment options
- Speed FDA approval for abuse-deterrent painkillers
Yet some people are concerned because there hasn’t been much more talk about this since late in the campaign trail. President Trump has referenced a move to expand access to drug courts and raise the cap on how many patients that doctors can prescribe medication-assisted treatments. These may be very effective strategies for providing multiple opportunities for exposing addicts to recovery. But we aren’t hearing enough about those either. When the subject comes up, we should hope for more accurate information to know if addicts will get this help, instead of hearing about immigration.
Again, many still want the President to talk more openly about the contribution made by Big Pharma and prescription drugs to the issue, specifically concerning the opiate epidemic. We can only blame so much of our problems on outside influence. We have to hold our own drug companies accountable.
President Trump and Big Pharma
Trump did say throughout his campaign he would be fighting the Big Pharma companies in order to get rid of outrageous price-gouging on medications. He made a statement at one point that,
“Pharma, pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power and there’s very little bidding on drugs,”
“We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to start bidding and we’re going to save billions of dollars.”
This much isn’t off base. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, drug companies and their industry allies spent more than $186 million lobbying for their interests in a year, and $1.12 billion since 2012.
Yet, the Republican Party did a great deal in 2003 under President George W. Bush to prevent federal government from interfering in negotiations between drug companies and pharmacies that participate in taxpayer-funded Medicare Plan D prescription drug benefits.
Hopefully, having a Republican Congress that isn’t constantly at odds with their President will help things move along easier; especially concerning healthcare reforms. So beyond making drugs cheaper, the question becomes what can we do about preventing dangerous and addictive drugs from getting even more out of control.
ACA and CARA
With healthcare reform, many addiction recovery advocates insist that the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) should be a priority. Many say the CARA is the most significant federal legislation pertaining to addiction in years. Still, it does not include a specific allowance of funding for the programs it has created.
Once CARA is funded, more programs will be put in place to help fight addiction. Without the funds it is a Cadillac with no engine or wheels.
Then there is the major point President Trump ran on; repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This action could eliminate coverage for many Americans in recovery who had previously been uninsured. Specifically, if the government repeals the ACA without a plan to replace it or to maintain coverage for those depending on it. If President Trump and the GOP come up with a program to replace it, we may still avoid this tragedy. Still, as it stands, the idea makes plenty of people nervous.
For instance, Medicaid, the federal-state insurance for low-income people, payed for about $60 billion worth of mental health services in 2014. That assistance is now expected to shrink as a result of healthcare reforms under President Trump.
After Republicans have pledged to make some major cuts in federal spending, there is still hope out there that agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) would not see their funding severed. This would potentially be another devastating blow to the efforts already in place to battle addiction in America. Will President Trump defend these programs to help addicts?
What Will Help?
Some of the ideas this administration mentions do have some hope behind them. My opinion, we might want to hear more about the expansion of treatment options and access to life-saving resources. The strong focus on border control and President Trump’s cries for “law and order” and aggressive investigations sound extremely reminiscent of the War on Drugs that failed so many families and people suffering.
As the former drug czar Michael Botticelli stated,
“Any drug policy that’s going to be effective has got to be based on science and research,”
So President Trump has his work cut out for him, but some still say we need to see more being done with healthcare and providing resources. More advocates want to hear plans on healing people; on how we plan to save lives. Assure people by taking real action to show they will not be without insurance or treatment.
So this does not mean to say the President’s plans are not good. Essentially, we just want to hear more about them besides borders. If his plans do involve expanding current resources, and if the ACA is effectively replaced; if we see adequate funding appropriated for the CARA and if we make this about more than just immigrants and law enforcement, then the plan could make a difference. So far only time will tell.
Drug abuse and addiction is a devastating and deadly disease, and providing effective and compassionate treatment makes a lifelong difference. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, think about who you want to be working with to find a real solution. Please call toll-free now.
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
Author: Justin Mckibben
Around the country there is a wave a new and progressive initiatives changing the relationship between law enforcement and drug users. Government officials now lobby in support of such programs, and millions of dollars are being allocated to similar responses to a nationwide addiction epidemic. Probably one of the most famous of these revolutionary programs is one of the first; the PAARI program.
The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) encourages police departments to abandon the old model of arresting and prosecuting people struggling with substance use disorder. Instead, the program encourages police to help people struggling with addiction seek help.
Now we have the first annual report from the PAARI program, and the numbers are pretty impressive.
Taking Pride in PAARI Program Progress
In the PAARI program first year report the numbers include detailed financial inventory. The 501(c)3 non-profit believes in the transparency of their progress, and is proud of the success to far. Of course, with such a groundbreaking and inspirational initiative, who wouldn’t want to show off?
To update anyone who doesn’t know- the PAARI began in Gloucester, Massachusetts, after the local police department announced on June 1, 2015 that anyone who walked into the police department and turned in either drugs or paraphernalia would not be arrested. The announcement told the citizens that instead any individual willing to seek help would be sent to treatment. This is the response from law enforcement in the wake of a spike in overdose rates in the area.
The report now boasts an amazing impact on the community. In the first year of the PAARI program, just Gloucester Police Department alone helped more than 400 people enter treatment!
Spreading the Message
That 400+ count doesn’t even scratch the thousands more being helped across the country due to the establishment of similar programs. The initial response from the Gloucester community was incredibly enthusiastic. This helped spread the concept of the PAARI program, as they moved to help other police departments implement similar programs. According to the report, the PAARI program helped train 143 police departments in 27 states.
- Augusta, Maine began training volunteers last November before implementing their own program.
- This summer Newark, Ohio, began its program. Officials said they felt driven to try something new once they were receiving at least one overdose call per day.
- According to the report, the PAARI program has partnered with 300 treatment centers in 20 states
- The PAARI program also secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to help people access the treatment they need.
- Distributed more than 5,000 doses of nasal Naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this progressive approach. Some still believe that criminal justice is an appropriate response to drug use. Cape Cod, Massachusetts police department chose not to implement their own program because they didn’t agree with diverting the focus away from criminalizing active users. Some still think that shifting this perspective is somehow promoting drug use or giving permission.
Reinventing Police Intervention
Last April the Obama administration praised the Angel Program and PAARI program, siting that they reduced “crime and costs associated with substance use disorders in Gloucester” and rebuilding “trust between the police and the community.”
The first annual report makes a very exciting statement, saying:
“Communities that have joined PAARI have observed as much as a 25% reduction in crimes associated with addiction, cost savings by diverting people into treatment rather than triggering the criminal justice system, as well as an enormous increase in trust from their communities.”
Participants in the program speak in heavy praise of its methods and compassion for those it exists to assist. Even insurance companies contribute to the progress in the direction of compassionate and effective change.
Without question, these numbers are a new hope to so many. Over 400 lives in just one area over a year may have been saved thanks to PAARI. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point; to protect and to serve all lives? The hope is that more programs like this can shatter the stigma of addiction, while simultaneously bridging the gap between the disenfranchised and the established authority to create a community that is better and brighter for both sides.
Drugs and alcohol have torn apart too many communities. Now the time has come for better treatment options and more compassionate health care. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, do not wait. Please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are not alone.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
With the release of the United States Surgeon General report this month came the historical declaration that substance abuse is a public health disorder. While many have insisted upon this perspective in the past, it is the first time anyone holding the office of U.S. surgeon general has made the statement. In this groundbreaking report, Vivek Murthy described substance abuse stating,
“Not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”
This revelation is a long-awaited victory for the countless advocates who have been hoping to change the way the world sees substance abuse and addiction.
Along with this statement, there comes a conversation about how to shift the strategies used to address addiction. Along with that comes the possibility for vast change and reform in the realm of criminal justice. How big is the impact of criminal justice on the addiction issue, and how could a change in perspective change everything?
Current View of Criminal Justice
The big thing here is that for years people have pushed for the world to see substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, both physical and mental. Changing the view from stigma and punishment to treatment ultimately means giving people struggling a better shot at recovery.
The failed War on Drugs has definitely put addiction and substance abuse in a place it doesn’t necessarily belong. Murthy’s report provides an update on drug and alcohol users in the country. According to its figures, in the last year alone:
- About 48 million Americans used or abused illegal or prescription drugs
- 28 million drove under the influence
- 21 million Americans currently suffer from addiction (substance-use disorder)
- Out of an estimated 2 million inmates in the nation, 65% “meet the criteria for substance-abuse addiction” according to a new study
- According to thePrison Policy Initiative, over 300,000 inmates currently in state and federal prisons are for convictions related to drugs.
These statistics place a severe strain on the criminal justice system far beyond federal prisons.
- Local and county jails have held thousands of these same individuals
- Tens of thousands lost driving privileges due to drunk driving
- Millions served time and were put on probation
- Millions became repeat offenders and cycled back through the system
The long and short of it is that in fact, the current system is not anything close to fixing the problem. And at $442 billion dollars spent annually on health-care and criminal justice for substance-use disorder, that is a VERY expensive failure to repeat over and over.
Reforming Criminal Justice
There are many variables that come into play when you discuss reforming criminal justice to be more effective for helping addicts. Some of these include:
- Ending the tactic of using fear of prison to keep people “in line”
- Reforming treatment programs through criminal justice system that rely on harsh penalties
- Ending unnecessarily punitive federal sentencing guidelines
A hard truth is the criminal-justice system is often the first to be in contact with struggling addicts. Thus many people only receive treatment once they are already involved in the criminal justice system, which often locks them into a cycle of failed attempts to clean up and repeated arrests.
Many would say it would be ideal to not have addicts and those battling substance abuse go through the criminal justice system at all; specifically for non-violent, drug-related offenses. They would rather individuals be directly diverted to a system that relies on medical and therapeutic rehabilitation.
The fact remains; even if state and federal governments begin addressing addiction as a health crisis, any reforms to the existing criminal-justice system will come with their own burdens. This kind of power-shift would have instantaneous economic effects due largely to institutional competition. The massive industrial prison system that has thrived for decades would of course fight to keep its funding if the government tried to divert those funds to healthcare programs.
The surgeon general’s report is a refreshing perspective and a much needed statement. But there is still money to move and the need for playing politics. Despite the fact that most believe mental health and public health institutions are better suited to treat addiction than prisons, some say they do not have the seniority or the political juice to make a claim on the resources to do so.
In the end, setting up an approach on the state or national level that would send addicts to treatment instead of jails and prisons would be an enormous task that we cannot logically expect to happen all too soon. Yet, there is hope. Many states now have more compassionate and treatment-based programs with law enforcement. Crisis-intervention training and other methods have reduced arrests and housing costs in many areas. It does make a difference.
The real difference to reforming the criminal justice system will come when more officials recognize that substance abuse and addiction are health issues and not moral ones, especially officials at the federal level.
Never forget that every day we all have the chance to influence change. Maybe we can’t change the criminal justice system over night, but we can make decisions that make a difference. Understanding addiction and fighting back is a victory itself. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call our toll-free number now to speak with an specialist. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
On a few separate occasions we have touch on the ridiculous story of Ethan Couch, the 19-year-old teen who drove drunk back in June of 2013 and caused an accident that killed 4 people, and his infamous Affluenza Defense presented by his attorneys. Couch’s drunk-driving case sparked national outrage after his affluenza defense was actually successful in his initial court case, and the spectacle made some serious headlines.
Wednesday the country was in a new uproar as Ethan “Affluenza Defense” Couch was ordered by a judge to spend the next two years in a county jail for violating the terms of his probation.
4 Terms of Imprisonment
Early news reports explained that State District Judge Wayne Salvant imposed four consecutive 180-day jail terms on Couch for his probation violations; one term for each of the four people who lost their lives when Couch recklessly drove drunk years ago and “almost” got away with it.
Although, even though he was a minor (16 years old at the time of the accident) a lot of people felt like he had pretty much got away with killing four people after he was originally only sentenced to 10 years’ probation. He was also sent to an isolated home near Newport Beach, CA for intensive therapy, which people felt even more upset about because his punishment seemed more like a vacation.
Breanna Mitchell, Brian Jennings, and Holly and Shelby Boyles were all run down by the teen that was discovered to have Valium and a high level of alcohol in his blood. The prosecutors trying to charge the teen with the deaths wanted the boy to be sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he received 10 years of probation with the affluenza defense.
What is the “Affluenza Defense?”
The term “affluenza” was made popular in the late 1990s by Jessie O’Neill who wrote the book “The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.”
Since giving life to the word, it has been used to describe a condition in which children (typically from richer families) grow up with a sense of privilege that makes them experience other hindrances such as:
- Being irresponsible
- Making justifications for poor behavior
- Experiment in drugs and alcohol
Just reading this makes me outraged! It is absolutely astonishing and downright offensive that the affluenza defense even exists!
Basically, to my understanding, this is saying that Ethan Couch should be let off the hook because he has been so predisposed to getting his way and being over-privileged that he just didn’t know any better and has a tough time understanding why the rules apply to him…
Awwwwe, the poor little guy!
I want to see a case where a kid from a place like where I grew up is acquitted of murdering four people with a vehicle because of the “Section 8 Defense”- because he is so poor and ill-equipped to live. We make excuses and let the rich kid get away with multiple homicides because he was too rich NOT to try drugs, but the kids who grow up in drug-dealing neighborhoods should be held to higher standards?
Don’t get me wrong- he was only 13 and should not spend the rest of his life in prison for something he can’t comprehend, but if we are going to start argue in his defense it should not be on the grounds that he’s just too spoiled and we have to let it slide.
Couch squandered his opportunity to avoid jail time and his probation was violated after a video of him playing an underage game of beer-pong surfaced online last December. Judge Salvant gave Couch’s diabolical defense team two weeks to gather evidence for a possible reconsideration of his sentence, and he told Couch outright,
“You’re not getting out of jail today.”
This recent appearance marked the first time Ethan Couch was in an adult court since his case was transferred out of the juvenile system after he turned 19 earlier this week.
While the affluenza defense may be a pretty good indication Ethan Couch could use some treatment and therapy, most people still feel like some real-life repercussions for his completely unconscionable and ultimately lethal actions should be imposed. Some are just content to see him serving any time for what he has done. Two years may not do justice to the deaths of four innocent people, but it’s a start and maybe it will teach Couch something.
Sometimes it takes something terrible to happen before people will make the choice that changes everything, but it doesn’t have to be like that. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.