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Opioid Summit to Include Social Media and Google Crack Down Efforts

Opioid Summit to Include Social Media and Google Crack Down Efforts

Tomorrow morning, June 27, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. will host a one-day Online Opioid Summit. The guest list to the summit includes:

  • Internet stakeholders
  • Government entities
  • Academic researchers
  • Advocacy groups

The aim of the event is to discuss ways to collaboratively take stronger action in combatting the opioid crisis by reducing the availability of illicit opioids online. And when it comes to the internet, there are no bigger names in America than Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There will be presentations by the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations. A webcast will be available of the Opioid Summit for the general public.

So what will the FDA, Google and the biggest names in social media have to talk about?

Online Opioid Markets

Over the past decade, opioid-related deaths have continued to climb. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA:

  • In 2005 there were around 12,900 opioid-related deaths
  • In 2016 there were well over 42,000

More recent figures show that on average, 115 Americans die every day from opioid abuse. There are a few elements that have contributed to this devastating trend, including the over-prescription of painkillers like Oxycontin and an influx of heroin into the country.

So what does the place you get your sponge-bob square-pants memes have to do with opioid abuse in America?

When we’ve taken a closer look at the opioid crisis, we have discovered that illicit sales of either prescription medications, illegal narcotics or synthetics like fentanyl from overseas have found a home in online marketplaces. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, revenues from illicit drug sales online have grown substantially over the last several years.

  • 2012- online illicit drug sales were between $15 and $17 million
  • 2015- those illicit drug sales online shut up to between $150 and $180 million

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy conducted research by searching online for prescription opioids across the three major search engines. They found that nearly 91% of the first search results led users to an illegal online drug distributor offering prescription opioids.

Needless to say, those numbers show there are still dark corners of the internet dealers exploit for drug trafficking. In fact, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April, one of the big questions he was repeatedly confronted with was how Facebook intended to fight illegal drug sales on their site. This Opioid Summit is about a collaborative effort to do better about restricting online drug sales.

Opioid Summit

While dark websites like the notorious Silk Road have been a major component to digital drug dealing, social media sites, and search engines have found their formats being abuse for these activities as well. Between illegal online pharmacies, drug dealers and other criminals the use of the internet to distribute opioids with minimized risk has steadily increased.

The Opioid Summit will address the state of the opioid crisis and invite Internet stakeholders to present how their companies are working to fight the sale of opioids on their sites and protect their users. A statement by the FDA adds:

“One critical step to address this public health emergency is the adoption of a far more proactive approach by internet stakeholders to crack down on internet traffic in illicit drugs.”

Facebook has already announced new efforts to prevent the sales of opioids through their site. The approach by Zuckerberg and his team is actually unique. Facebook users who try to buy opioids or search for addiction treatment will be redirected toward information about finding free and confidential treatment referrals. Users will also be directed to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline.

On the Opioid Summit agenda, there are a few important discussions, including:

  • Panel Discussion

This will include a brief opioid crisis overview from Donald Ashley, J.D., Director, Office of Compliance, FDA. There will also be a presentation on the DEA Internet Investigation. And different experts will present research regarding the ease of purchasing opioids online.

  • Roundtable

This discussion will include a number of presentations, including one from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. Even the Vice President of MasterCard, Paul Paolucci, will be part of the roundtable.

It is important to note that only the FDA speaker presentations will be webcast to the public.

The takeaway here is that hopefully as the illicit drug market evolves, using search engines and social media to try and carve out a space for trafficking, the biggest names in internet will also be working to actively prevent these illegal industries from flourishing on their sites. Hopefully, the summit will introduce new measures to make it harder for dealers to take advantage of social networking tools. Social media is for bringing people together. Sadly, some still use it to sell the drugs that tear communities and families apart. Next, there should be more discussion about comprehensive addiction treatment.

It is important that those with the ability to reduce drug trafficking take action where they can. An even more crucial aspect of putting an end to the ongoing opioid crisis is safe and effective treatment resources. For over 20 years, Palm Partners Recovery Center has been actively helping people struggling with addiction to transform their lives and heal. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

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Trump Shows Stigma in Comments on Drug Related Prisoners Released

Trump Shows Stigma in Comments on Drug Related Prisoners Released

Author: Justin Mckibben

The most controversial presidential candidate in the running for the 2016 elections is at it again. Mr. Donald Trump attempts to touch on the drug issues in America with an attack on President Obama’s decision to release thousands of inmates from prisons across the country for non-violent drug crimes, with statements that reek of stigma claiming “every single one” will return to dealing drugs.

With drug addiction and how to address the failed War on Drugs in the United States being such a pivotal topic in the presidential campaigns this year most candidates are trying to empathize with the people who are struggling, as well as those who have become victims of the old fashioned and outdated tactics the nation has used in the past to deal with the drug problem. By the masses politicians, law enforcement and citizens everywhere have turned to supporting compassionate and innovative solutions to helping de-stigmatize addiction and drug abuse in order to help inspire progress, but it seems Trump can’t help himself- he has to say stuff that only makes sense in the timeworn and unserviceable rhetoric of the past to stir the pot.

6,000 Reasons to Drop the Stigma

By the end of 2015 President Barrack Obama had released 6,000 inmates from prison as part of his administration’s efforts to downsize the federal prison system and reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Now this wasn’t just President Obama throwing caution to the wind and letting loose convicted felons for the heck of it, the release was made on the recommendation of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is an independent agency created by Congress in the judicial branch of the government.

In New Hampshire town hall this past Monday, February 8th, Donald Trump talked to the crowd at one of his rallies, saying in regards to the inmates Obama released that:

“These people are babies that think differently. And a lot of them don’t even think differently, they just don’t care. Frankly, I don’t even think they care, it’s almost like they don’t like the country. But out of those 6,000, every single one of them will be back selling drugs. It’ll be very rare for one that doesn’t.”

So it would seem that the concept of destroying the stigma surrounding drug abuse, addiction and drug related issues is completely lost on good ol’ Donald.

While he tried to connect with voters who had family members who had struggled or even died from drug addiction and overdose, what he seems to be overlooking is that a huge percentage of people who are incarcerated for drug dealing or drug possession are actually addicts themselves, many of which deal drugs to support their habits, and others who have been arrested with drugs and sentenced to long terms of punishment that were never drug kingpins or drug dealers but just sick people who get caught one too many times.

Now I’m not saying at all that there shouldn’t be punishment for breaking the law, but what I will say is that the point of these prisoners being released is to break the destructive cycle of stuffing industrial prisons full of sick and suffering addicts to only prolong their struggles when they are eventually released.

So far the only solution to drug related issues Trump seems to offer with any true avocation is building a border wall to keep out cartels. It seems he thinks putting up a road-block and putting more people in prison is the best way to fight the drug epidemic. Other than that he seems to believe people like these prisoners are suffering from a mental infancy or a moral decay that is only addressable by prison.

With the presidential race heating up, it seems we should be paying pretty close attention to the things these candidates have to say about the very people they are meant to serve. Some of them seem to think being president is more about being a bully and telling the world what to do, but isn’t the president just another servant of the people? We forget this person is supposed to work for us, not the other way around. The future of our nation should have no room for stigma, we need leaders who are willing to serve the interest of every American, not just those they feel are worthy of their freedom. Drug abuse and addiction is a devastating and deadly disease, and more needs to be done to help people struggling instead of punishing them. There is real help out there. 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. If you are looking for a way to get your life back, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Should Selling Prescription Pills Be Considered Murder?

Should Selling Prescription Pills Be Considered Murder?

Author: Justin Mckibben

A while back I posed the question- should heroin overdoses be counted as homicides, and how should the people who sell heroin to those who over dose and die be prosecuted? Some people already follow the belief dealers should be treated as killers, so should selling prescription pills be considered murder?

The People VS the Pills

It is nothing new that prescription pills, especially opiates, are directly connected to the escalating issues with drug abuse, the heroin epidemic, and the overdose death rates in America. Law enforcement noticed a spike in illegal abuse of prescription drugs and started hunting down “pill mills” and patients who shopped for doctors to stock-pile dangerous prescription pills for both sale and illicit consumption.

Some law enforcement officials have already started a more aggressive crusade against drug dealers, such as Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless who operated in an area which had 16.2 overdoses for every 100,000 people in 2013. Capeless has been proud to say that every overdose death is fully investigated with the intent to charge someone for the death, and he even has gotten a few convictions.

Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts aren’t the only area where this idea has sparked action. Other states have pursued charges against dealers following overdose deaths of their customers, including:

  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Iowa

The argument about charging dealers with deaths has even been made more prominent with celebrity cases such as the drug overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman where his dealer, 57-year-old Robert Vineberg was arrested and put on trial. That is just one example, and with prescription pills being so closely related to overdose deaths it only makes sense we ask this question.

The Case of Ball and Beasley

On March 3rd, 2015, Brittany Taylor Ball allegedly sold Amanda Beasley of Athens some of her legally prescribed methadone pills. The following day, according to court documents, Amanda Beasley died after overdosing on the prescription pills sold to her. Beasley was married and a mother to a little girl of her own.

This week a grand jury charged Ball with the second degree murder of Beasley. McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy spoke out in regards to the case, stating:

“This is a huge problem and it goes on all the time, the exchange of prescription pain pills, whether they’re being sold or traded or just given out, all of that is illegal and all of that is dangerous.”

Methadone is a prescribed drug to treat heroin addiction, but methadone is still an opiate and still incredibly dangerous. Plenty of people get prescribed methadone to treat heroin addiction, but eventually abuse it or sell it to others illegally. Sheriff Guy went on to say,

“In Tennessee, drug over doses regarding prescription pain medication in 2014 lead the state in adult deaths even more so than gun shot wounds and car crashes. So it’s a huge problem state wide. And we really need to change our attitude about why and what we do with our prescription pain medications.”

Guy insists that in any case where there is a drug sold to someone that causes a death, the dealer will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Prescription drug abuse is still drug abuse, and if it causes a death then many law enforcement officials are more than ready to prosecute.

So now I pose the question to you again- should selling prescription drugs be considered murder?

Some would answer “YES” without hesitation, but others would also argue that since many people who deal drugs are often addicts and suffering themselves in some capacity it is without compassion to persecute someone who sells their prescription pills out of some form of desperation. I guess the context does matter; should an addict be convicted of murder because they were selling their own prescription pills just to support their habit? At what point should one addict be held responsible for the death of another addict who makes their own decision to use?

Truth be told this conversation is not so cut and dry. If a someone knows what the drug is and has been abusing actively, have they not made their own decision as an adult to consume something they know could kill them? Is the overdose a murder, or an unintended suicide?

How far should we be willing to push against prescription pills and drug dealing?

The opioid epidemic is affecting Americans in every part of the country, and prescription pills are a huge part of that. So in the face of overdose deaths, more than ever people need safe and effective treatment to help them change for lige. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Silk Road Creator Sentenced to Life: Says Site Was Harm Reduction

Silk Road Creator Sentenced to Life: Says Site Was Harm Reduction

Author: Justin Mckibben

Ross Ulbricht, AKA “Dead Pirate Roberts” (DPR) is a name I’ve written about several times before. He is the founder of the original Silk Road, and for those of you who have no idea what the means, it is the massively successful online drug marketplace referred to as the ‘Amazon.com of Drugs’ that was taken down a while back and has since been mimicked and replaced with other online markets, that have also been shut down and replaced in a seemingly endless cycle of greed measured in bitcoin and gigbytes.

This past Friday, May 29th 2015 the cycle may have ended permanently for Ulbricht, as he was in a New York courtroom claiming he was a changed man, looking for some semblance of redemption, or at least a little leeway, but this time there was no fire-wall or spy-ware to protect him. Not too many people are buying what the defense team for Ulbricht was trying to sell, as their newest attempt to lessen his prison time was on the grounds of “harm reduction.”

Reducing Harm?

Ulbricht’s legal team asked the judge to consider Silk Road as a place that significantly reduced the danger of drug use to the user on the grounds that it created a format where several factors associated with the drug trade were replaced with a system which let customers have control over their deals in safety.

Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel stated in the filing:

“..Transactions on the Silk Road web site were significantly safer than traditional illegal drug purchases, and included quality control and accountability features that made purchasers substantially safer than they were when purchasing drugs in a conventional manner.”

Dratel described Silk Road as if it was a unique application of harm reduction, which is typically associated with needle exchange programs and anti-overdose kits being distributed as a method of reducing the problems associated with drug use on the street.

It isn’t entirely untrue, but even the top 4 factors that could be considered to be relatable to harm reduction, when you take a closer look, could be considered a little contrived.

  1. Less Danger?

For anyone who has ever bought drugs, there is obviously some element of danger commonly associated with these transactions. Of course it depends of what you buy and where, from who. Buying heroin off the corner could easily get you robbed, even assaulted or injured. So you are reducing some harm by purchasing it via the web and having it shipped to your house.

On the flip side- just because it is a ‘safer’ drug deal because the environment is less likely to get you robbed or ripped off doesn’t mean it is harm reduction, right? It’s still a drug deal. Spreading it out over the servers doesn’t justify it. The judge shot this logic down, saying:

“Silk Road was about fulfilling demand….about creating demand.”

In other words there would be no harm to reduce without Silk Road creating the dark web drug den and supplying drugs.

Harm reduction is typically about giving people safer means by which to do the drugs they are already buying, not providing them easier access to the substance itself.

Then there is the fact that even though the last stop in the chain of transactions was a little safer, it doesn’t mean that the cartels trafficking drugs, the conditions where they are grown or made, or the enterprises being funded by drug money (such as ISIS or other terrorist groups) are any ‘safer’ in the process. There is still plenty of risk to go around.

  1. Quality Control?

Then there is the idea that Silk Road was harm reduction because it created its own level of quality control, introducing several components that seemed to make dealers accountable. The digital drug expo featured Ebay style ratings and review boards where crowd-sourced information about drugs and dealers allowed customers to feel safer from the danger of buying tampered with products.

Thus the community trusted the dealers being logged and recorded as quality business men.

But again, all this does is feed into the demand. It doesn’t really reduce anything but a drug users doubts that they will get what they want for the right Bitcoin (hacker money).

  1. Safety Tips?

This one actually makes some sense. Silk Road featured crowd-funded advice about drug use, including:

  • How to ‘fix’ drugs properly (how to use certain drugs certain ways)
  • What to expect on your first time using
  • What to do in case of overdose

There is no doubt that this could be potentially lifesaving information for people committed to illegal drug use.

Some forums included medical advice from physicians themselves. Ulbricht even tried to keep Silk Road ‘safe’ by paying $500 a week to the infamous Dr. X, who was himself a self-identified drug user who regularly answered questions from users about the harms or merits of taking both legal and illegal drugs.

Dr. X’s real name is Dr. Fernando Caudevilla and he described this aspect as harm reduction.

Considering that this element of the site was designed to keep users safe by providing medical information and allowing for open communication about drug use, it can run parallel to the strategies other legitimate harm reduction campaigns use to keep users informed and medically supported.

And yet… not everyone felt it was effective enough. Emotional statements at the hearing came from the parents of drug users who had overdosed and died from drugs purchased from the Silk Road, many called for the longest sentence the law would allow.

  1. Ethics

The aims of Silk Road were initially governed by a strict code of ethics. Early visitors of the site lobbied DPR to allow complete freedom for any transaction, but Ulbricht was adamant about his principal… at least at first. He stated:

“Our basic rules are to treat others as you would wish to be treated and don’t do anything to hurt or scam someone else.”

This meant no sales of a more sinister nature, such as:

  • Weapons
  • Child pornography
  • Stolen goods
  • Fraudulent degrees or IDs

Though this was a firm founding ideal, it appears most of these items were for sale when the site was finally shut down.

The Judgment

At the end of the day Ulbricht was found guilty last month of 7 offenses he was charged with, including a “kingpin” charge that puts the 31-year-old hacker from Texas up there with mafia dons and drug cartel leaders.

Judge Katherine Forrest gave Ulbricht the most severe sentence possible, beyond what even the prosecution had explicitly requested. The minimum Ulbricht could have served was 20 years, but the judge sentenced him to life in prison… without the possibility of parole.

In addition to his prison sentence, Ulbricht was also ordered to pay restitution of more than $183 million, what the prosecution had estimated to be the total sales of illegal drugs and counterfeit IDs through the dark web hot spot. As the judge passed down the sentence she said:

“You are no better a person than any other drug dealer.”

Of course his defense team is already preparing for their appeal, and this is surely one story we will be hearing about for a while.

In my own opinion: The very idea that they are trying to call this harm reduction is just a little (or a lot) absurd. Creating a dark web market of drug dealers to push raw opium, various illicit plants and pills for massive amounts of money, while claiming to be beyond the laws of the nation, and even trying to pay tens of thousands for the murder of half a dozen people is not exactly the ideal model of harm reduction.

Real harm reduction can help a lot of people. Drug addiction is a perilous and powerful disease, but harm reduction is one way that thousands of people are trying to help those suffering, while treatment facilities develop innovative and life-saving recovery strategies. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

 

 

 

The Delray Beach Sober House Discussion

The Delray Beach Sober House Discussion

Author: Justin Mckibben

Delray Beach in South Florida is a beautiful part of the Sunshine State with a thriving community. Florida is known for its warm days, miles of breathtaking beaches, and a variety of fabulous cultures. The state also has made a name as the Recovery Capital of the country, with more drug rehab facilities than almost anywhere else in the entire nation.

Some see the recovery community as a threat to wholesome and upscale living, others see it as part of that vibrant Florida culture, and the debate over Sober Homes or Halfway Houses has become a large part of this discussion.

How a Halfway Works

Halfway houses/sober homes are facilities that place individuals trying to recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol in a community with other recovering alcoholics and drug addictions to help them get assimilated back into the world after active addiction. Sober Homes are the typical next step down in structure and intensive care after an inpatient or residential rehab program.

Sober Homes can be a critical factor for someone in early recovery, because dealing with addiction is a life-long process. Having a system put in place that keeps you accountable while integrating your daily routine with a new life-style is important. Halfway Houses re-teach us important parts of adulthood, or they can help us develop relationships with others who are making the right decisions.

The Outrage

Neighborhoods all across South Florida have some residents who have become outraged over some individuals who live in halfway houses reportedly loitering the streets, and some claim drug dealing has increased in their streets and are calling for action and stricter regulation. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Some halfway houses have frequently come under fire for unsafe housing, affecting the community, and even insurance fraud. Sober home operators are buying properties in residential areas, and this is causing some neighbors to be concerned about what their children are exposed to, while others worry about the possibility of crime. State representative Bill Hager is sponsoring legislation aimed at regulating sober homes who stated:

“We know there are some very competent, consciously run sober homes. We also know there are sober homes out there that are ripping-off patients, ripping-off the public, ripping-off neighborhoods, ripping-off insurance companies.”

Hager says sober home operators can make a huge profit on drug testing, and to put it bluntly some over bill insurance companies. Last September FBI agents raided sober living condos in West Palm Beach, and a similar situation happened in December in Delray Beach. There has been repeated calls for Halfway House regulations to be put in place, and it seems more drastic actions are closer than ever.

One injustice is that the headlines seem to always highlight how heroin addiction, the synthetic drug Flakka outbreak, and unruly sober homes may be hurting our neighborhoods, but they tend to forget that the recovery communities out there are changing lives every day and helping enrich the community as a whole.

Real Recovery in Delray Beach

According to Suzanne Spencer, executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force, the people in the recovery community and the rehab industry that are trying to help are making affirming and positive strides in the city of Delray Beach. Just yesterday morning Spencer, along with members of the task force, Delray Beach police and others in the community came together to talk about initiatives and how they can help each other with better serving the community. Chief Jeff Goldman said:

“Recovery is a part of Delray Beach and that’s just a fact,”

This task force in Delray has been around since the 1990s, focused on:

  • Public safety
  • Rehabilitation
  • Education
  • Leadership

The best part being that they have gotten those who work at sober homes and treatment facilities as well as those in recovery directly involved in the task force to help address and issues.

Spencer has openly expressed her belief that those in recovery are just as much of the community as anyone else, though the stigma of addiction has residents frozen and suspicious in skepticism. One of the group’s biggest concerns is the well-being of individuals kicked out of recovery centers for various reasons ranging from breaking the rules to relapses. Chief Goldman said they’re currently working to build a system to keep those off the streets and back on track.

Another member of the task force is George Jahn, who works with Florida Association of Recovery Residences. Jahn fully believes in cracking down on those facilities breaking the law and taking advantage, and hopes the soon-to-be signed sober homes bill will help alleviate some of those issues. Jahn has admitted it takes a lot of people to work together to make it possible.

“You cannot just have a police force and a stick. You have to provide structure.”

As an individual who lived in a few halfway houses once upon a time, I think it’s important that people take into the consideration the fact that most people have placed themselves in the position to change their lives, and that’s why they’re in a sober living facility. Recovering addicts and alcoholics are human beings trying to overcome obstacles.

At the same time, we as addicts and alcoholics need to be aware of how our actions, or even lack of actions, affect other people. If we want to truly recover we cannot drag down the neighborhoods and businesses we live around, we should not endanger or negatively influence young people where we live and have some respect for the neighborhoods that let us in, and we cannot  stay clean if we want to live dirty. We teach the world how to treat us, so act right.

For the rest of the world, recovering addicts and alcoholics probably pump your gas, cook your food, sell you clothes and fix your cars. We build your homes and businesses, we might even we sitting next to you right now. We are not all what you might imagine us to be and that is why raising awareness is so important, to refute the stigma because we too want to improve upon our communities.

Recovery from dependence on drugs and alcoholic obsession is a process, and part of that process means learning how to be a respectful member of society, and how to contribute to a community. While some are afraid of what addicts may bring to their neighborhood, many of us just hope for a better life. We can have it too, with better decisions. 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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