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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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Oregon Will Now Expunge Past Marijuana Records

Oregon Will Now Expunge Past Marijuana Records

Author: Shernide Delva

Oregon is one of the first states to address the concerns of marijuana legalization answering the debated question: what do you do with someone with a record for something that used to be a crime but now isn’t? With this new policy, anyone with any low-level felony or misdemeanor on their record that’s at least ten years old can wipe their record clean (as long as they have not re-offended).  As many as 50,000 people will benefit from this law passed in Oregon.

Oregon is known for its progressive marijuana legislation that spans over the past few decades. Back in 1973, Oregon was the first state in the country to decriminalize low-scale marijuana possession. Now legal experts and marijuana business people are saying that the state is leading the way in creating new laws that would allow people with past marijuana offenses to wipe their slates clean.

In 2016, Oregon will allow more serious felony pot convictions, like growing, to be eligible for record sealing. The law is not restricted to drug offenses. A second law will allow expungement for people who were under 21 at the time of a past conviction.

Citations for marijuana possessions can haunt a person for years preventing them from career opportunities, renting an apartment, loans, and grants. Oregon is one of three states in the United States that allow marijuana use on a recreational level and now this law will give those who were prosecuted for the now legal crime to be able to move on with their lives.

So far, no state has gone further than Oregon on this issue.  Even in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, the idea of expunging past records still remain controversial. In states like Colorado, Alaska, Washington and the District of Colombia where recreational marijuana is legalized, similar laws are available yet are still unclear. Oregon’s law will be one of the first structured policy following marijuana reform.

Expungement for pot conviction is gaining attention since the legalization of marijuana has raised questions for those convicted in the past. Years after the arrests, citizens are left with a record that will haunt them for the rest of their life, for getting caught doing something that is legal in many states today.

The expunge center in Oregon elaborated on how significant this law is for those who need it most:

“It really doesn’t matter if you had been arrested on a petty charge. The stigma of having an arrest or conviction record against your name can make it difficult for you to find housing, seek employment opportunities and obtain grants for school…. Regardless of how much you have changed or how many dreams you might have, one single mistake of your past can affect your chances of having a good future.”

Even for those with more serious marijuana crimes who are unable to qualify for expungement or reduce their impact may be qualified to reduce the impact of past criminal convictions. They may be able to reduce the severity of their charges so they are granted access to certain rights.

The law comes very soon after Oregon legalized marijuana recreationally. Time will tell if other states will follow Oregon in also expunging records now the drug is continuously decriminalized and marijuana reform continues to stir debate around the country.

Whether or not you agree with marijuana reform, the fact of the matter is more and more states are legalizing the drug either recreationally, medically or both. The next logical step would be deciding best policy when it comes to addressing those who were criminalized for something legal today. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588  

Should Convicted Drug Dealers Be Denied Welfare Forever?

 there is already a lot being done in defense of nonviolent drug offenders to reform the way we reprimand them.

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Drug dealing is not as glorified or malicious as it often seems made out to be in music videos and movies, and the stereotypical drug dealer archetype is not always what you see when you have actually been there and done that.

I sold some drugs in my day, and some of my main suppliers were suburban house moms often supporting a few children close to my age at the time. That is the opposite of what stigma will tell you, and while it does not matter how different our race or age or upbringings were, we faced a lot of the same struggles, including addiction.

Taking all this into account, along with several other elements I will get into later, the idea of denying all convicted drug dealers access to welfare benefits on top of their prison sentencing seems a little intense… and a little unconscionable. There is already a lot being done in defense of nonviolent drug offenders to reform the way the system reprimands them, yet it appears some politicians feel it is necessary to deny welfare to convicted drug dealers, and they may soon make it a law.

Yes. This is probably my next ‘flag ship article’ in the war against addiction stigma. Shall we?

Looking at the Legislation

Republican State Representative Mike Regan sponsored this new legislation in Pennsylvania designed to make it so individuals convicted of drug distribution crimes would be restricted from qualifying for welfare… indefinitely!

Now this isn’t for every drug offense. Drug dealers convicted of felony offenses are the primary target, while summary or misdemeanor crimes would not constitute the same restrictions.

Mr. Regan said.

“This legislation, I’m not trying to be hardhearted. I’m trying to preserve the funds that are not infinite for those that are truly in need.”

Some are worried the qualifying amount of drugs is low; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) notes that if you sell 2 pounds of marijuana it constitutes a felony with incarceration of up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

2 pounds is a lot, but to anyone who has seen 2 pounds of marijuana in real life they know it doesn’t exactly put you at Escobar levels. It is definitely enough to assume you are a dealer, but I’ve known high school kids to keep more than that in their mom’s basement.

When taking a closer look this is not necessarily a huge step from what the current policy already is, which many insist is enough to deter people from taking advantage of the system. The Department of Human Services already requires welfare seekers who have been convicted of drug felony charges to comply with drug testing to be eligible for these benefits. Florida Governor Rick Scott had tried to implement a similar restriction, but eventually gave it up for results that did not justify its budget.

Regan did say he is not opposed to amending his proposal. Replacing the lifetime ban from welfare assistance with a 15-20 year ban is not completely off the table, and other negotiation can probably be made before signing it into law.

The debate is coming to a head sooner than later, since the bill already passed the House Health Committee with bipartisan support. Now, the Republican Party is hoping for a victory as the bill heads to the House floor, perhaps as early as this week!

Adamant Opposition

Opposition stands strong as Democrats and outside organizations have voiced several concerns, most driven out of the fear the bill could have counterproductive and adverse effects on recovery efforts, not just for individual offenders but the recovery of the system as a whole.

Though Regan is trying to sell this one in terms of fiscal responsibility – and there’s an argument there. The financial questions are important, such as:

“What should be the limits of the public’s generosity?”

“In a time of diminished resources what should be the parameters for those resources for public assistance?”

Half the people reading this might say,

“Why should law-abiding citizens pay to take care of convicted criminals?”

The intent of Regan’s proposal here may be to target major drug dealers. But in my personal experience and opinion, considering a lot of drug dealers have evolved from an individual with their own addictions or a desperate need to supplement income (or both) this would only further exacerbate and perpetuate the destructive cycle of prisons, poverty and drug abuse.

Sure, not every drug dealer does it for these exact reasons, but plenty do, and this kind of law will leave them little alternatives for hope.

Lack of education and opportunity in some communities often becomes a motive, and some say these circumstances in some areas have only gotten worse due to the war on drugs. If someone is caught and sent to prison it’s hard enough already to find honest and stable work. Add a criminal record and forcing them to forgo their welfare assistance seems like it would only create more of a need to revert to dealing again.

Like breaking someone’s legs and telling them to move a mile… without using their arms.

Why would we need to keep kicking someone while their down, especially when we toss them back out into society and tell them to pick themselves up again?

Is it practical to keep punishing people while expecting them to reform themselves? Is it effective to drag people in and out of the criminal justice and prison system to “teach them a lesson?”

Has it worked for us so far?

That is all this writer’s opinion, but in all honestly I think most would agree that a better answer would involve actively treating and supporting the rehabilitation of individuals with drug issues. If we can’t show compassion, we can’t expect any change.

With the toll of the war on drugs being costly on both sides of the fight, how can we improve upon the ideals set forth to fight addiction and drug abuse? We all have a roll in this war, and as part of this culture we all have a chance to help this nation survive this fight. For some it is as simple as choosing to recover rather than suffer, and Palm Partners is a place to begin that transformation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Philly Decriminalized Pot in New Law

Philly Decriminalized Pot in New Law

Author: Justin Mckibben

Philadelphia has officially thrown its hat in the ring, joining the ranks in marijuana drug law reform the state has now become the largest city in the United States to formally decriminalize possession for small amounts of marijuana. This is just one more addition to the frequent reforms taking place across the nation in regards to the way marijuana is being addressed in the nation.

This past Wednesday, October 1st Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed legislation that will reduce the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana from a more strict arrest to a mere civil offense.

The Old Policy

Up to this point, Philadelphia punished all marijuana possession with at least a $200 fine, a drug treatment course, and probably the most damaging punishment of all was the drug arrest going on record. The original draft of this new legislation would have the policy changed so that police would only be issuing citations basically identical to a parking ticket for possession of one ounce of marijuana or less. Mayor Nutter and his administration, not to mention the Philadelphia police officials, had reservations about that approach.

Eventually the bills author, councilman Jim Kenney, and Mayor Nutter were able to reach an agreement on a compromise: that the infraction would result in what’s called a “non-summary civil offense.” Councilman Jim Kenney stated,

“We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm. There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record.  Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this.  People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.”

The New Deal

With the new law now being put into place those possessing that specified amount will now only be subjected to a $25 fine, while those caught smoking pot in public will only have to pay $100 or be made to perform some type community service. One of the most notable pieces of information here is that the arrest numbers will be greatly reduced, and there will be less stress and stigma placed on citizens.

“There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step,” Kenney notes. “We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.”

According to Philadelphia police however, anyone who is caught selling or distributing marijuana in any quantity, in possession of more than 30 grams, or not providing proper identification will still be subject to arrest.

Jim Kenney is also confident when he claims that this approach will spare more than 4,000 people from being arrested each year, and will save the Philadelphia Police Department about $4 million a year, which makes a lot of sense given the costs of law enforcement efforts to police marijuana along with other serious narcotics in the area. Mayor Nutter commended the efforts put forth by Kenney and admits that the councilman’s original draft of the bill actually opened his eyes to the reality of the issue, which prompted the Nutter administration to do more studies how other cities were handling possession of small amounts of marijuana, and derive from that the best possible solution.

Changing the Perception 

The city also announced that it would “teach students to resist all drugs, alcohol & tobacco” through making more information and education about the reality of substance abuse and related issues available to the school district’s LifeSkills training program.

The mayor also signed an executive order that would provide funds to Community Legal Services, in order to allow former convicts to have their criminal records expunged. This is especially impressive, because it not only shows the Philadelphia is doing what it can to be progressive, but they are willing to make these new changes in marijuana policies retroactive to benefit those who would already have problems with a drug arrest record related to marijuana possession.

“This comes at a time when many other jurisdictions are re-examining their approach to marijuana law enforcement,” the mayor’s office tweeted.

The new law is slated to take effect on October 20th and is likely to have a very powerful impact on the community at large. It may not be as absolute an approach as complete legalization like some other states, but it is a step that many believe is heading the best direction for the area. A conscious effort to decrease the crime rate is being made.

Raising awareness about substance abuse and the dangers of addiction instead of fear mongering and frightening people away from getting proper treatment is sure to be more effective in most cases. For too many people suffering with a drug problem the concept of getting help seems impossible, but that could not be farther from the truth. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction you are not alone! Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help.

 

Massachusetts Becomes Second State to Eliminate Prior Authorization for Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Becomes Second State to Eliminate Prior Authorization for Drug Treatment

Passed by both sides of the Legislature on July 31, the governor signed a new bill Wednesday afternoon expanding substance abuse coverage in Massachusetts.The bill increases oversight into prescriptions and their abuses and effectively alters the requirements for drug treatment in the state. The new substance abuse legislation that mandates an increase in treatment coverage had both health insurance carriers and health care providers facing off on opposite sides of a debate for quite some time, but despite protestations from insurers the bill retained language around coverage for 14 days inpatient treatment.

Notably to insurers, the mandate increases coverage for certain drugs. The new legislation also requires all commercial carriers; including MassHealth, to reimburse alcohol and drug services, and mandates MassHealth and commercial carriers cover up to 14 days of inpatient drug treatment for those covered who seek help for their abuse of or addiction to certain drugs. Though providers say the legislation ensures treatment availability, insurance groups have recoiled from supporting the mandate because in the past they claimed it would drive up health care costs for Massachusetts employers and consumers.

While the greater majority of the bill’s new regulations will not take effect until October 2015. In the meantime the Health Policy Commission will research and analyze the pending study on the bill’s effects. While some say it would have been more beneficial to have the bill analyzed prior to its passing, the new legislation still leaves open the possibility for amendments.

All Opposed

Lora Pellegrini, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans stated during a phone interview,

“The bill was done with no hearing, no data, nothing on medical efficacy. We believe providers will practice at this level. Even if they tried not to, patients will demand it.”

A letter was sent to Governor Deval Patrick on August 1st, prior to the bills passing, primarily arguing the point of required inpatient treatment. Before the legislation health plans had to issue prior authorization for inpatient treatment. This new bill abolished that restriction and limits the ability of insurers to question inpatient treatment plans. So in the eyes of those opposing the reform may suspect that drug treatment facilities may take advantage of this new relaxed screening and charge for unnecessary treatments.

“By removing the ability to conduct care management practices and favoring unsupported standards of care, the bill begins to unravel key Chapter 224 principles that will seriously jeopardize our ability to meet the state’s cost benchmark for health care spending,” Pellegrini stated in the letter sent to Governor Deval Patrick.

Also in opposition of some of the plans new policies was president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters David Shore. Shore also insisted that the legislation dictates the use of treatments that are in some opinions arbitrary and unnecessary for effective rehabilitation. Shore stated that he hoped the governor would have sent the legislation back to the Division of Insurance, the Health Policy Commission or to the Department of Public Health to determine what treatment options have been scientifically proven rather than enforcing 14 days of coverage by programs that may be a waste of money. This however was not the end result.

“As the president of Massachusetts Association of Health Underwriters, I have a duty to employers and families to make health care affordable without sacrificing quality. Those pillars are missing from the substance abuse bill as it’s written,” Shore said before the bill had been passed Wednesday.

Even though neither David Shore or Lora Pellegrini could give direct estimates on how much insurance costs might increase for those seeking coverage under the new bill, the Center for Health Information and Analysis will conduct a study of the legislation after it’s passed to try and reassess the situation and build statistics on the improvement of the situation.

Stuart Gitlow, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, also said a set number of inpatient treatment days shouldn’t be automatic. The language in which the bill is written also allows both opiate addicts and alcoholics to receive the same treatment for the same stretch of time, which don’t necessarily require the same tactics for proper care.

“If someone is withdrawing from alcohol or a sedative drug like alcohol, they have the potential risk of dying. If they are withdrawing from heroin or an opiate, they are not. One is quite dangerous, the other is quite uncomfortable,” he said. “If a person needs to be inpatient those need to be taken into consideration. Other professionals in the field of addiction treatment also agree that the bill opened the door for problems.

All in Favor

Then again there is Daniel Mumbauer, who is CEO of High Point Treatment Center who has a lot of faith in the new policy. Mumbauer has said the bill only mandates coverage, it doesn’t dictate that all patients receive the same treatment. He maintains that the drug treatment system runs at capacity, and that his company especially did not have the resources or empty beds that would constitute any motive for them to take admissions from individuals who do not need the treatment, especially if that meant turning away someone who did.

“The thing I’m excited about, it puts the decision in the hands of a specialists who will determine the appropriate level of care.”

Daniel Mumbauer also went on to boast as to how the legislation accomplishes a leveling of the playing field for all health care plans, which often have vastly different interpretations of what is medically necessary for addiction treatment or who ‘qualifies’ according to the insurance provider for addiction treatment. The bill also removes much of the administrative cost of constantly having to seek out insurance reviews and approval for patients.

Anthony Piro, director of operations for behavioral health at Emerson Hospital, also said the legislation will expedite the care process.

“The language removes the requirement to seek prior authorization for admissions, a process which often prevents patients from receiving needed treatment in a timely fashion (and often leaves acutely ill patients in Emergency Rooms awaiting authorization before initiating treatment). It also allows providers the necessary freedom to adequately treat patients once they are admitted.”

So according to these two individuals, the process of getting approval for treatment and being able to consistently receive that treatment for patients is made easier and far less painful, while the process for health care providers and drug treatment centers of facilitating treatment is simplified and patients have a better opportunity of receiving the highest quality care possible. As for cost, according to Mumbauer, the better treatment people can get right away, the less interventions and possible repeated drug treatment they will need in the future, which has the potential to lower the cost of the care all around.

 With so much reform in drug addiction treatment policies in different states and so many different methods of drug addiction treatment available, this is an incredible time to take the opportunity to look into the treatment options that may now be available to you through your health care or insurance providers. Some of these policy changes may save lives, so if you of someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 

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