Author: Justin Mckibben
In Philadelphia, there have been nearly 800 fentanyl overdoses this year.
According to figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths, which many attribute in part to fentanyl, is causing a drop in American life expectancy.
As 2018 begins, many are afraid of what the future may bring concerning more deadly drugs reaching the streets, overdoses, and deaths. One area, in particular, is the streets of Philadelphia. Now, many in the area are pointing out that heroin is no longer the poison most popular on the illicit market. Fentanyl in Philadelphia is now the main ingredient in the drug problem.
How Fentanyl in Philadelphia is Changing the Scene
Patrick Trainor is a special agent with the Philadelphia division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Trainor has kept an eye on the Kensington neighborhood for two decades. When talking about the drastic impact the lethal synthetic opioid has brought to the heroin market, he states,
“Fentanyl has drastically changed the landscape… Sixty-four percent of fatals in Philadelphia County are fentanyl-related. There’s no dope out here now, it’s all fentanyl. Even the old timers are scared of it.”
In areas like Emerald Street, AKA Emerald City, even drug users carry Narcan regularly.
Dangers and Death
Even addicts who are now content with using fentanyl are aware of the risks. But many say that compared to heroin, fentanyl’s rush is intense and immediate.
It is painful to use because it burns the vein. Some choose to chance the elevated risk of abscesses by injecting under the skin. This practice is said to reduce the risk of overdose and prolong the high. Yet, overdoses come almost instantaneously. Beyond that, the comedown of fentanyl is said to be abrupt, and the withdrawal period is a long and difficult one.
Tolerance for the drug builds quickly; dependence on the drug is rapid and pretty much unavoidable. Even those revived by Narcan can fall back into overdose due to the immense strength of the drug.
A lot of the issues related to fentanyl in Philadelphia can be connected to how it hit the street in the first place. According to interviews with drug users in the Kensington area, when fentanyl first started flooding the market the dealers didn’t know how to handle it, and the users didn’t even know about it. They had no idea about the risks of the drug, and overdoses were everywhere.
But then the dealers caught on when customers started dying all over, and so they changed the way they cut the drug in order to keep their consumers. Trainor himself notes,
“You’re paying the same for something that’s roughly 100 times more powerful, so why would you buy heroin? The demand is for the most powerful thing they can get. Heroin will never be able to compete with fentanyl. It just can’t.”
There is no wonder why fentanyl in Philadelphia has become the dealers choice, the economics of fentanyl trafficking are easy to understand.
Unlike with heroin, there is no need to wait for the poppy harvest to start production. To yield a kilo of fentanyl, the chemicals one would need cost less than $5,000. At $55,000-$60,000 per kilo delivered, fentanyl is the about the same price as heroin but earns traffickers far more once it is cut and packaged for the street.
Each kilo of fentanyl can be cut out to approximately 330,000 doses, according to Trainor. A single kilo is enough to kill half of the counties residents.
Two factors make fentanyl in Philadelphia such a difficult drug to get ahead of:
No dominant trafficker
With drug problems in the past, a substance coming into any area would probably be controlled by a single, relatively predictable trafficker or trafficking family, but not with fentanyl.
This incredibly powerful and potentially life-threatening drug is coming from China, ordered over the dark web, or coming up from Mexico. It isn’t being shipped in through the typical channels, and thus law enforcement has found it increasingly difficult to track.
It is easy to modify
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug, therefore it is pretty simple to change the formula. Every time traffickers make subtle changes to the chemical ingredients of their batch, the DEA analysts struggle to adapt and catch on before the recipe has been changed again.
“It used to be just fentanyl but now we’ve noticed eight different analogs in this area and around 40 nationally. Our chemists estimate there could be 200 additional variants.”
One of those variants is Carfentanil. This horrifically hazardous material is a painkiller… for elephants and other large mammals! It is estimated to be up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil has shown up in other areas in the past, such as Cleveland, Ohio. It is still rare for street consumption, but it has shown up along with fentanyl in Philadelphia medical examiner’s office.
Over the past three years, fentanyl-related deaths across America have increased by 540%. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, for the first time, the majority of fatal overdoses are fentanyl-related, accounting for nearly all the increases in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016. Part of facing the ongoing opioid epidemic is providing effective and comprehensive addiction treatment opportunities. As more and more people die every day from these insidious substances we have to do all that we can to help fight back. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help!
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
The elections held this past Tuesday may not have directly addressed the status of marijuana, but voters in multiple states did elect officials who are adamant about making legal marijuana more available.
Next Year in New Jersey
One of those states is New Jersey, who’s outgoing governor is Chris Christie, chairman of the White House commission on opioids.
Last week Democrat Phil Murphy, who made legal marijuana one of the cornerstones of his campaign, won the state over. This creates a radical change for the state. For years Chris Christie has blocked attempts to legalize cannabis, and even maintains his opposition to it while fighting to help the country get a grip on the opioid epidemic.
Phil Murphy has been pretty open about his support for marijuana legalization. According to Forbes, Murphy even talked about it during his primary night victory speech saying,
“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,”
“And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”
Apparently, it isn’t just Murphy in the state that is looking forward to pushing this legislation along. The Democratically-controlled state Senate is expecting to bring up legal marijuana as early as next year. In regards to the topic, earlier this year Senate President Stephen Sweeney said,
“We are going to have a new governor in January 2018. As soon as the governor gets situated we are all here and we intend to move quickly on it.”
Voters in Virginia
Voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia also elected an official who advocates for loosening restrictions on marijuana. Current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession. While it may not be as liberal a stance as Murphy, it is still a big step in a lot of people’s minds. Northam writes,
“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia.”
But it isn’t just about the individuals. Northam also points out the resources going to this issue. He has written to the Virginia State Crime Commission as part of its review of the effects of marijuana decriminalization.
“Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement—enough to open up another 13,000 pre-K spots for children,”
Again, not that he is pushing for complete legalization, but to stop stiff penalties for those with small amounts of marijuana. Northam also advocates for research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch, he has stated,
“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants,” he said in an interview Monday. “So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes.”
He isn’t alone in Virginia either. Even the Republican state Senate leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. questioned whether or not small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime.
Marijuana in More Areas
But it isn’t just these two offices that indicate there may be more change coming for marijuana policy. In other areas around the country, there are other notable shifts that may dramatically impact marijuana policy.
77% of voters in the college town eliminated fines and court costs for possessing or growing up to 200 grams of marijuana.
In an area that includes Detroit, voters now allow cannabis businesses to operate in more areas and to stay open longer. Michigan is expected to have a marijuana legalization bill on the 2018 ballot.
Lawrence Krasner won the election for District Attorney. Krasner has been outspoken about the benefits of marijuana reform. According to Krasner,
“One of the things we see in other jurisdictions is that, where marijuana is readily available, there’s a 25% reduction in opiate/opioid overdose deaths.”
“So if Philadelphia is looking at 500 opiate/opioid overdose deaths a year, a district attorney, by choosing not to enforce against marijuana usage, can potentially save 125 lives. That’s what a district attorney should exercise his or her discretion to do.”
It seems between lightening the punishments for possession, expanding programs for legal marijuana, and electing officials that will advocate for its use, marijuana may have already seen some real change this November.
What to Remember about Legal Marijuana
It is important to note for anyone who has a history of substance use disorder that the legal status of a substance does not make it safer. You could argue that marijuana is much safer than opioids like prescription drugs or heroin. While marijuana is not as lethal concerning overdose deaths, it still should not ignore the risks.
Marijuana reform has the potential for some positive and negative outcomes. Ultimately voters will have to consider weighing the pros and cons of reform. Either way, it is important to remember that any substance, legal or not, can be addictive. While marijuana may become more accepted on a legal level, it is still unhealthy to abuse this drug. If you find yourself abusing this or any drug it is very important that you seek safe and effective treatment resources.
Because drug abuse is always destructive, marijuana abuse is no exception. If you or someone you love are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please seek help. Regardless of whether a drug is legalized or not, losing control of your use can lead to something much worse. We want to help. You are not alone. Call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
Author: Justin Mckibben
Television and cinema were created to inform and inspire the masses, while entertaining them and feeding them information. It has also been said that TV numbs the mind, and that younger generations are slowly but surely being corrupted by this brain-washing box of pictures, so can it hurt or help addicts in recovery?
What are ‘Triggers’?
In the area of addiction and recovery from addiction there is often a debate about the concept of ‘triggers’. That pertains to people, places and things that stir up old feelings or memories for a recovering addict or alcoholic that drives them to want to use. Music, movies, even conversations are suggested to be ‘triggers’ by some.
A lot of treatment professionals’ claim addiction movies can be used as a helpful tool in making connections with patients. At the same token many addicts have said they’ve wanted to relapse after seeing drug use on screen, insisting that they are ‘triggered’ by images of individuals using or drinking, especially in ways it is glamorized.
While the concept of a ‘trigger’ is understandable, and some people believe these are the most dangerous things an addict or alcoholic can be exposed to, others think this is a moot point. Personally, my experience has led me to believe that a ‘trigger’ isn’t a term I use in my recovery from addiction, because I could turn anything into an excuse to get high or drink. Still, protecting your sobriety from questionable circumstances makes sense.
The Theater Treatment Program
To cut the invisible red ribbon of experimental treatment, those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in Philadelphia are watching some Hollywood movies as part of their outpatient group therapy program.
Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs in the immediate area are actually being proactive about this new strategy, and send recovering addicts to the movies about once a month as part of their therapy schedule.
Several of the treatment providers contend that watching these movies can be helpful for those who are trying to adjust to life without drugs and alcohol.
Community Behavioral Health, one of the key contributors involved with managing funds for substance-abuse and mental-health services for Medicaid recipients in Philadelphia, apparently stands by the tactic thus far. Community Behavioral Health has stated their support for the use of movies in a clinical setting as long as there is a “clinical rationale” for the technique to be applied.
While some are convinced that films can constructive feelings for recovery, medical professionals have expressed their doubts about this being an effective tool. While the programs are supposed to help recovering addicts stay clean, many of the patients who have participated in this program reported otherwise.
Several actually suggested that the movies actually made them crave the substances they were trying to quit more. Director of the Division on Addiction at Cambridge Health Alliance Howard Shaffer is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who pronounced his opinion on the subject,
“[A movie] might stimulate a conversation, but it could also stimulate a relapse, especially movies that are graphic and realistic,”
Some of the movies are specifically tragic tales involving the excessive use of illicit drugs, mixed with emotional roller-coaster plots and captivating casts. 25 year old Tiffany Anderson is one of the patients who said she felt like using after watching certain movies like The Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a heroin addict, and 28 Days, with Sandra Bullock as a woman in the throes of alcoholism. She talked a little bit about how she was feeling ‘triggered’ by these films,
“It makes you want to use because it reminds you how good you feel when you’re high, how it numbs everything and you don’t have no worries. The movies don’t help, it’s just something else to keep you there. [The clinic] makes money from us going to group [therapy].”
Others may not share the same blatant disbelief in the authenticity of the treatment programs efforts, but still question the likelihood of this being a positive part of treatment. John Caccioala, a senior scientist at the Treatment Research Institute, said,
“You just don’t throw the cues at someone without teaching them how to deal with them. If it occurred once a month, would I say it’s terrible? No. Would I say it’s optimal? Probably not that either.”
So movies are not the most destructive thing that can be done, but it definitely does not help those who are trying to avoid temptation, especially if they have not been taught coping skills and other ways to deal with that temptation.
Most people who reach the level of outpatient drug treatment typically have experienced inpatient, and in many cases are given therapy and classes to try and help them to deal with such situations.
Still, it is probably fair that patients who feel compromised should definitely not be required to watch explicit scenes involving drug use or alcoholism. Offering it as an option may prove to be innovative. Or it may prove to be insensitive. Will the revolution be televised? Or will there only be more to support the ‘trigger’ theory?
Personally, I’m not sure if it is the best way to go about the business of recovery. Anything and everything was a ‘trigger’ for an alcoholic like me, but it is also unfair to expect people to stare at someone using for hours on a big screen instead of utilizing what time you have them in treatment to give them more exposure to holistic therapy or solution based programs.
Changing the channel might not inspire change in the world, but enough reruns might inspire a relapse. If someone is in drug or alcohol treatment, odds are they would benefit most from learning new ways of life, because it is easy to get stuck in the path of self-destruction. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
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.