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Overprescribing Opioids: Four Doctors Prescribe 6 Million Pills in 1 Year

Overprescribing Opioids: Four Doctors Prescribe 6 Million Pills in 1 Year

Author: Justin Mckibben

Despite the fact that over 91 people die every day from an overdose due to prescription drugs, some people still struggle to realize that prescription drug abuse is the driving force behind the current opioid epidemic. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):

  • 4 out of 5 heroin users started out abusing prescription pain medication
  • 94% of people in treatment for opioid addiction surveyed in 2014 switched to heroin from prescription opioids.

One of the biggest issues is that powerful opioid painkillers are being overprescribed. Whether due to aggressive marketing tactics used by Big Pharma companies or the corrupt ‘pill mills’ where doctors were dishing out excessive prescriptions of potent drugs to be sold on the street, prescription opioids flooded the neighborhoods across the nation, helping create one of the worst addiction outbreaks in American history.

But it wasn’t just the fact that drugs were making it onto the streets. In general, even legitimate opioid prescriptions were astonishingly high. While too many people still think the only problem is heroin or street drugs, the facts show us that opioid painkillers were still largely overprescribed in recent years, which contributed to the current crisis.

Too ‘Legit’ to Quit

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 92 million U.S. adults in 2015 were taking a legitimately prescribed opioid. That translates to 38% of the adult American population.

There were an estimated 240 million opioid prescriptions in 2015, nearly one for every adult in the general population. Even the Deputy Director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Wilson Compton, said,

“The proportion of adults who receive these medications in any year seemed startling to me”..”It’s an awful lot of people who take these, mostly for medical purposes, but within that, a significant percentage end up misusing them,”

So while a lot of these prescriptions were going to treating serious conditions, how many ended up on the street or being abused at home because they were overprescribed?

The same NSDUH survey found that 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids they obtained through illicit means. Overall, Dr. Compton states that these results indicate medical professionals are doing a poor job of appropriately prescribing these medications.

The trend didn’t end there. According to a new report, nearly 3 million people who had surgery in 2016 became persistent opioid users, taking the drugs 3-6 months after a procedure. The report also states that due to overprescribing, 3.3 billion pills were left unused by patients, which left them open for diversion or misuse.

Some pain management advocates insist that pain may end up being undertreated due to the rising scrutiny of opioid prescriptions.  Many of these advocates say it is extremely difficult to truly know if opioids are overprescribed because pain is too hard to objectively quantify. Therefore, some patients may actually need more relief resources than others.

Yet, prescribing rates are still, at the very least, questionably high. Especially considering by most estimates that over 50% of opioid pills legitimately prescribed are unused by patients, which suggests significant overprescribing certainly exists.

4 Doctors, 6 Million Pills, 1 Year

One recent case in particular that stands out concerning overprescribing of medications is the story of a small northwestern county in Arizona where 4 doctors prescribed nearly 6 million opioid pills in a 12 month period. The data provided by the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program did not list the doctors by name, but did give detailed information about the prescriptions.

Out of all 4, the top prescribing doctor is responsible for:

  • More than 20,000 opioid prescriptions
  • Equaling out to over 1.9 million pills
  • That comes to 7,350 pills a day

The second-place prescriber is responsible for:

  • More than 15,000 prescriptions
  • Equaling out to nearly 1.6 million pills

The other two doctors totally a combined 2.4 million pills prescribed.

The four doctors in question are located in Mohave County, which as of 2016 is home to approximately only 205,249 people. That comes out to about a 30 opioid supply for every single person in that county.

Now while pain may be hard to objectively quantify, these numbers are obviously unsettling. Even the executive director of the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, Kam Gandhi, could not explain why or how these four physicians were able to issue so many opioid pills.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to specify exactly what actions are being taken by his office concerning this development. However, according to AZ Central Doug Skvarla, who directs the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program, said that information has been passed on to Brnovich’s office for “an open investigation.”

Illicit Use of Prescriptions

There are plenty other issues with opioid prescriptions being taken advantage of all over the United States. Pain management advocates often argue that the problem isn’t about opioid prescriptions; it’s the people that misuse and divert the medications. In other words, that the people abusing opioids frequently don’t have a legitimate prescription. A lot of opioid pills being abused are obtained illicitly.

Many people won’t use their whole prescription. Many will actually give pills to a loved one who doesn’t have their own pain treatment. Or they will sell their remaining pills. Pill mills and ‘doctor shopping’ allowed for the even worse spread of excessive opioid prescriptions. Like in Illinois, where one individual received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 different prescribers and filed them at 20 different pharmacies. In some cases, the individual filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies in one day.

There is absolutely a high demand on the illegal drug market for prescription opioid painkillers. As a former addict who spent over 7 years using, buying and selling opioid medications on the street, I can say there is plenty of ways to get these drugs without a prescription.

However, if we back-track a little bit, how did so many potent medications get onto the streets if there is no overprescribing?

Feeling the Pain

Pain management is absolutely necessary. There must be resources and effective medications available for those suffering from serious medical conditions or recovering from life-altering procedures. There is no denying that we have to provide effective pain relief options for patients who desperately need it. So, of course, this is a difficult conversation to have, because many people can take these medications are directed and be fine when they are gone. Some people require long-term pain treatment, but it does not result in a severe addiction.

Still, the fact is that if these medications weren’t being prescribed more than medically necessary, they would have never flooded the underground drug marketplace as rapidly and as abundantly as they did. Between doctors overprescribing (sometimes for kickbacks), patients working the system and manipulating physicians, and the aggressive marketing tactics of Big Pharma going unchecked, there are plenty of elements at play.

Undoubtedly when we examine the opioid epidemic we cannot ignore any contribution. We have to make efforts to combat the spread of heroin addiction. There has to be an intensive effort to deal with the incredibly deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, and people also have to acknowledge their own choices and do their part to move forward. It might be a difficult and painful process, but it is necessary.

Still, overprescribing of opioid medications cannot be ignored. We should explore all options concerning prescription monitoring programs, enforce current regulations of drug distribution, and develop innovations in pain management therapy.

According to one report, even just a 10% reduction in surgery-related opioid prescribing would reduce:

  • The number of excess post-surgical pills available for diversion or misuse by 332 million
  • The annual number of patients who go on to persistent opioid use after surgery by 300,000
  • Annual drug costs by $830 million

Not only can we do better to treat those suffering from chronic and severe pain, but we can do better to make sure these potent and habit-forming medications don’t end up in the wrong place. For those who abuse prescription opioids, or who have found themselves using heroin, we need to provide safe and effective treatment options. Palm Partners Recovery Center has been treating people struggling with drug dependence and substance use disorder for decades, focusing on holistic and comprehensive care. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Study Suggests Retirement Causes Substance Abuse

Study Suggests Retirement Causes Substance Abuse

Author: Justin Mckibben

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know before I came into recovery I had always joked about the fact that once I retired I would sit around and do nothing but sit in my rocking chair, drink and watch television (more specifically old Batman re-runs). While my outlook has drastically changed having experienced active addiction and recovery, there is still a significant amount of individuals out there with the same intentions, and a recent report makes a shocking inquiry about whether retirement causes substance abuse for seniors.

According to recent polls, alcohol and drug abuse rates among adults aged 65 years or older have more than doubled in the last decade! More concerning is that those rates are expected to reach even higher numbers in the years to come based off of the growing trend.

Alcohol Not the Only Problem

That conclusion alone is part of a growing number of reports on this alarming discovery. These statistics affect about 17% of the 35 million seniors in the United States. As with years before, the substance most frequently abused by this age demographic is typically alcohol. However a report from 2013 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) made the distinction that illicit drug use among adults between the ages of 50 and 64 rose from 2.7% in 2002 to 6% in 2013. That may not seem like a huge increase, but given the population and issues unique to this age group, it is very troubling.

Abusing prescription painkillers and other medications are also becoming common place for seniors. It doesn’t help that older brains and bodies are more vulnerable to drug complications.

  • 2012 the average number of seniors abusing or dependent on prescription pain relievers shot up to an estimated 336,000 which was huge from the 132,000 just a decade earlier.
  • From 2007 to 2011, annual emergency room visits by people 65 and older for prescription drug misuse rose more than 50%, reaching over 94,000 a year.
  • From 1999 to 2010, overdose deaths among those 55 and older, regardless of drug type, nearly tripled to 9.4 fatalities per 100,000 people.

The Key Elements in Retirement

Studies have shown that retirement may have the most far-ranging effect on incipient or latent substance abuse, despite the dramatic changes produced in the aging process on the human body have a significant impact on the physical effects that alcohol and drugs have on seniors and their health.

More specifically, Peter A. Bamberger and Samuel B. Bacharach found in studies on the effects of retirement and substance abuse, it is the conditions leading to retirement, and the economic and social nature of the retirement itself that can influence this kind of behavior. The major elements of comfort that enable an individual to retire and the support they receive through retirement may lead many seniors into greater drug and alcohol use. This study by Bamberger and Bacharach was conducted for the book Retirement and the Hidden Epidemic.

Seniors may also turn to substance abuse as a means of curbing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or plain boredom, which can ultimately create more health complications, and lead to a severe addiction. Substance abuse counselor Steven Wollman chimed in and stated,

“In retirement, there can be depression, divorce, death of a spouse, moving from a big residence into a small residence. For anyone who’s an addict, [that’s] the No. 1 trigger.”

Growing Concern for Seniors

One disturbing element that hinders the medical community’s ability to properly diagnose a chemical dependency or more serious addiction is simply a lack of time. Another contributing factor is also sometimes the similarity between many normal signs of aging, like memory loss or confusion, and symptoms of substance impairment. So with the adverse health effects brought on by old age, there are many that mimic the signs of addiction or serious substance abuse, so it is difficult for many doctors to see the red flags.

When you take the time to consider all the information, it only makes sense when appreciating the variables. Some may even accidentally over-medicate, or not notice the issues with their substance abuse themselves because they confuse changes in their own bodies with health problems. Even younger people make that kind of mistake.

The SAMHSA report “Substance Abuse Among Older Adults” indicated a collective effort between clinical care specialists, individual family members, and social service care providers to be aware of these issues and to keep a close eye on their patients or loved ones may mean to represent the first line of defense against this growing problem for seniors. With the possibility of accidental misuse of medication leading to more complicated substance abuse, or of misdiagnosing elderly addicts based on symptoms similar to issues brought on by old age, there is a real need for more information on substance abuse in regards to retired and elderly individuals.

The years in retirement are meant to be a time to relax and reflect because of the efforts put in throughout a life-time, not to suffer from a drug problem. The lives of older retired men and women deserve to be as comfortable as possible, and it is never too late to make a change for the rest of your retirement. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

National Drug Take Back Day

National Drug Take Back Day

Author: Justin Mckibben

September 27, 2014 from 10 AM to 2 PM, thousands of DEA-coordinated collection sites will be available across the country, and consumers are encouraged to use this unique opportunity to safely and legally dispose of any unneeded and/or expired medications. National Drug Take-Back Day has been an astounding success in the past few years it has been in practice, and hopefully the program will continue to develop and encourage contribution.

Regular Americans show up in the thousands and dispose of prescription medications, many of which are dangerous and addictive substances. This continued collaboration of government offices, local law enforcement and proactive citizens is doing some serious damage in the fight against prescription drug addiction, and another opportunity to make a difference is only a few days away.

What is National Drug Take Back Day

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day collection site locator is now available online, allowing consumers to search for a nearby location to dispose of unneeded, unwanted, or expired medications on Saturday. Medications including prescription painkillers and other controlled substance medications are expected to be brought in and disposed of in mass amounts, but these specifically dangerous prescription drugs can only be accepted for disposal when law enforcement is present. Participating sites will accept tablets, capsules, and all other solid dosage forms of unwanted medication.

The DEA also has made the attempt to inform the general public that the drug take-back service is free and anonymous, with no questions asked, so anyone who feels as if they may get a little unwanted police attention for bringing in any substances should not be concerned. Personal information may be blacked out on prescription bottles, or medications may be emptied from the bottles into bins provided at the locations.

A History of Success

The United States DEA launched its first Drug Take-Back event in September 2010, after which the President signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 which amended the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to allow people to safely dispose of their unwanted or expired medications by delivering them to locations and officials authorized to accept them for disposal by the Attorney General. This was a very important change in policy because the original CSA did not provide a way for patients, caregivers, and pet owners to dispose of the more dangerous and powerful controlled substance medications such as painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants like ADHD drugs.

To date, consumers have disposed of at least 4.1 million pounds (2,123 tons) of unwanted medication during previous DEA National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. After seven previous Take Back Days in the past that have been spread out over almost four years, and the most recent Drug Take-Back Day reported 780,158 pounds (390 tons) of pills that were brought to the 6,072 collection sites that DEA and its 4,423 state, local, and tribal law enforcement affiliates made available on April 26th. These locations we set up so that the public could discard of any and all unwanted, unused and expired prescription drugs from their homes. So many citizens turned up and emptied out their medicine cabinets, bedside tables, and kitchen drawers in an effort to contribute.

A Growing Effort

The DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is a firm believer and supporter of the Drug Take Back initiative and in regards to how the program has been effectively implemented stated,

“DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back events provide an obviously needed and valued service to the public, while also reducing prescription drug abuse and trafficking. By taking these medications off their hands, our citizens know they have made their own families and communities safer.  We continue to work toward making the process for disposing of controlled substance medications by users and their caregivers even easier by creating regulations that will enable the public to regularly, safely, and conveniently dispose of such medicines when they are no longer needed or wanted.”

The past 4 years of the Drug Take Back Day program have shown a great deal of improvement in awareness and effectiveness, and the increase of medications being turned in is comforting and affirming in the process.

  • September 25th, 2010- 242,000 Pounds
  • April 30th, 2010- 376,593 Pounds
  • October 29, 2011- 377,086 Pounds
  • April 28th, 2011- 552,161 Pounds
  • September 29th, 2012- 488,395 Pounds
  • April 27th, 2013- 742,497 Pounds
  • October 26th, 2013- 647,211 Pounds
  • April 26th, 2014- 780, 158 Pounds

The DEA’s Take-Back events are a significant piece of the Obama administration’s strategy for ccombating the drastic rise in prescription drug abuse and trafficking of controlled substances. This strategy is also meant to include educating health care providers, patients, parents and young people about prescription pill abuse and the dangers it entails. By enhancing and encouraging the establishment of prescription drug monitoring programs in all the states, and by increased law enforcement to address doctor shopping and pill mills the DEA and Obama administration hope to end this chapter in the war on drugs.

Get Involved

National Drug Take- Back Day is an excellent opportunity to try and contribute to the awareness of the prescription drug problem in America, and to the conscious efforts of the public to fight the addiction at home by cutting off one key source of the abuse of controlled substances in the home. Drug Take-Back Day is so fundamentally important because the non-medical use of controlled substance medications is currently at an all-time high.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) released in 2013, over 6.8 million Americans reported to having abused prescription drugs back in 2012.  That same study revealed more than 54% of people who abuse prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, and this statistic includes individuals digging through the medicine cabinet or friends or relatives.

For more information on how to get involved you can check the DEA collection site locator, as new locations will continue to be added until the next Drug Take-Back Day on September 27, 2014. Addiction is a deadly disease that affects not just the individual, but family, friends and so many others, so we should all do our part to raise awareness or prevent the spread of prescription pill abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Florida Doctor Allegedly Exchanged Prescriptions for Meth

Florida Doctor Allegedly Exchanged Prescriptions for Meth

Dr. Gregory Gooden, center,Lisa Michelle Gilbertsen, (R), and Dennis Wayne Holt (L). (Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

By Cheryl Steinberg

Dr. Gregory Gooden, 61, of Winter Haven was recently arrested at his home for allegedly trading prescriptions for meth.

Since August of 1987, Gooden has been registered in Florida as a doctor specializing in cardiology, agents said.

“Upon his arrest, Gooden told detectives he is no longer practicing,” the Sheriff’s Office stated in a report.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation that began back in June, which revealed that the doctor had written prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in exchange for meth and cash.

The other players in the scheme are Dennis Wayne Holt, 22, and Lisa Michelle Gilbertsen, 33, two so-called patients of the doctor.

Grady Judd, Polk County Sheriff, said in a statement, “[Gooden] also smoked marijuana with one of his ‘patients,’ whom he later had arrested for stealing his car. You just can’t make this stuff up.”

And, on top of that, it’s quite ironic that a doctor of cardiology – which is a medical specialty that deals with disorders of the heart – was shooting meth of all things. Methamphetamine has a significant and damaging effect on the heart, on a cellular level. It causes inadequate circulation of blood to the heart which is needed for it to function effectively, which can lead to cardiac arrest.

Undercover narcotics detectives launched the investigation after learning that Gooden allegedly wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone to Holt, who exchanged “meth and/or money for the controlled substance,” according to a report.

Holt said that he’s witnessed Gooden inject himself with meth and as well as witnessing the doctor writing prescriptions for other so-called patients.

Agents confirmed the prescriptions written in Holt’s name by checking the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a statewide database that was launched more than two years ago in order to deter Florida’s pill mill epidemic.

Also according to the report, “The prescriptions were for either 60 or 90 pills. Gooden did not conduct a medical history, a physical, or any other type of exam for treatment prior to writing the prescriptions for the controlled substance.”

Florida Doctor Allegedly Exchanged Prescriptions for Meth

Detectives then interviewed Gilbertsen, suspected car thief, who said she had met the doctor through mutual friends, one of whom told her that Gooden would write her prescriptions, no questions asked.

Another review of the statewide database confirmed that Gooden wrote three hydrocodone prescriptions: one for 20 pills, a second for 60 of the pain pills and a third for 90, for Gilbertsen.

Gilbertson paid $70 for the first prescription but didn’t give Gooden any money for the others, according to a report said. It’s possible that she compensated the doctor with meth or other ‘services’ but, that is not known for sure at this time.

Gilbertson told detectives that she and the doctor smoked marijuana and drank alcohol together at his home.

On one occasion, Gooden fell asleep only to awake and find that both Gilbertsen and his car were missing. The doctor reported his car stolen on August 4th, and gave Gilbertsen’s name as a suspect but also referred to her as a friend.

Gilbertsen was arrested for vehicle theft two days later. On August 19th, while she was in the Polk County Jail, detectives interviewed her about the doctor.

Gooden has since been charged with five counts of obtaining a controlled substance via scheme and five counts conspiracy to traffic in hydrocodone.

Has your substance use escalated to substance abuse, or addiction? One way to tell is if you’ve resorted to committing crimes, no matter how petty, in order to support your habit. This is not the only indication of a problem, nor is it always the case. If you are worried that you may have developed a problem with drugs or alcohol, or if you suspect that someone you love is struggling, call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135. Our Addiction Specialists are available around the clock to give you answers. Remember, help is available and you are not alone.

9 Signs You’re Addicted to Sleeping Pills

9 Signs You're Addicted to Sleeping Pills

Author: Justin Mckibben

Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all Americans have some level of insomnia and complain of poor sleep, and many of them have opted to the quick fix and looked into sleeping pills to solve that problem. While these medications may be effective at ending your sleep problems, this solution should definitely be only considered short-term. It is important to make sure you understand everything you need to know about sleeping pills, because it is very possible to become addicted to sleeping pills. That includes knowing about sleeping pill side effects. Most sleeping pills are labeled as ‘sedative hypnotics’. That’s a specific class of drugs used to induce or maintain sleep. Sedative hypnotics include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics.

Benzodiazepines include anti-anxiety medications such as:

While these drugs may be useful short-term, all benzodiazepines are potentially addictive, so it is especially easy to become addiction to sleeping pills of this category.

Barbiturates is another drug credited to this sedative-hypnotic class. These medications depress the central nervous system and can cause sedation. Short or long-acting barbiturates can sometimes be prescribed as sedatives or sleeping pills, but more commonly these hypnotic drugs are limited to use as anesthesia. Side effects of prescription sleeping pills can include:

  • Burning or tingling ligaments
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation and/or Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Unusual dreams

If you have been relying on sleeping pills long enough, it is very possible you have become addicted to sleeping pills. While some may just feel like it becomes a habit that can be easily stopped but excuse it as a minor inconvenience, they are only ignoring a real problem and prolonging a possibly painful recovery. Being addicted to sleeping pills is a struggle, in every waking moment for most addicts. To help identify the problem, here are 9 signs you’re addicted to sleeping pills.

  1. You find it hard to cope without sleeping pills

Like any addiction, when the substance is removed the coping skills go right out the window. This is just as true with sleeping pills as with any other illicit narcotic.

  1. You experience withdrawal symptoms

There is a possibility of having serious physical withdrawal once you have stopped using sleeping pills. Like most drugs, a physical dependency on the chemical develops after a period of using long enough.

  1. You have an obsession for trying to obtain these drugs

It is no secret that when you are addicted to sleeping pills, like every other addiction, you will develop an obsession with getting more of the drug. Whether you excuse it with seeking out sleep, experiencing withdrawal, or just need it to feel OK.

  1. Increased tolerance to the drug

After using sleeping pills for long enough and becoming addicted to sleeping pills, your tolerance for the effects of the medication will increase. Your body will get used to the chemical reaction, and you will require more and more of the substance to get the desired effect.

  1. Loss of interest in hobbies

One of the most underestimated characteristics of any addiction is how it effects the things we are most passionate for. When you are addicted to sleeping pills, you lose interest in your hobbies and the things in life that make you happy. Your attention will focus on those pills, how to get more, and sleeping them off in between using.

  1. Deterioration of hygiene

Drug addicts tend to stop taking care of ourselves when we give all our focus to chasing and abusing drugs. Being addicted to sleeping pills also does real damage to hygiene and grooming.

  1. Defensiveness or denial

Drug addicts are notorious for not wanting to admit to our problems. We often fight back and become overly defensive or protective of our drug use, and can spend a decent amount of time in denial that there is even a problem. With those who are addicted to sleeping pills this may be especially true because they believe it is a necessity to get rest, and these pills are the only way to do so. This denial will hold them back from getting real help.

  1. Lack of Responsibility

Letting hygiene and hobbies fall apart is one thing, but letting everything that you are personally and socially responsible for suffer as a result of you being addicted to sleeping pills is a definite sign you need to seek help. When you are risking your job, your home, or especially your family over sleeping pills, it has crossed a line and getting help is vital.

  1. Inability to reduce dosage

When you are unable to stop taking as much as you have gotten used to, or even lower the dosage a little bit without suffering from painful and troubling withdrawals, than you need to seek medical help, and more specifically substance abuse treatment. This shows that you are physically as well as mentally addicted to sleeping pills and the physical dependence can be even more dangerous.

Newer medications help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. These sleep-inducing drugs are said to be non-habit forming. They work quickly to increase drowsiness and sleep. There are also more natural methods of sleep-aid that are available, and if you seek treatment for being addicted to sleeping pills you will most likely be educated on more health and sustainable alternatives. Sleep is an important part of life, but if you are addicted to sleeping pills, it might be time to wake up to the dangers your exposing yourself to. 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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