by Wamara Mwine
My time editing an article about opioid abuse led me to the National Conference on Addiction Disorders. The Trump White House has identified opioid addiction as a national crisis. However, industry experts at the convention noted that drug abuse has thrived for decades by the pharmaceutical industry’s mass production and marketing of opioid medications. It is these opioid drugs: Oxycodone, Vicodin, Carfentanil and other versions that ultimately lead to 70 percent of patients getting hooked. There are other drugs like Fentanyl that is 50 percent stronger than heroin and killed Prince. According to the Center for Diseases, from 2000-2014, half a million Americans died from opioid overdoses.
At the conference, I talked with several emphatic nurse practitioners, counselors and doctors. They all universally expressed concern that insurance is slow to honor their invoices when addicted patients require rapid intervention. Treatments can range from $8,000 to $25,000 a month, an estimate based on the many convention booths I visited.
Some insurance will help pay the expensive process, but only one booth accepted Medicaid as a form of payment. This leaves one of the largest population of addicted patients untreated because of the sheer cost. Andrey Rossin, who runs Florida’s Future Now Detox, told me, “all the industry is insurance based which is run by investors who don’t care about the health of the paying members. They care about the ROI (return on investment).” Andrey also says jail is not the solution for addicts. Rossin believes in the “total decriminalization of small sales and institution of drug courts everywhere.”
Meanwhile, heroin sells on the street for $5 to $10 a pill. That is less expensive than a prescription drug. Most highs can last four days, according to my feedback from nurses. However, a high ultimately leads to a crash, which makes an individual want more
medicine and at higher doses. Fentanyl and Carfentanil are replacing heroin and are being combined with random ingredients like meat tenderizer, Nestlé’s Quik and cement in a capsule, according to Resident Nurse Cindi Curtis of the Maryland House Detox. “We must educate our way out and teach our children at Kindergarten what is O.K. to put in their body and what is not,” Cindi says.
West Virginia has one of the highest number of opioid overdose deaths in the country. I reached out to West Virginia Senator Shelley Capito (R) who has been outspoken about the opioid epidemic. In 2015 alone, West Virginia saw 36 of 100,000 people die from overdoses on heroin, fentanyl and other opioids. “Far too many West Virginians have been affected by the loss of a family member or friend because of a drug overdose, and many others across the country are experiencing similar loss,” Capito said.
On the Democratic side, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D) has taken on illegal trafficking of Fentanyl in her state of Washington. She is co-sponsoring Bill H.R. 1057, which will strengthen monitoring of packages sent to the U.S. by international government postal services. “Unfortunately, a lot of synthetic drugs like fentanyl are flooding our communities and many of these drugs are being shipped from Asia,” DelBene says. “This is a bipartisan bill with more than 220 co-sponsors, so it would easily pass the House if we were just allowed to vote on the legislation,” the Congresswoman emphasized.
In March, President Trump announced the formation of a new Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The goal is to develop new solutions to end drug addiction and the opioid crisis. “While we have made progress in combating this epidemic, there is still more work to be done,” Senator Capito noted after the Commission’s interim report was released.
In order to win the battle against opioid abuse, America must:
Unify healthcare so all Americans receive opioid treatment and care. This would include detox, psychotherapy, pain management, family planning, employment (going back to work issues) and physical therapy.
The pharmaceutical and insurance industry must be regulated. This would prevent corruption and deliberately lengthy processes to restrict, delay or deny medical reimbursements. Institute mandatory jail time for executives who mislead the public by suggesting deadly opioid drugs are safe for the public.
Many patients get hooked on opioid pain medicine after suffering an injury. The treatment of drugs must include non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, herbal treatments and counseling. Patients must have alternative ways to treat pain outside of medication which can lead to addiction.
The White House Commission must include more healthcare advisers like the professionals I saw at the convention. If the White House commission is mostly career politicians and not industry experts, the scope and effectiveness of their work will be limited.
Deeply regulate international imports while severely criminalizing the most dangerous drugs in the Schedule II Opioid family. No American should die from a Carfentanil overdose, a drug used to sedate elephants at the zoo.
Wamara Mwine is an investigative journalist and Contributor to The Hill Newspaper. He covered the Obama White House and has appeared on Sirius XM Radio to discuss his observations. Wamara advises attorneys, politicians and church leaders in crisis-media. E-mail Mwine at firstname.lastname@example.org.