Opioids, Addiction and Public Health collide in the race for 2016 White House

Keywords or Terms: Opioids Epidemic; Addictions; New Hampshire; South New Hampshire University; Criminalizing Addition; Appalachian States; Governor Jeb Bush; Governor Kasich; Governor Chris Christie; Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; Expanding Affordable Care Act; Medicare; Oxycodone Addiction; Kroger Pharmacy; Cutting State Treatment and Addiction Budget; Political expediency; and, Pragmatic Solutions

We can all agree that a healthy citizenry is critical to a thriving Democracy; if not, the spate of 2016 White House aspirants reflecting on personal, family and public experiences in the past week, on the question of epidemic of drug addiction in majority of American cities, especially in the Appalachian States, where opioid addiction has reached a pandemic level, would have been inconsequential. Listen to Republican Governor Jeb Bush: “As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse ... I never expected to see my precious daughter in jail. It wasn’t easy, and it became very public when I was governor of Florida, making things even more difficult for Noelle [his daughter]. She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I.”

Speaking at a Tuesday Republican Party convened New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic held at Southern New Hampshire University, Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, another Republican hopeful, reflected on her step-daughter and addiction this way: “If we continue to criminalize drug addiction, we're not treating it. And the system we have today is part of the problem, not part of the solution… We now have the highest incarceration rates in the world. And the majority of people we have in prison are people like my daughter, Lori, struggling with addiction." Touting Ohio’s prison programs to fight drug use and addiction, Ohio Governor Kasich, another Republican hopeful, said: “Ohio prison programs give inmates skills to focus on when they leave prison and help decrease the likelihood of recidivism due to drug use. If you are interested in changing your life and learning a new skill, we’re going to give it to you. We don’t want to waste a human life.” Hear Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey: "I think I'm just more experienced on it [fighting drug addiction] than the rest of them. I think I spoke about it much sooner than the rest of them did, but in the end, voters get to make that decision."

Our current alarming problems of addiction and dependence or abuse of prescription drugs, especially the opiates are probably coming home to roast. American Families in the Appalachian States as West Virginia, and parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama can tell you a thing or two about Opioid’s epidemic; and, the day-to-day struggles of citizens fighting addiction to prescription drugs. In the State of New Hampshire, opiates deaths have been up by close to seventy-six percent since 2014; and, 2013 State data on hospital emergency room visits for heroin overdose has tripled. We are now at a threshold of pandemic opiates overdose and addiction in some of our states.

It is our duty to do everything that we can to ensure that citizen’s addiction to opioids and prescription drugs do not consume our democracy. Maybe that is why discussions on using social norms to fight adolescents’ addiction, the place of community-based interventions and broadcasting dynamic and practical information to fight addiction to opioids and other prescription drugs are not only necessary, they are now unavoidable if we are to get ahead of these challenging problems. Pharmaceutical and Drug companies, including unscrupulous health professionals in some of America’s big cities have made drugs use and abuse relatively too easy; and, are probably part of the problem. The desire to make quick profit and push the can down the line have made many negate their responsibility to the profession and society. Some hard hit poor areas and state governors continue to wonder why Alcoholic and Drug Administration in collaboration with Drug Enforcement Administration, and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau have not moved into some Appalachians States to arrest some culprits, who continue to facilitate illegal drug trade, dispensation of narcotics, and by inculpable design, facilitate the growing drug overdose and addiction in many of these areas. To some degree, we have failed to recognize and report drug sales and dealing in our communities and by default, remained accomplices in the mayhem that are ravaging some adolescents and adult souls, hooked on narcotics, opiates and prescription drugs.

Adolescent alcoholic and tobacco abuse that once seemed insurmountable problems in many big cities are receding comparatively; however, without new creative designs in public policy formation to combat a new demon, America may be losing another generation to opiates and prescription drugs addictions. Prescriptions drug abuse in some small and medium size cities are up so are the addictions to heroin and methamphetamine. The growing menace is gradually creeping from the poor to middle and upper income households, as it continues to manifest itself as no respecter of any boundaries: income strata, race, social and political stature or agenda. The level of opiates addiction and prescriptions drug abuse in some Appalachian States have grown so fast and so rapidly as to overtake alcoholic and tobacco abuse; colossally far outstripping budgeting and funding capacities of many smaller Appalachian states public health in some instances.

At a 2013 Opiate Conference in the State of Ohio, workshops and technical papers discussed how to turn the tides against addiction to opioids, including subjects as supporting family through pregnancy and delivery; prescribing guidelines to preventing fatal overdose and combating opioid epidemics; medicated-assistance treatment; place of regional psychiatric hospitals in treating opiate addiction; integrating vocational rehabilitation with addiction treatment; medical examiner and toxicologists perspectives on the rising heroin addiction; and, law enforcement strategies to combat epidemics of opiates and heroin use. All of these initiatives can create a culture of resistance and embracing a new direction of progress in fighting the now, newer American killer. Maybe that is why Ohio’s Governor Kasich’s New Hampshire forum comment that, if you get mentors in the schools telling kids about their potential, about what education is about, the fact that they're loved, about the fact that they've got great potential, changes everything," maybe one of the way out of the menace of prescription drug addiction and drug overdose in America.

For those doubtful of Ohio’s Governor Kasich’s proposal of dedicating more money for drug rehabilitation and expanding Medicaid under Affordable Care Act to accommodate fighting drug addiction and overdose, an assessment of his recent effort in the realm of fighting Opioid epidemic, as documented by Ryan Donnelly, a former abuser of Oxycodone, with the Calm Support Organization in Ohio, will suffice: “Governor Kasich visited a Kroger Pharmacy in downtown Columbus to draw attention to the plans he now has to further curb the opiate issues in his state. The governor announced a plan that will spend up to $1.5 million during 2016 to integrate the Ohio Automatic RX Reporting System, also known as (OARRS), into the prescription drug monitoring system they are currently using. To strengthen the fight against opiates, the new system will track prescription opiate history and show trends to be able to detect the risks of addiction or abuse to these particular kinds of prescription medications” Although his efforts in the State of Ohio may not be asymptotic of the experiences in other Appalachian States or across America, there are reasons to believe that his efforts may germinate other plans that can help Americans, especially those in dire needs, fight through addictions and dependence on prescription drugs.

Now, the needy gritty of this problem: 2016 presidential aspirants or politicians may be talking about how better to fight this pandemic of drug addiction and overdoses, however, cutting state treatment center’s budget will not yield dramatic result and will hardly help addiction rehabilitation. Yes, drug addiction is dilapidating for families, friends and the public; however, we cannot be two-faced in our approaches to fighting these problems, if we really want to overcome them. We cannot continue to blame doctors for over-prescribing prescription drugs, while pharmacies and pharmacists are not keeping up to refusing to refill over-prescribed drugs to one patient. We cannot fail to call the judicial system to order as they fail to bring drug dealers, over prescribed dispensers and other drug use facilitators, to book. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie is known to have cut funding and budgets for treatment centers and programs; however, he wants America to believe he has been ahead of the problem. How can an aspirant who failed to support efforts to fight this ravaging problem at the state level, either through defunding of corrective public health initiative or encouraging alternative treatment initiatives, deliver better results at the federal level?

It is good for Presidential aspirants to hub-nub over national issues at discussion forums as the one completed last Tuesday in New Hampshire. It is also okay for them to spend as much money as they like on campaign advertisements for their brand of opinions and politics. However, the public is not looking for a fluke or deception; they are looking for pragmatic solutions to the economic, social and political problems facing America. Further, American voters are looking for leaders with experience, knowledge and temperaments of a reflective leader, not one attuned to lip-service. America is looking for a record of tested achievements in the spheres of issues that impact their lives directly. In addition, the public is tired of improper classification of problems or experience for political expediency; an approach or strategy many aspirants are accustomed.

Prescription drugs and addiction treatment programs are great tools that can be used to accomplish and encourage users to get off the path of self-destruction. As a presidential aspirant, leader and or politician, you may want to mount programs and initiatives that address these problems. If treatment programs and policy initiatives are misdirected or undefined for political expediency, including funding or defunding, based on the reclassification or redefinition to help save money or balance long-term deficit spending, it is going to take time and distance to make a difference in the lives of those directly and immediately, impacted. If you create and design programs that are unfunded, no matter how great an initiative you have, you are unlikely to make much of a difference, either in the short or long run in resolving this problem. Programs designed to incentivize unwanted behavior, must not only be talked about, they have to be funded and supported to achieve appreciable results.
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