America’s addiction epidemic – by Chris McGreal in Petersburg, West Virginia – June 19, 2017


 

Breanne McUlty knew about Dr Rajan Masih long before she met him.

McUlty was still a teenager, hooked on whiskey and methamphetamine and soon to be dealing heroin, when she first heard about the doctor. Masih was a respected, prosperous family man running a hospital emergency room.

But McUlty knew from those of her friends who preferred to get high on painkillers – effectively heroin in a legal pill – that Masih was the go-to doctor for illicit opioid prescriptions in Grant County, West Virginia.

“Everybody knew him as pretty much the top drug dealer around here,” said McUlty “Maybe he got greedy. Everybody makes mistakes just like I did. He’s a decent person now, trying to make up for it.”

But Masih was more than a dealer. The doctor was also hooked on the pills he was feeding to other opioid addicts.

The lives of the privileged physician and the young woman whose upbringing set her on the path to addiction and selling hard drugs while she was still a child eventually crossed after each was freed from years in prison. They shared a parole officer who drug tested them, and approved where they lived and worked. They also shared a belief that incarceration saved them from early deaths.

“Arrest was the best thing that could have happened to me because I could not and I would not stop,” said Masih. “It was a downward spiral and I would have died.”

McUlty was 25 when she finally returned to her home town of Petersburg, the capital of Grant County, two years ago. Masih was 51 when he was released a few months earlier, stripped of his licence to practice medicine and with little idea what his future held in the struggling rural town of about 2,500 people.

Freedom from prison and drugs gave the two former inmates clearer perspectives on the epidemic that has hit their state harder than any other. It has by far the highest overdose death rate in the country at double the national average. Opioids kill more West Virginians than guns and car accidents combined.

The crisis reaches across generations, from former coal miners to students, although doctors increasingly notice a trend among the young to go straight to heroin whereas many older people come at it through prescription opioids.

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Clinton and Trump Agree the Opioid Epidemic Is a Problem. Their Plans Couldn’t Be More Different. – JULIA LURIESEP. 29, 2016 6:00 AM


Clinton has a $10 billion initiative, while Trump wants to build a wall.

Drug overdoses are killing roughly the same number of people each year as HIV/AIDS did at the height of the epidemic—and far more than car accidents or gun violence. The majority of those overdoses are from opioids, a class of drugs including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

So how would the presidential candidates solve this monumental problem? Hillary Clinton presented a detailed initiative last year to spend $10 billion over the next decade on substance abuse and addiction. Donald Trump contends that building a wall on the Mexican border would solve the problem by stopping the flow of drugs into the country. Here’s what we know about the details of their plans so far:

Clinton’s $10 Billion Plan to Curb Overdoses

The Initiative to Combat America’s Deadly Epidemic of Drug and Alcohol Addictiontakes a multipronged approach to the epidemic, with $7.5 million going toward a state-federal partnership in which the federal government would allocate $4 of funding for every $1 each state committed. An additional $2.5 billion would go toward drug treatment programs funded directly by the federal government. The goals of the plan include:

  • Develop better drug abuse prevention programs such as classes, after-school programs, and mentorship programs
  • Make evidence-based treatment more accessible by expanding inpatient and outpatient services and increasing the number of trained providers
  • Remove obstacles to insurance coverage of substance abuse treatment, particularly among Medicare and Medicaid
  • Give naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, to police, fire departments, EMTs, and other first responders
  • Change regulations that prevent nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants from prescribing buprenorphine, a medication that many see as the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment, and change the rules that cap the number of patients a doctor can prescribe the drug to
  • Train prescribers to be more cautious when prescribing opioids for pain
  • Direct providers to check drug monitoring programs before prescribing the opioid painkillers to make sure that a patient doesn’t have multiple opioid prescriptions
  • Reform the criminal justice process to prioritize rehabilitation and treatment over prison time for low-level drug offenders
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