This is the third installment of this article. The previous articles can be found at www.thesoberworld.com
In Part 1 of this article, I examined the first two prongs of the administration’s proposed three prong approach to ending the opioid epidemic. I showed how building a wall on our Southern border would do little to slow the import of illicit drugs. I also demonstrated how revitalizing the “Just Say No” campaign would be an effort in futility as it was an abject failure in the 80’s.
In Part 2, I went into great detail about the third prong of the new policy which is the intent of the President and Attorney General to execute drug dealers and why this policy would accomplish nothing other than to make some people feel better. I also addressed the enormous lack of mental health treatment and how our tacitly approved policy of warehousing our mentally ill in jails and prisons remains unchallenged, and, as a consequence, exploded our prison populations. In fact, there are nearly10 times the number of people with severe psychiatric disease locked up behind bars as opposed to number of patients remaining in the nation’s state hospitals.
I also brought up some of the things that are working in stemming the tide of this epidemic, however, regardless of the many advancements that we’ve made, many healthcare experts believe that addiction and its treatment is a subset to our healthcare system and its failings are endemic to a bigger problem pervasive throughout the field.
Healthcare is our #1 gross domestic product (GDP). $18.00 dollars out of every $100.00 spent here in the U.S. goes to some form of healthcare – or $10,348.00 on average per every American man, woman and child in 2016. This is unprecedented. In fact, we spend in excess of 3 ½ times more for comparable healthcare service and outcomes than all of Europe combined – and there is what I would consider a nefarious reason for that.
To comprehend all this you have to look back at the early nineties when the healthcare industry launched into what it is today. It was during this time that some pharmaceutical companies began engaging in a practice termed, “disease mongering.” It’s a thing – Google it.
No one could possibly know for sure, but from everything I’ve read and viewed, I have doubts whether we would have the severity of the drug epidemic we’re currently in today if our lawmakers had not eased restrictions and enacted laws that basically lowered the ‘moral bar’ and opened the floodgates for the pharmaceutical industry. Over the years the moral mantel has slipped all the way down to the basement floor.
Just to be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting by any shape of your imagination that all pharmaceutical companies engaged in this practice or are not reputable. The majority of them are highly regarded companies who provide quality products that improve and extend a person’s quality of life.
However, as with everything in life, there are a few bad actors. In this case, they’re pharmaceutical companies creating diseases out of thin air so that they can sell you the highly-profitable fix that is often more dangerous to your health than the phantom illness they concocted – and the practice is common place today.
I can’t tell you who started disease mongering, but I can tell you generally how they go about it. It starts with a normal everyday ailment that just about all of us experience in our life. Deceptive Pharmaceutical companies will hone in on one of those ailment that often can be remedied by an off-label application of one of their already FDA approved drugs or one that has been tweaked slightly to fit the created scenario. Then they expand the definition of that ailment so that it dovetails right into their product and the symptoms you feel.
Now comes the deceitful part. The pharmaceutical companies sends out an army of sales reps – armed to the teeth with bias scientific data favoring their pills – to doctors’ offices from sea to shining sea to convince them that this bogus made-up disease such as low T, Restless leg are real and serious. At the same time they flood the airwaves (the pharmaceutical industry spent over $3 billion on TV ads last year alone) with TV commercials intended to manipulate the viewing public’s perception into believing this phantom illness is real and that they are very ill – quite frankly scaring the hell out of everyone – while offering the only viable solution, their highly-profitable pills.
“Disease mongering” works and has been a constant in our healthcare system for over 25 years.
People are just not inclined to doubt their primary care doctor or the official corporate looking scientific mumbo jumbo data sheets printed on expensive high gloss paper and provided by pharmaceutical companies. To my ear, disease mongering sounds distinctly like a confidence game right out of the thirties where unsuspecting people just like you or I who lived during the great depression were swindled out of their hard earned money by professional con men; or that movie classic ‘The Sting’ where Paul Newman and Robert Redford con a mob boss out of millions of dollars. Distinctions without differences?
As a consequence, we, as Americans, are the most over-prescribed and heavily medicated society in the history of mankind.
In 1997, a total of 2.4 billion prescriptions were filled for Americans; 20 years later in 2016, 4.5 billion were filled – nearly a 200% increase in prescriptions, yet the population only grew by 21%.
Nearly 70% – that’s 7 out of 10 – Americans take at least one prescription drug – that is according to the Mayo Clinic. According to Medical Xpress, a web-based medical and health news service, in August 2017; “Among those who take prescription drugs, more than half – 53 percent – get them from more than one health care provider, which increases the risk of adverse drug effects. More than a third said no provider has reviewed their medicines to see if all are necessary.” We’re literally damaging our immune systems that can lead to more diseases and sometimes killing ourselves by taking toxic pharmaceutical pills prescribed by our trusted primary care doctors for a disease that we think we have but doesn’t really exist. 1984 anyone?
U.S. spending on prescription medicines in 2016 increased by 4.8 percent to $323 billion when adjusted for discounts and rebates.
With all of this being said, does anyone still wonder why we’re in the middle of a raging drug epidemic?
We are here in the middle of the worst drug epidemic in history, largely in part to the failure of our elected officials to perform their primary duty of protecting us, their constituents, by unleashing an industry from their moral obligation to act responsibly in their quest for larger profits.
According to the CDC, sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. According to the data firm QuintilesIMS, the pharmaceutical companies that make opioid painkillers grossed $8.6 billion in 2016 from the sales of 336 million opioid prescriptions. That’s more than 1 prescription for every man, woman and child in the U.S. There was another milestone in 2016, more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States.
Politicians are addicted to the pharmaceutical industry’s money.
The old joke; ‘how do you know when a politician is lying – their lips are moving,’ seems to have a special place here. Sure, they seem sympathetic when a constituent dies from an overdose, and they talk tough about addiction policy, but, behind closed doors, most accept campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry and meet with their lobbyists. Pharma has spent enough money on lawmakers to buy any vote on drugs and/or drug regulations that comes up in congress. There is just too much money passing through too many lawmakers’ hands for us to expect any real and meaningful drug policy.
It is for this, among other facts, that I find the administration’s new three prong drug policy so disconcerting. Most addiction experts agree, myself included, that building a wall on our Southern border to stop the import of illicit drugs, revitalizing the “Just Say No” campaign, and executing certain drug traffickers is just a façade, and a poor one at that, intended to produce colorful sound bites for the news cycle to make some people feel good while keeping your eye off the ball.
If this administration was committed to real change and effective drug policy, they’d be better served adapting the emergency policies from the 90’s that allowed experimental HIV drugs to be fast-tracked through the FDA and quickly made available to the public. It was all hands on deck. Albeit, things weren’t always pretty at times, but the policy was effective and helped save tens of thousands of lives.
If we had something even close to that kind of commitment today, I seriously doubt that we’d be in the worst drug epidemic known to man. There would be all hands on deck –meaning researchers would be allowed to study and test drugs like Ibogaine that already have been proven effective in the treatment of addiction.
I use Ibogaine as an example because of its effectiveness in treating addiction and the deep history I have with the organic substance. Beginning in the mid-nineties, I was one of only a handful of researchers and technicians involved in the only FDA approved study ofIbogaine lead by Dr. Debra Nash on St. Kitts Island.
Ibogaine occurs naturally in iboga root bark found in west central Africa. It has been used safely by locals in religious ceremonies and as a medicine for 100’s of years. In the U.S. it was deemed a schedule 1 drug along with LSD and marijuana in the late 60’s at the height of the hippie movement. The U.S. is one of only a few countries that ban Ibogaine; in fact, most countries don’t even regulate it. Many scholars believe that Ibogaine earned its schedule 1 status more as a tool to quell the social unrest at the time as opposed to its abuse.
Patients were swimming in the Caribbean in two to three days!
What I experienced on St. Kitts astonished not only me, but everyone involved in the study, including Dr. Mash. In a TV interview after the study, Dr Mash stated: “The thing we learned straight away was that the ibogaine detox was 98 percent effective for opiate withdrawals,” Mash said of its short-term detoxification rate. “I couldn’t believe it.” Not only were the patients detoxing painlessly, most claimed that their experience was like years of therapy.
Ibogaine has a shelf-life in the body that is unique to everyone. Usually it begins to lose its effectiveness in 60 to 90 days. For some it is less and others more. Regardless, it is imperative for someone who has gone through Ibogaine treatment to get into a recovery program right away to take full advantage of its effects.
Many patients from the study came to my center for aftercare treatment. I can tell you first hand that these people were much different from the others we’d worked with. Everyone at my facility, from the therapists to the transport drivers, noticed that they were much more motivated and proactive about their therapy.
Due to a lack of funding, it became nearly impossible to track the progress of all the 300 plus ibogaine patients involved in the study. However, Dr Mash was able to connect with most patients about a year after treatment and found that about half were still clean and sober.
Ibogaine is just one of many drugs and therapies that is evidenced-based and scientifically proven to be effective in the treatment of addiction. It is used successfully around the world nearly everywhere but where it is needed the most, right here
in the U.S. I find it simply incredulous that anyone of average or above intelligence could think that executing some drug traffickers will curb this raging drug epidemic better than a proven effective therapy such as Ibogaine. It is painfully apparent that we can no longer depend on our current elected officials to perform their most basic duty of protecting us, their constituents. But there is a way we can change that and I’ll provide more on that in the next issue of Sober World Magazine.
John Giordano, Doctor of Humane Letters, MAC, CAP, is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is the Second Vice President of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 65 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. For the latest development in cutting-edge addiction treatment, check out his websites: www.PreventAddictionRelapse.com