SPECIAL REPORT: ADVOCATES MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC FOR OPIOID CRISIS FUNDING

Maxim W. Furek

SPECIAL REPORT: ADVOCATES MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC FOR OPIOID CRISIS FUNDING

WASHINGTON, DC – The 2016 FED UP! Rally and March to Capitol Hill was held on September 18, 2016 on a hot and sweltering autumn day. Activists and family members assembled on the National Mall advocating for more funding to address the opioid crisis. Michael Botticelli, U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director, was one of the invited speakers. The event was held at the Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds in Washington, D.C. before activists marched to the Capitol in a symbolic demonstration of anger, frustration and unity. It was a time to learn and to network but also a time for grieving. Numerous family members held handmade posters with pictures of their
Control Policy Director deceased loved ones. A large quilt was displayed that honored the lives of individuals who died from heroin and prescription pain overdoses. The crowd was stilled and reverent as an emotional Elizabeth Edwards sang “Amazing Grace.”

The opioid crisis has been called “the worst drug addiction epidemic in United States history.” Over 30,000 individuals die each year due to heroin and painkiller addiction. The Drug Enforcement Administration noted that the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and

Health found 6.5 million Americans over the age of 12 used controlled prescription medicines non-medically during the past month, second only to marijuana and more than past-month users of cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens combined.

The FED UP! Coalition said, “We cannot politely and patiently remain quiet as the opioid epidemic continues to worsen.” FED UP’s mission is to create one voice calling for an end to the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths attributed to opioids (including heroin) and other prescription drugs. Fed Up speakers pleaded for the Congress to provide $1.1 billion
in funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). Congress passed that legislation in July, but did not provide the actual funding. Some have called CARA a “hollow bill.”

John Rosenthal and Allie Hunter McDade, co-founders of the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI), have offered a solution emphasizing treatment and not punishment. In June 2015, Rosenthal developed PAARI, “to support the Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Angel Program and help replicate the model nationwide. The Angel Program begins with the premise that we cannot arrest our way out of this public health epidemic and that opioid addiction is a disease not a crime. And like any other chronic disease without a cure, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, people suffering from the disease of addiction need long term treatment not jail.”

PAARI has met with immediate success as Rosenthal asserts, “In just 16 months since it’s founding and with the conservative voice of law enforcement as the leader of this innovative approach, PAARI, has helped change the national conversation, reduced the stigma of addiction, replicated the program among 160 police departments in 30 states, partnered with 250 treatment centers across the Country, placed thousands
of people suffering with the disease of addiction into treatment and have saved lives.”

There are only two communities in Pennsylvania that have adopted the PAARI protocol. These include Berwick in Columbia County and the John Rosenthal, Chief Ken Strish, Bensalem Township Allie Hunter McDade Police Department in Bucks County. Berwick Police Chief Ken Strish was quick to adopt PAARI in order to, “bring law enforcement, mental health professionals and substance abuse health care professionals together to ensure that the individual seeking rehabilitation receives the care and treatment they deserve immediately,” he said. “The Berwick Police Department needed a ‘warm handoff’ protocol for those that inform any officer of the Berwick Police Department that they are seeking treatment. PAARI has a vast amount of treatment centers already working with them, and they will accept participants from our community, either for insurance or on ‘scholarship.’ Currently, PAARI has two primary models, the Gloucester
ANGEL Initiative, which is an intake program and the Arlington Initiative, which is an outreach program. Locally we have assembled key partners to begin our local drug rehabilitation program and have the PAARI models to follow.”

A DISEASE AND NOT A CRIME

Strish wants everyday citizens to help battle the opioid crisis. He encourages them to, “Utilize the prescription medication collection box at local Police Departments and discard all unused prescription medications, especially opioid medications. Seek alternative pain management rather than opioid prescriptions. Donate to PAARI or locally to any of our key partners. Contact local legislators and request that they support the Initiative. Review opioid overdose statistics and learn about Naloxone. And volunteer to assist our program,” he adds.

In April, 2016, in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed H.B. 176, the first bill in the country to establish a framework for a statewide grant program to promote police-assisted addiction recovery programs. The legislation will establish
a grant program under the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime
and Delinquency to assist local police departments, regional police departments and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Strish emphasized: “Law enforcement cannot arrest their way out of the opioid addiction problem because addiction is a disease and not a crime. It’s not too late. We can still help those who are addicted to drugs get the rehabilitative treatment that they so desperately need, which will hopefully improve the overall security and well- being of our community.”

Concerned citizens can contact www.paariusa.org to learn more about how one can help local police departments become a new entry point into treatment for anyone suffering from the disease of addiction.

Another speaker, Andrew Burki, founder of “Young People in Recovery,” called out Big Pharma. Burki explained, “Actually addressing the opioid crisis in a real and meaningful way is the only viable course of action for us to take as a nation. This is a completely bipartisan issue and our failure to act year after year is beyond reprehensible. Anyone who thinks this is someone else’s problem is not paying attention to the scale of the epidemic in our country. You would be hard pressed to find a community that has yet to bury its young or has a local economy, which is not stained by the magnitude of this public health crisis. It doesn’t require a statistician to figure out that the death toll and big opiate sales have been on the rise proportional to one another for nearly two decades. Let’s call big opiate what it has become – a group of competing legal American drug cartels. If we ever want to truly deal with this travesty the solution is going to involve holding the Andrew Burki, Young People American cartels accountable.” in Recovery Burki is the Chief Executive Officer for Life of Purpose Treatment. WHLM Radio investigative reporter Dave Reilly felt that the rally was effective. He said, “I went to the FED UP! rally in DC because this epidemic hits so close to home. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t been affected by drug addiction in some way, and it’s time to bring this issue out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

“The most important piece of information that I learned at the FED UP! rally was that for every U.S. representative (both in the House and the Senate) there are roughly 16 lobbyists bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical companies. We are never going to see policy changes until we have representatives that actually represent their citizens, instead of special interests and billionaire donors. We cannot count on the Federal Government to fight this for us, we need to mobilize against this ‘Scourge’ at the local level.”

POWER IN SELF-KNOWLEDGE

Reilly perceives some light at the end of the tunnel. He said, “I think the thing that gives me so much hope, is that people are beginning to identify the root problems instead of just the symptoms. While at first glance, it may be depressing to see the laundry list of problems our country faces, there is great power in self-knowledge.”

Amy Cooper, is Outreach Director for California-based National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse (NCAPDA) established to generate nationwide awareness about the dangers of prescription drug misuse. NCAPDA was founded in June, 2010, just months after the tragic loss of Joseph John Rovero, III, from a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription medication that had been prescribed by a doctor.

Cooper knows only too well the dangers presented by opioids. She joined NCAPDA as a result of the devastating loss of her son Jon, who died at age 26 from an accidental overdose from prescription drugs illegally prescribed to him by a dentist. “Overprescribing of opioids has harmed millions of pain patients and led to major increases in addiction, heroin use, and overdose deaths,” Cooper said. “To date, the response from the federal government has been slow and tragically ineffective. While the President signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), sadly it only authorized funding and did not actually provide any funding. In fact, two different emergency funding proposals of at least $600 million to provide minimum funding have been dismissed by the current Congress. As a steering committee member, I was helping to organize and lead efforts at the reception, rally, march and Hill Day to ask for the funding needed to find new ways to prevent opioid addiction, to ensure access to effective opioid addiction treatment, and to reduce opioid overdose deaths.”

Cooper said, “Together, we must continue to bring awareness and education to the devastation that this epidemic is having on all of our communities. We have received support from President Obama and other leaders such as Michael Botticelli, but we must have support from all our leaders, regardless of their political affiliations. We had a very successful weekend, with a sold out reception at the National Press Club on Saturday and a Hill Day on Monday for an educational briefing regarding the deficiencies in the CARA act followed by scheduled meetings with members of Congress/staff.

“The FED UP! rally provided an opportunity for those who have been personally impacted by this horrific epidemic to stand together not only for support, but to bring together our voices to demand change. Stories of loss along with hope are important to share. For those who have experienced loss, we need to be the voices of those who are gone and for those who are in recovery. Their stories need to be told to show that recovery can and does happen. Our stories and voices are being heard and the message that this is a brain disease that needs to be treated with dignity and diligence is being shared. We are making progress with prescription drug monitoring programs. Recent legislation passed (CA SB482) requiring all prescribers to check the state run prescription database in California (CURES 2.0), and expansion in many states to access overdose reversal medicine- Naloxone,” Cooper explained.

“I’ve seen many people from all over our country take their personal pain, suffering, and shame, and work together to save lives. There are so many organizations that are doing great work and sharing their experiences with others. Lastly, I believe that we are reaching the medical professionals. There is an inherent shift taking place in questioning how to treat pain.”

In October 2016 there appeared to be movement toward that end. The DEA announced it is requiring significant cuts in the production of prescription opioids. By 2017 the amount of prescription opioids permitted to be manufactured in the United States will decrease by at least 25 percent. Hydrocodone production will be cut by 34 percent, the DEA said in a news release.

Much needs to be done on numerous fronts to contain the opioid crisis. The FED UP! rally raised awareness and the DEA restrictions will have an impact. These are small steps, yes, but at least steps in the right direction.

Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC is the founder of the Berwick Anti Drug Alliance. His rich background includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music explores the miraculous and supernatural elements experienced by two entombed Pennsylvania miners. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com