Counteract greed that caused opiate crisis with ‘gratitude and service’

Published 8:45 am Monday, November 6, 2017


Boyle ASAP

The month of October brought more than beautiful fall foliage and Halloween trick or treat. Americans were given some startling information related to our national opioid addiction crisis.  

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The CBS investigative news program “60 Minutes” presented chilling information about the lobbying conducted by pharmaceutical distributors to seriously limit the ability of the national Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) to investigate and prosecute large shipments of painkillers throughout America. A former head of the Office of Diversion Control of the DEA, Joe Rannazzisi, told the story of how legislation, signed by President Obama, actually enabled the diversion of opioids to the streets of small town America.

The result has been a continuing spike in addiction and deaths by overdose in states like Kentucky. The person tapped by President Trump to be the next head of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, Tom Marino, was a leader in the drafting and passage of that legislation. Since the “60 Minutes” program aired, his name has been withdrawn as a candidate for that post.

In late October, President Trump finally acted to declare the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic a national public health emergency. Advocates for a comprehensive plan to address the crisis had mixed responses to the declaration. Although no new funds were allocated for treatment, prevention, enforcement or harm reduction, the fact that the president acknowledged the seriousness of the problem was positive. And the declaration did allow for funds from other, also-much-needed services, to be moved to address the emergency. So there was some good news and some not-so-good news.

The day after President Trump announced the public health emergency, acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric D. Hargan came to Lexington to visit Polk-Dalton Clinic. They treat mothers addicted to opioids and their babies, who require withdrawal from those drugs when they are born. Mr. Hargan heard from providers, clients and advocates that more resources are needed, including the continuation of expanded Medicaid in Kentucky.

Also in late October, the New Yorker magazine published a comprehensive article by Patrick Radden Keefe, entitled “Empire of Pain.” Keefe’s look at Purdue Pharma, a privately held company that developed the prescription painkiller OxyContin, is more chilling than a Halloween house of horror.

Members of one of the wealthiest families in America, the Sackler family, are the owners of Purdue Pharma. They have made approximately $35 billion from the sale of OxyContin. Many of our fellow Kentuckians are in the large numbers who have died from the use of OxyContin since 1999. The commonwealth’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma was settled out of court for $24 million, a tiny amount given the profits made on OxyContin.

Andrew Kolodny, national expert in addiction treatment, was quoted in the article about the company’s lack of concern for the effects of painkillers. He said, “Greed can get people to rationalize pretty bad behavior”.  

So, now it’s November — the month marked by our national day of Thanksgiving — and the beginning of the holiday season. Washington is battling out the national budget and what to do about health care again. Frankfort is working on tax reform and state pensions, with the backdrop of a budget shortfall.  And people concerned about America’s addiction crisis are watching and waiting to see if we are going to take seriously what’s been brought to the surface in recent weeks, and invest in the future of our country with a clear, sustainable and ethical plan.

In spite of much troubling information, in Boyle County, we are going to pause and be thankful on Nov. 9 for the many professionals who have responded to the drug crisis throughout the past several months.   A “Thank You Lunch” for an extended list of first responders is being sponsored by Hope Network and Boyle County ASAP, with the help of a large group of churches and individuals.

Lunch is only a token of the appreciation we should be expressing for emergency runs to homes with overdose victims, for patient dispatchers who calm distressed callers, for law-enforcement staff who put their lives on the line every day, and for social workers who hear far too many cries of young children.  We are going to thank them in a simple way for their complicated work. In showing our gratitude, we will be blessed as well. We’ll be putting aside for a day our concerns about recent news and challenged resources to be thankful for those who serve our community.  Gratitude and service — perhaps we’re finding some antidotes to greed.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.