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Opiate Reform Takeover

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Opiate Reform Takeover

I get very leery when I see Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy sitting on a stage agreeing on issues.  This morning I watched an interview where they both were discussing the importance of opiate reform in the United States, on Fox News.  A few years ago, you would have never seen this issue on that network.  Opiate overdose has reached epidemic proportions, exceeding homicide by firearms in 2015, and is now the #1 cause of accidental death.  As a person in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, and someone who has buried their best friends as a result of opiate overdose, this makes me very happy that we are finally addressing this issue and trying to reduce the stigma associated with it.  However, from a legal and sociological standpoint, the stage is set for another massive takeover by Corporate America and “Big Brother”.

Alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and marijuana make up the majority of inmates within our criminal justice system, and are also substantial contributors to hospital health crises all across this nation.

The new bills that have been signed recently, such as CURE and CARA, address opiate overdose largely through government-regulated administering of Suboxone/buprenorphine treatment.  These drugs may save lives, but when we step back to look at the bigger picture, they are also opening a floodgate for Big Pharma to come in and begin supplying opiates to those with opioid use disorders, and if they don’t die or go to prison, supply the survivors with the opioid dependence medication.  They are invariably trading one substance for another, while providing the cause and the cure.  This also brings up the point of all the other substances that this legislation is ignoring.  Alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and marijuana make up the majority of inmates within our criminal justice system, and are also substantial contributors to hospital health crises all across this nation.  Where is the support from Legislators on these substances if they truly believe addiction is a mental health issue?  The withdrawal from alcohol and benzos can kill you, as with heroin, you just feel like you’re dying.  Why are these substances being ignored?  I realize that heroin is causing a tremendous amount of deaths, but most in recovery from substance use disorder know that buprenorphine treatment is not addressing the core issues.  The substance is just a symptom of the problem, and without addressing the core issues underlying the addiction through cognitive behavioral therapy, mutual-aid meetings, or other proven methods, many of these individuals may end up incarcerated under our current laws when the buprenorphine ceases to be “enough.”  While opioid dependence medications may be a better alternative to heroin overdose and death, it is a poor alternative to Recovery.This scenario is eerily similar to the War on Drugs and tough on crime campaigns where democrats and republicans became obsessed on who could be tougher on drug crime.  They first want to gain constituents, and the issue of mothers burying their children due to heroin overdose understandably garners support, but as with most issues in Washington, we need to see who is working behind the scenes.  Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan’s attempts to incarcerate our way out of the drug epidemic using the fear mongering of “crack cocaine” proved to be one of the biggest blunders in this nation’s history, destroying countless lives.  We are just now beginning to back the truck out of the ditch on what this effort produced.  It created the Prison Industrial Complex which grossed $4.8 billion in 2012, with profits of $629 million, according to market research firm IBISWorld.  We now also lock up more individuals than any other nation on the planet.

When the government begins subsidizing these new medications for prevention instead of recovery oriented solutions such as employment, housing, education, and recovery resources in the communities in which the sufferers live, it may just create another monster that we lose control of.  Already there are discussions of trading in jail cells for GPS monitors.  What are we going to do?  Create buprenorphine-induced zombies on house arrest that never leave or contribute to society?  Who will pay for that?  There are proven methods of recovery that work.  Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) are a highly effective alternative and encourage complete abstinence from substances, with a possible medical detox from the problematic substance at issue. It is often all the medication necessary to achieve recovery.  Expensive treatment centers also stand to gain from these reforms because many of these new programs are Medicaid reimbursable.  However, they may have to abandon many of their current models, and begin including buprenorphine treatment to be in compliance and eligible for funding under CURE and CARA.  This once again leaves out the individuals without the resources to afford expensive treatment, and alters current effective treatment practices.  Big Pharma and Corporate Giants have no place in the prison industry, and they also have no place in the treatment of an epidemic such as this.  The fact is that real recovery comes from the community, is altruistic, and will never be solved by trying to incarcerate it away or by switching individuals to another substance.

This legislation tries to attack heroin as a substance, instead of attacking substance use disorder as a mental health issue.

This legislation tries to attack heroin as a substance, instead of attacking substance use disorder as a mental health issue.  It utilizes another series of drugs manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry.  We now see governments and treatment providers trying to conform to these standards for opioid use disorders, much like local governments and institutions trying to get access to funding to combat the “war on drugs” back in the early 90’s.  As a result, politicians climb aboard the corporate money train, with little regard for the actual implementation of this plan. If we are not vigilant about how we are spending the now 1 billion dollars allocated to the new “Opiate Epidemic”, we may just trade in the Prison Industrial Complex for the Treatment Industrial Complex.

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Person in long-term recovery, who has passionate about criminal justice and recovery policy reform. Currently in Law School at Ole Miss, working on policy reform for recovery in the Deep South. Blessed and Grateful.

joshshorton@yahoo.com

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