Tag Archives: education

Generation Rx

grxAs you may know, for the past five years I’ve been working on a book about prescription drug and heroin addiction. It’s called Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death, and America’s Opiate Crisis, and it was just published by Counterpoint Press.

The book tells the story of losing my brother Pat, who became addicted to painkillers in high school and died of a heroin overdose at age 20 in February 2009. It also tells the stories of others who have been affected by this epidemic, including parents, former and current addicts, law enforcement officials, harm reduction workers, activists, and doctors. My hope is that telling these stories will help break down the shame and stigma that continue to surround addiction, as well as bring more education and awareness about the painkiller and heroin addiction epidemic that kills 16,000 people a year.

Visit my author website for more information about the book, including upcoming appearances and media interviews.

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N.J. docs must boost painkiller vigilance: Christie

RXNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is urging physicians to be more careful about their prescribing habits when it comes to potentially addictive painkillers, and is encouraging their participation in the state’s voluntary drug monitoring program. The comments came at a doctors’ conference where the governor described how deeply affected he has been by the recent death of a close friend due to pain medication, according to this article.

Only about 20 to 25 percent of doctors in the state voluntarily use the program, the article says. Meanwhile, treatment centers in the state reported 7,238 admissions for painkiller addictions in 2010, 12 times more than in 2000, the article adds, citing data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Christie had previously come under fire for rejecting an early version of the state’s Good Samaritan bill, which he claimed was too narrowly focused on encouraging more reporting of drug overdoses, rather than other aspects such as drug abuse deterrence, violence prevention and public safety. In May 2013, he signed an updated version of the bill into law, but partially vetoed a separate bill that would make the overdose antidote naloxone available to spouses, parents and guardians of people addicted to opioids. This March, the Christie administration issued a waiver allowing emergency medical technicians to administer naloxone after completing a training course.

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Generation Rx

41mx4k+hrxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As you may know, I am a journalist. When my 20-year-old brother Pat died of a heroin overdose in 2009, I had heard about powerful painkillers like OxyContin and knew he was addicted to them, but I didn’t understand the connection to heroin. I started digging deeper, trying to learn more about both Pat’s personal downfall and the painkiller and heroin abuse epidemic. I have spent the past five years traveling the country and talking to people who have been affected by this issue. My book on the subject, Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death, and America’s Opiate Crisis, will be published August 12 by Counterpoint Press and is available for pre-order on Amazon. I wanted to share my brother’s story and the stories of other families in the hopes of breaking down the stigma associated with drug addiction.

In 2010, 75% of the 38,000 yearly deaths by drug overdose in the U.S. were related to opioids; in 2011, almost 80% of people who had used heroin in the previous year also had a history of abusing prescription painkillers. This problem is getting worse, not better, and we need to start talking about it. If you’ve been touched by opiate addiction, I hope you’ll read my book and share it with others.

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R.I. boosts access to overdose antidote

overdoseRhode Island authorities are taking emergency steps to address an overdose crisis by making the overdose antidote naloxone more widely available, including to law enforcement agencies. According to this article, the state’s health department says Rhode Island is in the midst of “a severe prescription and street-drug overdose crisis” and that expanded access to naloxone — otherwise known as Narcan — has become “immediately necessary to save lives.”

The emergency regulations allow for naloxone to be prescribed not only to a person experiencing an overdose or at risk of one, but to family members and friends in a position to assist, while police departments would also be able to obtain and administer Narcan under a standing order from a prescriber, according to the article.

Rhode Island reported 55 accidental overdose deaths this year through March 4, about twice the normal number, the article says.

Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. currently have some type of Narcan distribution program, including some where family and friends of addicts receive kits in case of emergency.

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Taking action on International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Drug overdose death rates worldwide are skyrocketing: of the estimated 78,000 deaths in 2010 because of illegal drug use, more than half were due to painkillers, according to a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet. And in the U.S., drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54, killing over 38,000 people in 2010; many of these deaths were caused by prescription opiates.

The painkiller addiction epidemic has also led to a rise in heroin abuse. A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that found that four out of five recent heroin initiates — about 79% — previously used prescription pain relievers non-medically. According to SAMHSA, the number of people reporting that they have used heroin in the past 12 months rose from 373,000 people in 2007 to 620,000 people in 2011. Similarly, the number of people dependent on heroin in the past 12 months climbed from 179,000 people in 2007 to 369,000 people in 2011.

As this editorial notes, despite the widespread nature of painkiller and heroin abuse, those who are addicted continue to be stigmatized.

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Activists to hold rally for federal response to opioid epidemic

angry fistPrescription drug addiction activists across the nation are planning a rally to urge federal agencies to take action to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, prevent more overdose deaths and ensure access to effective treatment for millions who have become addicted.

The rally, called “Fed Up! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic,” will be held Oct. 1 from noon to 2 p.m. at Capitol Hill (Upper Senate Park) in Washington, D.C., according to organizers.

Activists say addiction and overdose deaths due to narcotic painkillers and heroin
are one of the nation’s most urgent public health problems, and that the epidemic has placed a tremendous strain on the nation’s health care system, businesses, and local and state governments. Federal agencies, meanwhile, have been too slow and ineffective in responding to the problem, they say.

Click here to register for the event, and here to view a flyer for the rally.

You can learn more about the rally’s platform here, and view sponsorship opportunities here.

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‘Overdose deaths are preventable:’ Narcan film


Although opiate overdoses are skyrocketing in the U.S., many people still don’t know about naloxone, which literally reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system.

This powerful new short film, “Reach for Me: Fighting to End the American Drug Overdose Epidemic,” is produced by Sawbuck Productions in Association with with CinemaNOPE Pictures and examines the need for expanded access to naloxone. It makes a great argument for how Narcan can help save lives, and explains why more overdose awareness prevention is needed.

I am always amazed at how many people are unaware of Narcan and how it’s used, but I myself didn’t know about naloxone until well after my brother’s heroin overdose death in 2009. It took less than 10 minutes for me to get trained in Narcan use by the wonderful folks at the DOPE Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce fatal overdose deaths by providing overdose prevention education and naloxone to drug users and their loved ones — and if you live in the Bay Area, I highly suggest contacting them to get trained.

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Minn. medical group wants MDs to take action

RXThe Minnesota Medical Association is considering requiring doctors to take continuing education courses on pain management and addiction and increasing use of the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program in order to deal with the state’s prescription drug abuse issue, according to this article. As of March 2013, only 40% of pharmacists and 30% of doctors in Minnesota were using the monitoring system, according to the article.

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Teen pill abuse up 33% since 2008: study

pill bottlesOne in four teens has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33% increase over the past five years – up from 18% in 2008, according to a new survey, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation. That translates to about 5 million teens.

In addition, one in eight teens reported that at least once in their lifetime, they had taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when those medications weren’t prescribed for them, the survey found.

Even more disturbing was the fact that almost one in four teens (23%) said their parents didn’t care as much if they were caught using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, as compared to getting caught with illegal drugs. And more than a quarter of teens (27%) mistakenly believed that misusing and abusing prescription drugs was safer than using street drugs, with 33% saying they believed it was “okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain.”

Of those kids who said they abused prescription medications, one in five (20%) had done so before age 14, the survey found.

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S.F. pill deaths up, but heroin deaths down due to naloxone

naloxone-hcl-narcanIn San Francisco, efforts to educate the public about naloxone — an antidote that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose — has led to a drop in heroin-related deaths, but abusers of prescription medications are still suffering fatal overdoses. In 2003, San Francisco became the first California city to publicly fund the distribution of naloxone, which has saved more than 900 lives over the past decade — and reversed 274 overdoses in 2012 alone, according to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. But only 13 of last year’s 274 naloxone reversals were for prescription opiate overdoses, and another 37 involved the painkillers in combination with other drugs, the article says.

Fatal overdoses from heroin in San Francisco, which peaked at around 160 a year in the mid-1990s, have dropped to fewer than 10 a year today, and the city’s emergency rooms reported a 49% decrease in heroin-related visits from 2004 to 2010, the article says.

Meanwhile, the use of oxycodone rose by 528% from 2004 to 2010 based on emergency room visits, and non-heroin opiate use jumped 212%, according to the article.

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