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May 22, 2018

4/27/2018 2:22:00 PM
Opioid forum puts new light on abuse epidemic, response

The big surprise of the night at last week’s public forum on opioid abuse was from the pharmacist;  who stood on-stage and apologized for healthcare providers helping create this epidemic.   Brent Thompson, of Mora and FirstLight Health System Pharmacy Director,  said pharmacists, medical doctors, emergency physicians-- everybody got swept into a huge campaign of mis-information downplaying the potential of pain-killers to become addictive  and boosting a culture of opioids access and instant pain relief.
Things are changing but not overnight, he continued.  

Pharmacies now can legally interface more effectively with doctors,  and track how many prescriptions clients who abuse these substances have,  or have sought, and from which providers.  Controlled substance alerts are being developed.

“Doctors need to explain (these products) are the medical equivalent of heroin,” Thompson told the forum audience in the high school Performing Arts Center.  

Thompson explained some of the false information that went out years ago impacting the culture of pain care.  There were articles presented as  “studies” on addiction in medical industry publications that were not studies.  

He said pain started to be treated as “a fifth vital sign” (alongside blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) by healthcare providers-- in the wake of a massive brainwashing effort led by “Big Pharma.”

“Pain itself is not a vital sign,” Thompson said, it is an emotion, it won’t kill you, although you may feel like you’re dying.”  

He pointed to the lobbying group the “Pain Care Forum” that spent $750 million dollars over 10 years fighting pending laws such as those placing restrictions on prescribing opioids.

He asked if members of the audience have ever had a procedure done and got a usual prescription for 60 days’ worth of pain-killers.  “You take a couple days’ worth of pills and they make you feel a little sick and you quit...then you have 58 leftover pills.”  

This practice is now changing towards dispensing minimal quantities only.

It is also very important to properly dispose of waste meds or at least keep them secured, he also told the forum visitors.    

The nationwide drug takeback day this Saturday April 28 is a perfect opportunity to dispose of substances safely.  He also commended Chisago County for being among the first in the nation, years ago,  to provide safe anonymous drop-off locations for these products.  (County Public Safety Center, drop box in Rush City and North Branch Police Dept. at city hall.)

The speakers said pills are going for about $1 per milligram, so one 20 mill. pill can cost $20 on the street.

Two Chisago County Sheriff’s personnel also spoke about the East Central drug task force efforts and trends locally in illegal substances.  Sgt. Justin Wood said prescription meds are “the biggest abused” substance around here.  The difficulty in fighting this black market is that the seller and buyer need to basically be apprehended simultaneously.  And then there’s the unregulated “dark web” where very questionable products are found.

Wood stated 10 burglaries in Chisago County last year were directly tied to the theft  of prescription medications. And, it’s impossible to know how many goods are stolen and sold or traded, to get money to buy drugs.

A speaker, who is now in recovery, “Tanner,” stated he had a $400-a-day habit (oxycontin) at his worst addiction point.  “I did anything I had to to stay high,” he shared.  “Everything is connected to using.”  

Tanner turned to heroin, because it is less expensive than pills in Minnesota.  When he finally found treatment and a program to help him, he said the only love he felt in his life anymore was this sick sort of empathy he had with fellow addicts.  He wasn’t being a son, or a father or a husband, all he had that made him feel anything at all was his addiction.

Tanner says be “real, be raw” when you are talking to your kids about the dangers of substance experimentation.

Sheri Schmaus agreed and talked about how she thinks kids literally have no concept of the dangers drugs can create.  She is the founder of For Jake’s Sake,  a non-profit named for her son who overdosed five years ago.  

Kids think of the antibiotics they got to fix an ear infection,  when they hear the word “drugs.”  

The message to kids has to be clear and impactful about addiction to opioids and other substances and what it does to your life. For Jake’s Sake works to increase awareness and gets behind state legislation meant to curb overdose deaths, like MN House File 3361 on education programs, said Schmaus.

The forum, moderated by Lakes Area Officer Cory Spencer, a Chisago Lakes School Resource Officer,  also included a presentation by Community Partnership for Youth & Families, and a counselor with Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Cecelia Jayme.  She spoke of the importance of having Narcan or Naloxone (antidote forms) on hand.  If you are associated with a known opioid user these products are now available to the public, and the cost to keep a supply of antidote in case of an overdose,  is way cheaper than a funeral, she said.  

You can go to www.narcan.com/affordability on the Internet and learn more about free nasal sprays or injectibles.

Jayme added that it would help if adults were aware of how pills are used in their home and mindful of the kind of behavior they model when dealing with a headache or back pain, etc.

People do recover from addiction,  she stressed. A warrior-like mentality is needed for the public to stand up against this epidemic.



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