Sad Story Illustrates the Opioid Overdose Epidemic in the USA

This sad story illustrates the cost of the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic in the USA.

A 7-year-old told her bus driver she couldn’t wake her parents. Police found them dead at home.

For more than a day, the 7-year-old girl had been trying to wake her parents.

Dutifully, she got dressed in their apartment outside Pittsburgh on Monday morning and went to school, keeping her worries to herself. But on the bus ride home, McKeesport, Pa., police say, she told the driver she’d been unable to rouse the adults in her house.

Inside the home, authorities found the bodies of Christopher Dilly, 26, and Jessica Lally, 25, dead of suspected drug overdoses, according to police.

Also inside the home were three other children — 5, 3 and nine months old.

Speaking before the state legislature last week in Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) told lawmakers that the opioid epidemic facing Pennsylvania is “a public health crisis, the likes of which we have not before seen. Every day, we lose 10 Pennsylvanians to the disease of addiction.

Nationwide, opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription drug, the CDC said, adding that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled nationwide since 1999.

The couple’s 7-year-old daughter asked the officer to sign her homework so she could turn it in at school the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Burton said. “She said, ‘I did my work.’ She pulled it out and showed it to us. It was math homework, (like) ‘Which number is greater? Which number is odd or even?’ … I told her, ‘Sweetie, you probably won’t have to go to school tomorrow. … But where you’re going is going to have everything you need.'”

The human cost of the ongoing epidemic of abuse of prescription and illegal opioids is hard to fathom. Addressing these challenges is not easy but stories like this should remind us how important it is for us to take on the task.

Related: President Obama Proposes $1.1 Billion in New Funding to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic (Feb 2016)Heroin Use Spikes Among Those Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers (2015)Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused Policy

Growing Call by Leaders Worldwide to End the War on Drugs

Letter to UN signed by over 1,000 worldwide leaders

The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights. Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.

Humankind cannot afford a 21 st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s. A new global response to drugs is needed, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

The role of criminalization and criminal justice must be limited to the extent truly required to protect health and safety. Leadership must come from those who recognize that psychoactive drug use is first and foremost a matter of health. Drug control efforts must never do more harm than good, or cause more harm than drug misuse itself.

We need to have society focus on helping people recover from drug addiction. The war on the poor and abused in society by our legal system just makes things worse. We need to improve.

Over 1,000 Leaders Worldwide Call for End to “Disastrous” Drug War, Ahead of UN Special Session

The unprecedented list of signatories includes a range of people from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders to businessmen Warren Buffett, George Soros, Richard Branson, Barry Diller, actors Michael Douglas and Woody Harrelson, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, singers John Legend and Mary J. Blige, activists Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem and Michelle Alexander, as well as distinguished legislators, cabinet ministers, and former UN officials.

There is a great deal of human suffering caused by drug addiction and abuse (including alcohol and the abuse of prescription drugs). We need to create solutions to help people avoid ruining their lives and the lives of those they love. Our police attacking those people and wagging war on them is not something society should tolerate.

Related: Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused PolicyDrug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime CostsThe Causes of Drug Addiction are ComplexThe War on Drugs has been a Huge Failure with Massive Unintended Consequences

The War on Drugs has been a Huge Failure with Massive Unintended Consequences

This webcast takes a look at our experience with the so-called “war on drugs.” The war on drugs has been a huge failure with massive unintended consequences. Policy needs to take into account results. We have some minor attempts to do this but overall the war on drugs has led to increasing damage as we increase the war without considering the results.

Related: Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused PolicyReducing Harm Due to Drug Use Should be the Aim, Not WarDrug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime Costs

President Obama Proposes $1.1 Billion in New Funding to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic

President Obama’s Budget includes new mandatory funding to help ensure that all Americans who want treatment can get the help they need. I have posted the whole press release because if I link to it, the link will break with the next president (

Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families, while straining resources of law enforcement and treatment programs. More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that opioids—a class of drugs that include prescription pain medications and heroin—were involved in 28,648 deaths in 2014. In particular, CDC found a continued sharp increase in heroin-involved deaths and an emerging increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

The President has made clear that addressing the opioid overdose epidemic is a priority for his Administration and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose, like evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug take-back events, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Under the Affordable Care Act, substance use disorder services are essential health benefits that are required to be covered by health plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace. The law also required that covered substance use disorder benefits are comparable to medical and surgical benefits.

The President’s FY 2017 Budget takes a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic. First, it includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use. This funding will boost efforts to help individuals with an opioid use disorder seek treatment, successfully complete treatment, and sustain recovery. This funding includes:

  • $920 million to support cooperative agreements with States to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. States will receive funds based on the severity of the epidemic and on the strength of their strategy to respond to it. States can use these funds to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable.
  • $50 million in National Health Service Corps funding to expand access to substance use treatment providers. This funding will help support approximately 700 providers able to provide substance use disorder treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment, in areas across the country most in need of behavioral health providers.
  • $30 million to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment programs employing medication-assisted treatment under real-world conditions and help identify opportunities to improve treatment for patients with opioid use disorders.

This investment, combined with other efforts underway to reduce barriers to treatment for substance use disorders, will help ensure that every American who wants treatment can access it and get the help they need.

Second, the President’s Budget includes approximately $500 million — an increase of more than $90 million — to continue and build on current efforts across the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities. A portion of this funding is directed specifically to rural areas, where rates of overdose and opioid use are particularly high. To help further expand access to treatment, the Budget includes an HHS pilot project for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment, where allowed by state law.

Building on Actions to Address the Opioid Epidemic

In October 2015, the President announced a number of new public and private sector actions to address this issue, including a Presidential Memorandum on prescriber training and opioid use disorder treatment. He also announced a commitment by more than 40 provider groups that more than 540,000 health care providers will complete training on appropriate opioid prescribing in the next two years. After just over three months, these groups reported that more than 66,000 providers have completed prescriber training to date, putting them on target to meet their goal.

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Cocaine addiction: Scientists discover ‘back door’ into the brain

Individuals addicted to cocaine may have difficulty in controlling their addiction because of a previously-unknown ‘back door’ into the brain, circumventing their self-control, suggests a new study led by the University of Cambridge.

A second study from the team suggests that a drug used to treat paracetamol overdose may be able to help individuals who want to break their addiction and stop their damaging cocaine seeking habits.

Although both studies were carried out in rats, the researchers believe the findings will be relevant to humans.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that can lead to addiction when taken repeatedly. Quitting can be extremely difficult for some people: around four in ten individuals who relapse report having experienced a craving for the drug – however, this means that six out of ten people have relapsed for reasons other than ‘needing’ the drug.

“Most people who use cocaine do so initially in search of a hedonic ‘high’,” explains Dr David Belin from the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge. “In some individuals, though, frequent use leads to addiction, where use of the drug is no longer voluntary, but ultimately becomes a compulsion. We wanted to understand why this should be the case.”

Drug-taking causes a release in the brain of the chemical dopamine, which helps provide the ‘high’ experienced by the user. Initially the drug taking is volitional – in other words, it is the individual’s choice to take the drug – but over time, this becomes habitual, beyond their control.

Previous research by Professor Barry Everitt from the Department of Psychology at Cambridge showed that when rats were allowed to self-administer cocaine, dopamine-related activity occurred initially in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, which plays a significant role driving ‘goal-directed’ behaviour, as the rats sought out the drug. However, if the rats were given cocaine over an extended period, this activity transferred to the dorsolateral striatum, which plays an important role in habitual behaviour, suggesting that the rats were no longer in control, but rather were responding automatically, having developed a drug-taking habit.

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Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong

Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong.

Addiction is just one symptom of the crisis of disconnection that is happening all around us.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

In the video they talk about one of the things we posted about earlier (in The Causes of Drug Addiction are Complex): the conditions of addiction expedients that form the basis of our understanding are questionable.

The claim made in the video is that psychology is much more the cause of addiction than chemistry. There certainly is plenty of evidence suggesting psychology is very important.

The video makes the claim it is largely about a “crisis of disconnection.” That if we don’t make strong interpersonal connections we will seek solace in the form of something that distracts us (drugs or something else).

These ideas are explored further in Johann Hari’s book about drugs and addiction: Chasing the Scream.

Related: Drug Addictions Often Disappear Over Time, even without treatmentMethods to Treat AddictionFunding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused PolicyCombination Strategy to Treat Alcohol Dependence

Heroin Use Spikes Among Those Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health looked at the frequency of nonmedical prescription opioid use and the risk of heroin-related behaviors and found that past-year heroin use rose among individuals taking opioids like oxycontin, and these increases varied by race and ethnicity. The most significant rise in heroin use was among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, where the rate of heroin use for the latter group increased by 75% in 2008-2011 compared to earlier years.

Findings are published in a sad closed-science way even though funding was provided by National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (grants K01DA030449, R03DA037770, and R01DA037866) the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Development (grant HD020667) and Columbia University. I suggest you contact those organizations or Columbia if you want to see what the findings are. They need to learn blocking access to scientific research is wrong and they shouldn’t fund such activity.

Nonmedical prescription opioid use is defined as using a substance that is not prescribed or taking a drug only for the experience or the feeling it caused.

Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a large nationally representative household sample of 67,500 people, and self-reported heroin use within the last 12 months, the researchers examined the change in patterns of past-year non-prescription drug and heroin use between 2002-2005 and 2008-2011 across racial and ethnic groups. The study also looked at the association between past year frequency of both, heroin-related risk behaviors, and exposure to heroin availability.

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Drug Addictions Often Disappear Over Time

This article includes links to many research studies, some linked to below, for the rest go to the full article.

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It by Maia Szalavitz

By age 35, half of all people who qualified for active alcoholism or addiction diagnoses during their teens and 20s no longer do.

The average cocaine addiction lasts four years, the average marijuana addiction lasts six years, and the average alcohol addiction is resolved within 15 years. Heroin addictions tend to last as long as alcoholism, but prescription opioid problems, on average, last five years. In these large samples, which are drawn from the general population, only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.

If you start drinking or taking drugs with peers before age 18, you have a 25% chance of becoming addicted, but if your use starts later, the odds drop to 4%. Very few people without a prior history of addiction get hooked later in life, even if they are exposed to drugs like opioid painkillers.

These results can give people hope when they, or loved ones, are suffering from an addiction. Treatment helps sometimes but also fails quite often. Even in the case where things are not looking good, there is hope that eventually things may run there course.

Of course, there is a risk, sadly, that before the addiction ends tragedy will strike. So hopefully we can keep researching methods to better treat addiction. But if things are failing (especially for one you love) there may be light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Related: The Success Rate of AA is Only 5-10%How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment?What Does the Evidence of Treating Alcoholism Show?Combination Strategy to Treat Alcohol Dependence

Vermont to Treat Heroin Abuse as Health Issue Instead of Fighting “War” with Addicts

Vermont Quits War on Drugs to Treat Heroin Abuse as Health Issue

[Governor] Shumlin urged the legislature to approve a new set of drug policies that go beyond the never-ending cat-and-mouse between cops and dealers. Along with a crackdown on traffickers, he proposed rigorous addiction prevention programs in schools and doctors’ offices, as well as more rehabilitation options for addicts. “We must address it as a public health crisis,” Shumlin said, “providing treatment and support rather than simply doling out punishment, claiming victory, and moving on to our next conviction.”

Representative Thomas Burditt… “As everybody knows, the war on drugs is lost, pretty much. It’s time to go down a new road.”

This is one small effort, among many, to find solutions instead of continuing the failed policies used for decades. Sadly those failed policies still dominate the efforts given by governments throughout the USA. The costs to the economy and personal lives of the people is enormous. We need to experiment to find better methods to reduce he harm done to society due to drug addiction.

Related: The Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman Highlights the Increased Use of HeroinPrescription Painkillers Kill More People Every Year in USA than Heroin and Cocaine CombinedDrug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime Costs

The Miracle That Saved Robert Downey Jr.

It is nice to read about successes in addressing drug addiction and the damage it causes to people. Robert Downey Jr. continues to provide such an example with his long successful career after years of struggles with drug addiction.

Susan Downey: Iron Woman

For a long time, however, it seemed as if that never-grow-up quality was going to land Robert in an early grave. After sauntering into our hearts as the doomed rich kid Julian in 1987’s Less Than Zero and proving himself a comic genius with his Oscar-nominated performance in 1992’s Chaplin, Robert spent roughly five years (from 1996 to 2001) in a long, heavily publicized death dance with crack cocaine, heroin, gunplay, and prison — at one point, even wandering into a neighbor’s home and passing out in a child’s bedroom. By the time he was released from court-ordered rehab in 2002, he was largely considered unemployable in Hollywood and was able to convince producer Silver to hire him for Gothika only by agreeing to have a good chunk of his salary withheld until the film wrapped.

But Robert was not quite finished with what he refers to as his Darth Vader side. “I did meet Darth Vader, for like a minute,” Susan acknowledges, “right after the movie wrapped, and I said immediately, ‘This isn’t gonna work.’ I made it clear that to stay with me, nothing could happen.”

Something about Susan’s ultimatum clicked. Around July 4, 2003, Robert stopped at a Burger King on the Pacific Coast Highway, threw his drugs in the ocean, and decided that he was done for good. “I think he saw what we had,” Susan says. “There was something magical there, something we couldn’t put our finger on. He always says that we became this third thing when we got together — something that neither of us could have become by ourselves — and I think that’s true.”

Success for one individual don’t easily translate to others. It is normally many individual things that all line up to make it work. Robert had been to rehab before and relapsed. Plenty of addicts get ultimatums and relapse. Plenty of people find love and proceed to mess it up. But in this case Robert was able to make a change and has been able to enjoy great success and happiness.

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Rehab SuccessRobin Williams Reflects on Rehab‘Marcia Brady’ Recovers After Drug Addiction