This has been a crazy few months in the world of addiction and recovery.
On the bright side of things, the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, announced for the first time ever in the history of the office that he will be releasing a comprehensive report on Substance Use, Addiction and Health.
Addressing the crowd at the recent Unite to Face Addiction Rally, Murthy stated, "We're going to look at the best science on everything, from heroin and marijuana, to alcohol and prescription opioids. And we're going to launch a national campaign to tackle the prescription drug crisis, because we know that someone dies from an opioid overdose every 24 minutes in this country."
On the darker side of things, the FDA just approved the use of Oxycontin for children between the ages of 11-16. Now, your kids can legally be prescribed one of the strongest opiate medications on the planet. Wow!
Supporters of the decision will cite the need to use the longer-acting painkiller on young cancer patients in "end of life" and long-term pain scenarios. This makes sense to me, and I'm all for alleviating the pain of any person who is in such a difficult situation.
The concern, of course, is that the drug will now be prescribed more routinely to children in less severe pain. I'm no cynic, but we've seen this happen again and again.
"Prescribing OxyContin to youngsters with short-term medical needs could put them at risk for developing an addiction that haunts them long after they leave the hospital," said Andrew Kolodny, director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "Teens are at higher risk of addiction than adults because the brain doesn't mature until about age 25."
Kolodny went on to say, "It's concerning that the FDA approved OxyContin for children without appointing an advisory panel to discuss the risks and benefits, a process traditionally used when the agency faces a controversial decision."
The Centers for Disease Control stated that "a dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions has led to skyrocketing overdose deaths and addiction. Every day, 44 people in the U.S. die from overdose of prescription painkillers, and many more become addicted."
I'm guessing the FDA missed the memo about the fact that we are in the middle of the worst opioid epidemic ever in our country. And I'm deeply concerned for the future addicts that I believe this recent approval will create.
Like all of us, I want to be able trust our federal agencies, but it is very difficult to do so when I personally see the fall out from poor decisions that they are making. I've met and worked with so many people who got into heroin addiction via Oxycontin prescribed to them because of surgery or a traumatic accident. Some of those folks are dead and many are still addicted and very stuck.
Since addiction has overtaken our country and literally everyone is now affected by it, I am hopeful that we will move toward a much clearer understanding of the condition and its solutions. I am encouraged by the work of Michael Botticelli, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. He is the first person who is actually in recovery from addiction (26 years) to hold this office. Director Botticelli understands the substance abuse problem inside and out, is capable and, most importantly, wants change.
In a recent interview, he stated, "Our jails and prisons are full of people who have addictive disorders. We want to create opportunities at every turn where we can divert people away from the criminal justice system, who have often come in contact with them as a result of their own addiction."
I am a person in long-term recovery, who works in the field. I believe in getting off of substances whenever and wherever possible. I do not advocate for opiate-based "harm-reduction" efforts such as long-term methadone and suboxone use. And I believe there is a direct connection between the FDA approval of Oxycontin back in 1995 and the current opioid horror we face in this country. The fact that the drug has now been approved for kids is an absurd reality that I'm pretty certain is going to end in tears.
As for our government's policies regarding the treatment of people who have the disease of addiction, we will see what happens. One thing is certain, if you struggle with substance addiction, you will need support and good counsel, but if I were you, I would not put too much faith in the counsel that the FDA has to offer on the topic.
Tommy Rosen is the Author of Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life (Hay House, 2014)
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.