Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ohio’s Opioid Addiction Forces Rethinking

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s  2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

When rescue teams arrived on the scene, they had to break out two windows in her still-running truck to get to Debra Hyde and her eight-month-old grandson. Hyde’s truck was still in “Drive” in front of a large wall of propane tanks, when rescue workers found her overdosed on heroin in the backseat of her truck.

This is at least the second time in the past month that Ohio authorities have found a grandparent or guardian overdose in a vehicle with a child. Earlier in the month, Ronda Pasek and her boyfriend were found overdosed with a child in the backseat, and she is now sentenced to a 180-day sentence for a misdemeanor charge of “child endangerment.” In both cases, the children involved were remanded to the care of child services.

Woman laying on the ground after overdosing on Heroin, with the needle on the ground nearby

Photo Source: JustThinkTwice

1,424 people died in Ohio, in 2015, as a result of drug overdoses. This has forced first responders to reconsider not only how they prepare for their jobs – Naloxone kits are essentially a “must,” these days – but, how they respond to the burgeoning epidemic that plagues their state. In Marion, OH, and across the nation, heroin has fundamentally altered the work of police and emergency-service workers. Police and paramedics are now expected to play the roles of social workers, drug-treatment specialists, and experts at connecting with kids in drug-prevention programs (as those of us who remember D.A.R.E. can attest).

Marion Police Chief, Bill Collins, told his officers to stop charging those who overdosed, while at the same time, he was making connections with religious leaders, healthcare professionals, addition treatment providers, and teachers to find ways to help better address drug addiction within his community. He followed the evidence: many addiction surveys indicate that a large number of opioid addicts became addicted to prescription pain killers after gaining access to their parents’, grandparents’, or guardians’ properly (or improperly) prescribed opioid painkillers and began using them recreationally. In addition, he noticed that many of the people who were being found overdosed had kids in local schools, which further indicated that a great place to start would be within the educational paradigm.

With these things in mind, Collins and his allies helped create the “Too Good for Drugs” campaign, that teaches age-specific strategies that students can use to resist drugs. The program won a $25,000 Ohio Department of Education grant to fund the ten-week program for 6th-12th grade students. Teachers were so passionate about the project that they volunteer to teach it. Officials are still waiting to find out if another grand to extend the program to K-5th grade students is approved.

But, beyond the fact that these functions are becoming unlisted job requirements in these fields, should law enforcement officers and other first responders be expected to fill these roles? What few people contest is that “something” needs to be done; beyond that, there’s little agreement between healthcare professionals, law enforcement organizations, and advocacy groups on exactly what that “something” is.

Do we need more treatment centers for drug addiction, both in- and out-patient? Absolutely. Do we need more qualified social workers and staffing resources to adequately address opioid and other drug addiction? Yep. Do we need to do a better job of providing these recovery and addiction services to people in more rural parts of states – areas where opioid and heroin addiction are currently hitting states hardest? There’s no doubt of that.

But, the reality is that all of these approaches, while both the “right things to do” and the best ways we currently have to address the problem, are costly and require resources that, on the state and local levels, may simply not exist. Further complicating these efforts is the seeming inability of our elected leaders at the Federal level to work together toward accomplishing mutually beneficial goals. For states currently watching their cities turn into drug dens with a body count, it really does seem like the time for them to just get it together, and get to work.
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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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Ohio Opioid Epidemic Grows As Death Toll Mounts

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Two weeks ago, police in East Liverpool, Ohio, made global news after posting an arrest scene photo of a four-year-old child in his car seat, while with his grandmother and her boyfriend sat in the front seats, overdosed on heroin. The image has served as both a poignant reminder of the often overlooked consequences of opioid and heroin addiction and as a point of controversy for addiction and child advocates.

Map of Ohio, showing East Liverpool

Photo Source: Google Maps

The East Liverpool police posted the photo in an effort to bring attention to the havoc that opioid and heroin abuse wreaks on not only the user, but on the lives of the people around them. Both overdose victims received doses of naloxone – a fast acting drug that reverses the effects of opioid drugs – at the scene, an act which very like saved their lives. The driver, James Acord (47), was sentenced to 360 days in jail after pleading ‘No Contest’ to charges of child endangerment and operating a vehicle under the influence. the boy’s grandmother, Rhonda Pesak (50), who was awarded custody of the child on July 25, 2016, was sentenced to 180 days in jail after withdrawing her initial ‘Not Guilty’ plea to a charge of child endangerment, and reentering a plea of ‘No Contest.’

The child has since been relocated to live with his great aunt and uncle in South Carolina. His mother initially lost custody of him in December 2012 – four-and-a-half months before he was birth – as a result of her addiction to crack. Custody had initially been awarded to his great grandparents, and custody battles for the boy have involved his birth parents, a grandmother, two great aunts, and a friend, spanning four different states. Essentially, this boy’s life has been negatively impacted by drug addictions of some sort since before he was born.

Addiction advocates have criticized the East Liverpool police for “shaming” people who use drugs; child advocates have criticized the city for failing to obscure the identity of the child, which was done after the images were posted by news agencies. East Liverpool Service-Safety Director, Brian Allen, responded with the following statement:

If we hadn’t, Rhonda Pasek would have received a slap on the wrist and that little boy would have gone back to her – that’s not going to happen now. I doubt she will see that child again (Gould & Graham, 2016).

In the five days that followed the posting of the photograph, East Liverpool, a city of only 11,000 people, saw seven more overdoses and one death from heroin. But, this is just a small vignette of a much larger portrait. On Friday, September 09, Ohio authorities reported at least 21 overdoses in a single day in Akron, OH, bringing the total number of overdose deaths, this year, to 112 in the city. At least 24 people were hospitalized for overdoses, last month, while attending a music festival in the state (Karimi, 2016). In July, along, Akron police reported more than 90 overdoses and eight deaths (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2016).

Ohio’s recently enacted Good Samaritan law offers immunity from prosecution to people trying to get help for someone overdosing on drugs or overdose victims, themselves, who seek assistance. The law, which went into effect, this month, covers people calling 911, contacting a police officer, or taking an overdose victim to a medical facility for up to two times; upon the third time, they would become subject to prosecution. This law, sign by current Ohio Governor, John Kasich, was passed in an effort to provide those offering assistance to overdose victims some measure of protection in the face of Ohio’s clear opioid and heroin abuse epidemic.

HEAL Blog will continue covering the epidemic in the coming weeks with more information and updates as they become available.
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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

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Veteran’s Administration $1.5 Billion for HCV to Expand Coverage

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Veterans Administration logo

Photo Source: VA

The Veteran’s Administration (VA) has requested $1.5 billion in the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) budget in order to treat more veterans for Hepatitis C (HCV). This move comes after the announcement in March that the VA would be expanding treatment protocols to include all veterans in its health system with the virus, regardless of age or progression into liver cirrhosis (Kime, 2016). This coverage expansion was covered in the HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch Report in April, and was recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in the September edition.

With more than $2 billion appropriated for new HCV drugs during the past two years, the VA has treated 65,000 veterans for the virus (Wentling, 2016). One of the primary concerns expressed by veterans’ groups – Disabled Veterans (dot) Org, in particular – has been the rationing of care to only those whose liver fibrosis scores met what they feel are arbitrary measures that focus more on saving money, rather than saving lives. Tom Berge, head of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) health care panel, went so far as to say the following: “When I found out that they were prioritizing the treatments, that’s when I said they were death panels (Krause, 2016).” The “death panels” claim is reminiscent of political arguments against single-payer or Universal healthcare coverage, wherein bureaucrats essentially decide which people would live or die, based on a set of predetermined markers.

The rationing of treatment to the sickest or most financially able to pay is nothing new – public and private insurers and payers, alike, have utilized these formulae and markers in an effort to reduce costs while still maintaining the visage that they “cover” drugs, even if actual utilization on the part of patients is low. With HCV drugs, in particular, many Medicaid and ADAP programs have indicated in their respective Preferred Drug Lists (PDLs) and formularies that they cover the new Direct Acting Agents (DAAs) that are currently considered to be the Standard of Care (SOC) for HCV, only to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) release a guidance in November 2015 reminding Medicaid programs that “cost” was not an acceptable reason to deny coverage. Certain states – Arizona, for example – openly stated that they would not be following said guidance.

The VA currently estimates that 107,000 vets have undiagnosed or untreated HCV (Wentling, 2016), with Vietnam War-era veterans born between 1945 and 1965 being one of the demographics most likely to have been infected, as this generation (generally referred to as “Baby Boomers”) may have been the recipients of blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to the discovery and screening of blood for HCV. It wasn’t until 1992 that widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States.

While this demographic is a target for HCV screening, most new HCV infections occur as a result of sharing syringes or other equipment to inject drugs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Veterans are particularly susceptible to prescription opioid and heroin addiction. According to VA officials, roughly 60% of those returning from deployments from current engagements in the Middle East and 50% of older veterans suffer from chronic pain. That’s compared to about 30% of Americans, nationwide. Additionally, veterans are twice as likely to die of accidental opioid overdoses than non-veterans. Prescriptions for opioid drugs rose by 270% over a twelve-year period by 2013 (Childress, 2016). This places veterans at particular risk of contracting HCV as a result of Injection Drug Use (IDU).

Though the cost of treating HCV are currently astronomical, on a national scale, the VA does benefit from a requirement that drug manufacturers provide the system with the “best price,” though those discounts are currently shielded by Trade Secrets laws that specifically forbid programs from publicizing any deals, discounted prices, or pricing arrangements struck between pharmaceutical companies and payer programs. But, we have asked of our veterans that they make sacrifices to ensure our continued freedom and safety; is any price too high to ensure their continued health and wellbeing if and when they return from battle? I think not.
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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

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A Case of Northern Overexposure

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

The face of Hepatitis C (HCV) continues to change, as the State of Alaska Section of Epidemiology is reporting – nay, warning – of yet another example of rapid increase in HCV rates among people aged 18-29 (State of Alaska, 2016). Of the 1,486 cases of HCV reported in 2015, the aforementioned age group represented 459 of those cases – roughly 31% – putting them on par with people aged 30-49 (461, roughly 31%). The remaining cases in 2015 were seen in people aged 50 or older.

This data conforms to national trends in HCV. While the majority of cases tend to occur within the 50+ age range, the fastest rate of increase continues to exist amongst the young, largely driven by opioid prescription drug and heroin abuse. Injection Drug Use (IDU) is consistently pegged as the largest driver of new infections, and the problem continues to grow and more people are being prescribed addictive prescription opioid drugs for pain management for injuries that may not necessitate them.

While opioid and heroin IDU is a growing problem, Alaska has long been utilizing Harm Reductions methods to attempt to mitigate the harm to IDUs. Four Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs) are currently operating in Alaska in four cities: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, and Juneau. Only once of these cities – Juneau – is present in the hardest hit region of the state, where the rate of infection for 18-29-year-olds saw a 490% increase from 2011-2015. Of further concern is that no SEP programs are operative in other parts of the state, which means that people in those areas are least likely to receive IDU support services.

The State of Alaska is quick to state that these data should not be considered the final word on HCV infections for 2015; many people who are infected with HCV are not diagnosed until years after the initial infection (Juneau Empire, 2016).

In similar news, Clark County in Indiana has become the sixth county in the state to qualify for permission to open an SEP under a 2015 emergency law that allows states to open an approved exchange if the state’s health commissioner declares a public health emergency in the county (. This was in response to a massive outbreak of HIV and HCV in southern Scott County in late-2014/early-2015 related to IDU.

While Clark County has received approval for the opening of an SEP, it spent a full eight months attempting to work out issues with its initial application. The primary issue, according to County Health Commissioner Kevin Burke, was that state officials didn’t support how the SEP would have been funded. Funding for the program was and will be provided by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which has garnered both high praise and sharp criticism in its approach to negotiating contracts with states and counties. After the problematic funding models were hammered out, a second application was submitted and approved.
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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

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