President Obama Announces Measures to Fight Nation’s Deadly Overdose Epidemic
Hosts Panel of Experts, Parents to Talk Solutions
CHARLESTON, W.V. – President Barack Obama on his trip to Charleston Wednesday held a public forum with the people of the city, announcing a 2-fold plan to drastically cut opiate overdose deaths and put Naloxone (a known antidote to heroin overdose) in the hands of more first responders.
“I am a person in long-term recovery,” Jordan Cofflin kicking off the event. “I stand before you as a proud, hard-working, resilient, grateful man who has overcome many obstacles.”
Cofflin went on to say that the the word “normal” is simply a setting on a dryer, and that he and his sister were raised by pretty normal parents. All of that changed, he told the crowd, when he traded in cd’s for prescription painkillers. Cofflin says those years were marked by hopelessness, despair and desperation.
“Those feelings exhibited themselves in erratic behavior,” says Cofflin. “Lies, car accidents, isolation, legal issues and an accidental overdose that left me in a coma for almost 5 days. This story does not reflect my worth as a person, nor do any of the stories you might hear today. This story is a reflection of what happened after my life was put on hold by six little pills. The man you see before you is the man I always was, even in those moments.”
Cofflin, now a Peer Recovery Specialist with Youth Services Systems, says the only reason he is there today is because there is hope for recovery – a message the President hopes to echo with 2 shifts in drug policy aimed at education and implementation.
The President called for more federal training among healthcare providers in the distribution of pain medication, and also announced a mandate that federal insurance programs provide treatment for addiction. In addition, the President urged other states to adopt West Virginia’s policy that all doctors who prescribe opioids receive specialized training. The President also called for widespread distribution of the drug Naloxone (a known antidote for heroin overdose), and urged knowledge of how to administer the drug be provided for on a federal level.
This could not come at a better time for our nation. At 20,000/year, overdose is the leading cause of death involving injury, over traffic accidents. In the state of Tennessee alone 1000 babies were born addicted to prescription painkillers last year.
“We raise our children in loving homes. We teach them morals and values. We teach them the difference between right and wrong. We wonder what is happening when the grades start slipping. When things that used to be enjoyable no longer interest them. We’re confused as to the cause of the personality changes we see in them. We’re shocked when we hear of that first DUI. We’re fearful when they’re taken to jail for the first time. We’re embarrassed when holidays approach, and family members are coming in from out of town, and they can’t interact because they’re under the influence of drugs. We dread the next phone call. We can’t sleep because we haven’t received a phone call. We don’t take vacations for fear of the next crisis.” -Carey Dixon, mother of son currently in jail, told President Obama, on what it’s like to be the parent of an addict.
Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster praised the city’s LEAD program (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) in which a person is given the choice of jail or treatment. Of the 39 people who have received treatment through the program this year, only one has been re-arrested.
President Obama heralded the cause as a bipartisan effort supported by both Democrats and Republicans. In our experience on Capitol Hill, this is very much true. Politicians on both sides of the aisle know or have known someone lost to addiction, and agree that our government’s long-term asinine approach to addiction treatment isn’t working.
Most in the audience praised Obama for mandating addiction coverage among federal insurance companies, but fear what will happen to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” with the leave of this Administration. Other woes regarding the President’s announcement: States control most of the legislation regarding prescriptions and training. So, while the President can require federal insurance companies comply with addiction coverage, and can aid in providing education and distribution of Naloxone, requiring providers to undergo additional training for the prescribing of narcotics will be left up to state government, barring a federal mandate. Currently 10 states require the training, including the state of West Virginia.
Overall, we’re proud of the President’s proposal to wake up and provide more treatment for those who need it, versus incarceration of poorer communities who don’t have access to it. If ever there was a War on Drugs, we lost it. What we can count on now is not incarceration and criminalization, but health care, treatment and restoration.