In northeast Ohio there has been considerable conversation in the media relating to what should be done with a revived heroin addict following overdose. Today, I had what was originally considered an opportunity, but now thought of as a privilege to meet with Mr. Vince Peterson of US Congressman (D-13) Tim Ryan's Office. Tim Ryan and his staff are fully committed to fighting the heroin epidemic and are open to any and all ideas the public has to offer. Vince and I had a very candid conversation and he was eager to hear what I had to say. I am very grateful for having met him and I wish him the best in all of his endeavors - most especially fighting the opiate epidemic.
In the book, Heroin - Living and Dying with an Addict You Love, How to Survive When Everyone Dies, I tell the story of my son's overdose and the aftermath that followed. One thing that was stressed to me by the police officers just after his revival was to not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, allow the hospital to discharge my son from the Emergency Room unless he was going directly to Detox. At the time, I did not know what they were talking about, but I followed their advice. Since that time, I give anyone in a similar situation the same advice; I go so far s to tell parents to break their child's legs if you have to. Broken legs are better than dead.
IF YOU GET NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS ARTICLE, GET THIS! There is no better time to persuade an addict into treatment than following a near death experience when they are already "in the system" of medical care. Likewise, there is no worse time to release an addict to the public than just after revival from an overdose. This is a paradoxical time - it is both the best chance for his or her recovery and the best chance for him or her to get their final fix before death.
Unfortunately, "the system" does not support the idea of keeping a revived addict in the hospital. In fact, it seems all too common that the hospital cannot wait to get rid of them. Why? Why is it that a person who was dead only a few hours ago can be released only to toy with death again that same day?
If you have experienced this, or have read the book, you know that the answer is not really too complicated. In fact, it is so simple it is stupid. Once an addict is revived, the hospital keeps them long enough to make sure they are medically stable and not a risk of suicide. Once those 2 conditions are met, the addict is free to leave. They usually do leave, in a state of semi-withdrawal due to the Narcan used to revive them, and generally eager to get "a fix" to relieve the withdrawal symptoms. The eager desire to get "a fix" often leads to yet another overdose. Hopefully, the ER will see them again, if not, the coroner will.
I am not certain, but I can only guess that the real reasons have to do with money. Obviously if there is no risk of suicide and a person is "medically stable" there is no diagnosis code that the hospital can use to bill an insurance company. No insurance, no money, means no bed, and soon you will be dead. That's just "the system." I get it - but when is someone going to rationally and logically going to question "the system." Will it take 16 Ohioans dying everyday and 180 Americans? What is our tolerance to this killer?
I can tell you as an American of 51 years, I cannot believe how high the death threshold is for this killer. We are facing 100,000 dead Americans in less than 6 years! Nearly twice the number of servicemen and women killed in Vietnam and a full fifteen times the number of Americans killed during the ongoing war on terror. Yet there is no uprising, there is no protest, there is no outcry for morality. Just yawns and head scratches during another death filled evening newscast.
What do parent's want? They want their children treated as persons with a terminal mental illness and kept in medical care until they are no longer a threat of sudden overdose death. But there is more
We appreciate the so called Good Samaritan Law, where our kids won't be tagged with felonies which result in a lifetime ban on most civil rights. If you are not familiar with these now popular laws, they provide amnesty for the addict and the person calling 911 in the event of an overdose. It is designed to remove any excuse for not calling 911 when a person is dying from drug overdose. These laws work. But you know what? Most parents want you to put our kid in jail! Parents battling the addiction of a child never rest, the strain of fear and depression destroys any chance of rest. We can actually relax knowing that our kid is "safe" in jail. An incarcerated addict is a safe addict, an alive addict.
I don't know the best policy, nor the best process for getting an addict clean following their contact with "the system," but I do know that whatever is implemented today doesn't work. I want to see the a policy where an addict who is revived from overdose is entered into a mandatory 10-day detox. It doesn't have to be medicated - let them feel the pain. But at least if they are kept for 10 days, their physical dependence is over. They won't have to run out and use to feel better physically - they will have a chance, maybe even a conscious opportunity to enter the addiction phase of treatment knowing the pain of it is over. 10 days in jail? 10 days on a farm? 10 days in a hospital, 10 days in a church, 10 days on Alcatraz - I don't care. But at the very least, the system should remove the physical dependence before letting an addict go free.
"For an heroin addict, a sentence of no sentence is a death sentence."
Oh, I almost forgot, the Big Pharmaceutical Companies should pay for getting their customers clean. After all, they started this epidemic.
6/25/17: Final Edition Heroin Herald and Overdose Observer
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