By Ryan Rhodes
In an unprecedented move that nearly took my breath away, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy sent a letter this summer to every physician in the country, warning them about the dangers of overdose of prescription opioids such as OxyContin.
The letter urges physicians to take a close look at the pain and the killing caused by painkillers. At the lives destroyed. At the addicts being created.
I was one of them.
I know first hand how easy it is to get hooked on Oxy. And I am only too keenly aware of the devastation the drug causes. I am grateful to be a survivor of the epidemic – too many good friends, lovely beautiful people, were not as lucky. The pain of losing people in their 20s and 30s, my generation, my friends and my own personal history inspired me to look at my own complicity in the epidemic and to open the Manifest Recovery Centers in Los Angeles.
I applaud the Surgeon General for highlighting the horrors of this scourge and for urging doctors to take responsibility for their role in this epidemic. I only hope this letter will spark drug manufacturers to do the same. We are all to blame. And we all have an obligation to help each other out of this darkness.
I was introduced to Oxy through a friend who found a doctor to prescribe it to him for his back. We’re active, healthy Millennials with no need for potent pain medication. But the prescription was legit. At least on the surface. Within a year, I was a full-blown junkie. I ruined relationships and destroyed lives. I poisoned myself and others all in service to Oxy.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opioids claim more than 78 lives a day. That’s over 28,000 a year, and the body count keeps growing. The powerful prescription has led to a resurgence in addiction to heroin and other opiates. Unless drugmakers and doctors wake up to their responsibility in this epidemic, these tragic losses will continue to grow.
Dr. Murthy’s letter is a powerful step by the healthcare profession. I’d like to see the drug makers make a move that is equally bold and honest.
The president, both presidential hopefuls and a long line of lawmakers all say that more needs to be done to prevent OxyContin from getting into the wrong hands. But this spring, the federal government passed a law to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to sell its drugs to “pill mills.”
Instead of prosecuting drug companies that knowingly pass their pills into the hands of addicts and dealers, the law allows companies to submit a “corrective action plan” to the Drug Enforcement Administration to postpone or prevent action against them.
This is the equivalent of making drug companies write “I will not sell my powerfully addictive pills to dealers” 100 times on a chalkboard and calling it a day.
The bill is so misguided, a top DEA official for regulation of pharmaceutical firms quit his job in disgust over it. I’m disgusted over it. Unless more people become disgusted too, the bodies will keep piling up.
Earlier this summer, the president signed legislation passed by Congress that is supposed to help communities develop treatment and overdose programs for opioid abuse. While Congress patted itself on the back, Senator Charles Schumer said, “This bill is like a Hollywood movie set – something that appears real on the surface but has no substance and no life behind its façade.”
If lawmakers won’t stop this runaway train, the drug makers have a social responsibility to put on the breaks. But there is no 12-step program to rehabilitate drug manufacturers.
This summer the L.A. Times published an exposé of Purdue Pharma that showed what every dealer and junkie already knows: Prescription painkillers are gold mines. Money can be extremely addicting, but unless pharmaceutical companies want more blood on their hands, they’re going to have to get off the sauce. Regulate yourselves. Flag suspicious sales to the DEA. If you’re in the business of making people well, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure you’re not complicit in making people very, very sick.
I’ve made a change. I’m sober. I’m passionate about helping others find the joy and pleasure in lasting sobriety. That’s why I created a drug alcohol detox and treatment facility in Los Angeles that treats trauma, which I learned from my own experience, is at the heart of addiction.
In his letter, the Surgeon General writes, “I know solving this problem will not be easy. … But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic.”
I’m doing my part to help people recover from this epidemic. The Surgeon General is doing his part to slow the devastation down. It’s time the makers of these drugs do their part to put an end to it entirely.