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Hardly more than a century ago, opium concoctions of all sorts were freely sold over the counter in home remedies and “cure-alls” for dozens of ailments. Addiction and newer drugs, however, eventually led to the creation of prescription laws by mid-century.
By the 1990s, though, a few powerful pharmaceutical companies were peddling their brands of opioid painkillers as “non-addictive” and urged doctors to offer patients “free samples” and hospitals to prescribed them ever more freely. The full details of this story now fill dozens of books, but many people trace today’s opioid epidemic, at least in part, back to that occasion. Opioids are powerfully addictive and today Americans use more painkillers than the rest of the world.
Now Leading the Charge
Fortunately, doctors and hospitals are now among the leaders in the fight against such false advertising and its deadly consequences.
“It is like the tobacco companies who used to deny that smoking caused lung cancer,” said a current Chautauqua County official involved in this issue. The county has now joined a class action lawsuit against “Big Pharma”. It is fashioned after the famed, multi-billion dollar Tobacco Settlement which forced “Big Tobacco” to help foot the bill for its own misdeeds.
Public Invited to Join Forces
Under the banner of “Our Community Stands Together”, the public is invited to “The Many Faces of Addiction: No One Cause, No One Solution” on Wednesday, November 15 at 6:30 pm in Jamestown Community College’s Scharmann Theatre. This event is billed as a vital conversation on addiction prevention, causes and the newest treatment options, along with health care and law enforcement partners collaborating in the fight. There is no charge and light refreshments will be served starting at 6:00.
A question and answer panel will follow. Dr. Lillian V. Ney, Chair of the Health Care Action Team (HCAT), will moderate the program. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Mental Health Association (MHA) Advisory Board have joined forces with HCAT to produce this second in a series of ongoing public discussions and collaborations on the topic.
Sponsors and Collaborators*
A Fresh Start
Addiction Response Ministry
Burgett & Robbins LLP
Chautauqua Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council
Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System
Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce
Chautauqua County Dept. Health/Human Services
Chautauqua County Dept. Mental Hygiene
City of Jamestown
County of Chautauqua
Jamestown Area Medical Associates-GLPP
Jamestown Community College
Southern Tier Environments for Living
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
The Chautauqua Center
The Resource Center
United Christian Advocacy Network
United Way of Southern Chautauqua County
UPMC Chautauqua WCA
*More are expected to join this program by 11/15
Regardless of how an addiction begins, it changes the brain just as clearly as a fall of any kind can break a bone. No matter the cause, the result is a damaged part of the body. “Brain circuits are altered over time by addiction and the changes cannot be reversed in short order,” Dr. Ney explained. “There are definite anatomical and neurobiological changes with all addictions. These changes may take years to reverse.”
The causes of addiction can include a now known genetic susceptibility in some people in which the first dose, whether prescribed or recreational, can trigger the immediate onset of a full addiction. Mental health issues can also lead to addiction susceptibility, as can loneliness, social isolation, psychic trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome, sexual abuse and physical injury requiring pain control. Risk-taking behavior with gateway drugs such as marijuana and alcohol also accounts for many, but far from all addictions.
Because there are so many causes, many different people become addicted, calling for many different strategies to find cures.
In addiction, as with any other illness, stereotypes are useless. Addiction has many faces. Locally, the “typical” addict is found to be a 25-year-old Caucasian female with many community connections.
“We want to humanize the face of addiction, it’s impact and its trauma,” said Kia Briggs, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association, “We don’t want it to ostracize people for it. Addiction has a trickle-down effect; it influences the whole family, friends and community. It touches everybody and everybody needs to be part of the cure, for themselves as well as for the addict.”
“Only about 1 out of every 14 people who need help with an addiction, according to some estimates, actually access the help they need,” said Andrew O’Brien, current consultant and former director of behavioral health, UPMC-Chautauqua-WCA. As a result, among the many faces of addiction too many remain anonymous. Many years ago, according to O’Brien, the progressive nature of a person’s addiction might have taken years to develop, allowing time for intervention. “Today, it can happen in days,” he said. “Now my immediate goal sometimes has more to do with keeping people alive than behavior modification.”
“It is important to understand that addictive drugs stimulate the pleasure seeking neurological pathways of the brain, releasing dopamine, eventually leading to a craving that physically must be met,” Dr. Ney pointed out. “In the last analysis, and perhaps a surprise to some, addiction leads to a medical condition – an actual disease. It is not a moral failing, and this issue has been hard for some to understand, leading to a stigma that may hinder access to and progress in treatment.”
“Addiction is a health issue,” Obrien added. “It is a disease and should not be fragmented into behavioral health or addiction alone.” This makes the patient’s physician an important collaborator, not merely a source of referral to someone else.
Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney, Moderator
Karen McElrath, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice, Fayetteville, State University, North Carolina
Davina Moss-King, PhD, Positive Direction and Associates, Buffalo
Andrew O’Brien, Current Consultant and former Director of Behavioral Health, UPMC-Chautauqua-WCA
Leanna Luka-Conley, Deputy Commissioner of Adult, Children and Family Services, Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human
Chief Harry Snellings, Police Chief/Director of Public Safety, City of Jamestown
Reverend Luke Fodor, Rector, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jamestown
Some strategies are simple and practical, like the limit now in place to the number of pills – over a specific number of days – a physician can prescribe for acute pain, with no refills allowed.
Collaboration, an integrated team approach, is critical. Many organizations have joined hands to work together, learn together and understand the dynamics of the epidemic and work towards prevention as well as a treatment approach.
“We know that between 90 and 140 people die from drug overdoses across the country every day,” O’Brien added. He credits County Executive Vince Horrigan, along with Chautauqua County Community Mental Hygiene Services Director Patricia Brinkman, for responding to the crisis by establishing the county’s Treatment Action Team immediately after Horrigan took office.
Law enforcement authorities are also examining the role of criminalization or de-criminalization, mandated long-term care and methods for community reintegration, which may factor into the overall patterns of prevention, treatment and collaboration within the system.
Jamestown Police Chief and Director of Public Safety Harry Snellings will address these and other issues at the November 15 event and take part in the Q & A panel afterward.
Jamestown native Karen McElrath, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice, Fayetteville, State University, North Carolina, was a participant in the first public forum on this topic two years ago and will return to contribute again on this aspect of Many Faces & Many Causes.
“It is clear that crises of various kinds bring people of many backgrounds together to help each other in a caring way,” Dr. Ney said. “Empathy is indispensable for everyone in this field.”
“We know that this is the current situation in our area and we are proud of and thankful to those who are helping. We hope you will join us on Wednesday, November 15th as we explore a problem that weighs heavily on many people.”
To learn more, see “The Many Faces of Addiction” on Facebook.