Editors' Notebook

Opioid Crisis Continues

Greg D Horstmeier
By  Greg D Horstmeier , DTN Editor-in-Chief
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While painkillers can help people who need them, they can also be very addictive. (DTN file photo)

The opioid drug crisis in this country has gotten a lot of attention lately, including a multi-part series we ran on DTN digital platforms early this year. Despite all the coverage, the issue -- too many very addictive drugs in too many hands -- is not going away anytime soon.

We can make some of the drugs go away. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency is calling a national "Prescription Drug Take Back Day," in which you can drop off prescription drugs, no questions asked, at secure locations. These include local police departments, or at drop-off points at schools, pharmacies, or other public locations that will be staffed by local law enforcement.

We're carrying full information on that, in the form of a guest column from Jim Carroll, current U.S. drug czar, in our Letters to Editor and guest editorial sections. (See https://www.dtnpf.com/…) The DEA website, for more information including a search function for local drop off points, is at https://takebackday.dea.gov/….

Prescription painkillers, particularly the opioids such as OxyContin, remain a serious problem both for medicine users and for society. To be clear, many pain sufferers badly need the relief these products provide and are using them appropriately. That's not what we're talking about here.

We're talking about, for example, the Wall Street Journal recent reports that federal prosecutors charged a gaggle of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others in the healing professions with illegally distributing approximately 32 million pain pills. As Carroll notes in his column, 6 million people misused prescription drugs in 2017, the latest data available. Most of these drugs were reportedly obtained from friends or family, plucked from the medicine chest.

I'm ashamed to admit I know of the addictive nature of these opioids all too well. To start, I am blessed to not have an "addictive" personality, whatever that means. My psyche, and I guess my body chemistry, have given me a "take it or leave it" stance on most things. I've smoked, and quit, really without much fanfare. I've chewed, and quit. I can walk into a bar and have a beer or two, or none, and walk out. Throughout my life, I have had many acquaintances who simply cannot do those things. They struggle mightily to give up the cancer sticks, to go a day, or even a few hours without a dip. Friends who, when bellying up to the bar, can't have just one. Rather, they can't stop saying "one more" until they're smashed. For the longest time, I could not understand that lack of self-control. Quitting simply took discipline, I thought.

Then, due to a messy lower back problem, I was introduced to Mr. OxyContin, and his buddy, Mr. Percocet. For several months at the turn of this millennium, my ability to function was dependent on my two new friends. I was eating four, five, eight pills a day. And, surprisingly, I continued writing and editing content with zesto. I put out entire editions of a rather well-known farm magazine from the comfort, and opioid haze, of my bed. At the first twinge of pain, or even if I imagined it coming, I'd pop another white pill and keep forging on.

Finally, my doctor -- seeing how quickly I was going through my monthly prescription -- cut me off. Cold turkey. And I learned what "the sweats and shakes" are all about.

Now, my experience was all a cakewalk compared to what others have had to deal with trying to shake the hold opioids can have. My problem was nipped early. But it scared the hell out of me. I knew I never again wanted those things within my grasp. I long thought if those drugs can sink their claws into someone like me, then others, with different chemistries and personalities, don't stand a chance.

We don't plug many causes within these pages. Our total focus is on supplying the best business-decision information for those who make their living farming or being involved in agriculture. So excuse me if I step up on a soapbox for a brief minute.

First, if you have an addiction problem, do something about it. Call a professional, call your pastor, call a friend you trust. Start the process.

If you think you don't, but you have those medications hanging around in the back of the medicine cabinet "for those days when you just need to take the edge off," gather them up this weekend. And drop them off where they're in safe hands.

If you have other leftover meds, regardless of what they were for, drop-off facilities will take them too. Even vitamins of questionable vintage are acceptable. It's really not a good idea to flush any of those things, since the level of medicinal contamination in many waterways is astonishing.

By the way, that opioid series we published in December, written by DTN Staff Reporter Todd Neeley and edited by DTN Associate Managing Editor Elaine Shein, was a finalist in the Jesse H. Neal Awards for business journalism, and is doing well in other national contests. More importantly, Neeley has a wonderful collection of "thank you" notes from readers all over rural America. That's a high no drug can give you, I have to say.

Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at greg.horstmeier@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @greghorstmeier

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GREG.HORSTMEIER2
5/1/2019 | 1:16 PM CDT
No offense taken, Monty, and we encourage fair critique and criticism any time. I agree that it's such a hard line between proper regulation and complete overstepping. People like to criticize "bureaucracies" for that. Frankly, bureaucracies are just groups of people. And history is full of examples where people, when grouped together, tend to make more poor choices than good ones. And thanks for your concern--for the record I did get that situation fixed, by finding a doctor who was more practiced than practicing. I learned that doctors are like small town diners. If one diner has a full parking lot, and the other's lot is mostly bare, go to the full one and be patient for a place to sit. It's usually worth the wait!
Monty Miller
4/26/2019 | 3:54 PM CDT
I do understand, and I sure hope that you got things corrected from your surgery. I guess that's why it's called practicing medicine! I also see your point about flushing medication, who knows the ramifications of that tainted water that can most certainty get into our rivers and streams and I hate to say it drinking water. Along with God knows what else! My rant was only about the increasing difficulty for people who really need these types of medications. I remember hearing for one example John Kasich among others saying if I get elected people will only get a week's worth of these types of medications! I thought say what? It's a pain already to get it for 3 months and now for one month! No vote for you! It really seems like it's the talking points of the month club. Like oh' what's popular to be for or against this month to make me more popular? I myself am a very the less government the better type of guy. Next they'll probably tax oxycodone to death, who knows? Have you ever noticed when something is taxed that when that thing is found out not to be the problem it was thought to be, never is untaxed? But I digress, as I tend to do. (Sorry). Ya, it is a problem out there, but we as a country have much bigger problems to tend to first! But the way things seem to be headed who knows? Maybe people in my situation will have to choose disability? But I'd rather be in the tractor! Sorry if I appeared to be attacking you, and offended you or anyone else. God bless.
GREG.HORSTMEIER2
4/26/2019 | 1:19 PM CDT
Monty: As I noted in my piece, I'm not at all talking about individuals who need these medicines, and use them responsibly under doctor supervision. But doctors always tell you to use your prescription until empty. They don't say take half, and keep the rest around just in case. And that's the issue that the opioid coverage in general is getting at. The pills sitting around that shouldn't be. The court cases -- there was just another announced yesterday -- are of course about folks pushing pills to make a buck. For anyone caught up in that, the drug take-back is a way to get out of it and get rid of those pills. Perfect, no. Of course, dropping drugs off at the police station doesn't make some people very comfortable, either. But then I'm sure you can appreciate that a collection of high-value opioids needs a little more guarding than your local pharmacist can provide. I truly understand your points on proper use, this whole effort, and my reason for writing about it, was about uses other than proper. I'm sorry to read about your situation, truth is the whole reason I got into the pickle I was in was I went for surgery, and it went wrong. Happens more than many realize. As for the issue of insurance companies shutting off legitimate patients because of the black eye these things have received, that's a growing part of this tragedy. But again, the purpose for the drug day, and our covering it, was just to do what it was intended to do. Give folks who want to get rid of them a way to do so, and without flushing them. That was a minor point in my piece, but that's probably a bigger issue than most folks realize as well. Just the meds that we "flush" after taking them is causing some contamination issues. Flushing them raw, out of the pill bottle, only makes that worse. Appreciate your comments.
Monty Miller
4/25/2019 | 12:54 PM CDT
Again continued from above! People that need pain management stop the restrictions for the doctors that prescribe them! Legally! It's almost like gun control, yes there are people that use them in a wrong and terrible way but most do not and it IS our right to have them. But shouldn't the people that need pain relief be able to get it? Without the government overreach? They're trying to cut the headache by cutting off the head. And whatever happened to personal responsibility? Who is really actually responsible for a heroin overdose?
Monty Miller
4/25/2019 | 12:35 PM CDT
Continued from above. Like I was saying my wife works at a orthopedic and pain management office for a large healthcare facility, she said due to all the new laws and regulations that a doctor would be crazy to practice in pain management! And the few that did have left! My current doctor has lowered and lowered the dosage of my pain medication and I have just been informed that from my current 3 month evaluation that it's now monthly! So now 2 more office visits and 2 more payments for the office visits that are not covered by our insurance! Let alone to find the time for those increased visits! As I said above I farm and also help take care of my mother along with my 2 sisters who needs 24/7 care as she has advanced alzheimer's disease, we watch her in her home because that's the way she would have wanted it, let alone the outrageous amount of money that a nursing home charges! So what I am saying is ya the opioid restrictions sound good in theory, but doe's anyone with half a brain really realize the repercussions of these restrictions? My opinion is to try to stop the illegal opioids from coming across our borders where the heroin and fentanyl comes from drug test the welfare recipients, crackdown on the drug dealers. But for the people who really need painmanag
Monty Miller
4/25/2019 | 11:58 AM CDT
It sounds like a great plan! Not! What about the people that actually need for example oxycontin to be able to function? I realize there's way to many deaths from overdoses and also addiction which is a terrible thing! Don't get me wrong! But there are also many people I am one example, well I'll share my story as a example. I have had back issues for at least 20-30 years, several bad disks, vertebra, arthritis and excruciating sciatic nerve pain was told this was due to my occupation (farmer) also hereditary, my Father suffered the majority of his life in terrible pain from his back, would see him many times as a kid watching him get off the tractor and lay on the ground in pain. Well I am only 57 years old. (I said ONLY 57? Man after seeing it in writing does make me feel old!) Anyway, I have been to many doctors, surgeons even one who teaches back surgery! He and the others said well there's really nothing we can do, we do not think surgery is an option, just pain and antinflamitory drugs. My wife works at a orthopedic office