Good morning, everyone. I hope you’re having a good start to the day. I want to talk to you about the president’s commission on combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis. I had an opportunity to download the commission report, which follow President Trump’s speech earlier in the month about the crisis. I want to share some points with you. It’s 138 pages long. I can’t tell you I’ve read every page, but I read what I think are the important bits.
We’re losing 175 people a day in this country to addiction and mental illness, which is staggering. To put that into perspective, if every day, we had a terrorist attack that killed 175 people, I think that gives you some idea as to the nature of what we’re dealing with. Can you imagine if, every day, someone walked into a mall with an assault rifle and killed 175 people? That’s staggering, and frankly, frightening. That’s the number that the commission came out with.
They say, “We’re in the middle of a nationwide crisis.” The top of the list of things they came up with was, “We need money.” I don’t think that’s a secret. I written, blogged, spoken and screamed about it. We need money. We’re front and center of the crisis down here in South Florida. According to the report, only 10% of people who need treatment are getting it. That just shocks me. Of the 175 that we are going to lose today, maybe 17 of them, in theory, have access to treatment. That’s pathetic. It’s not good enough. We have to do something about it. Hopefully something is going to be done about it.
They made a point that there is a requirement that insurance companies start to treat the diseases addiction and mental illness the same way we do for some type of physical ailment. The insurance companies shouldn’t give less coverage to someone who has an addiction issue as opposed to someone who is injured in a car accident.
They talked about drug court. Here in Palm Beach County, we have a drug court. A lot of the counties have drug courts here in Florida. Only 44% of counties in the United States have some form of drug court. We’re taking people that we could send through a court program mandating treatment and we’re giving them a criminal record.
I know from my experience of working 20-plus years in the criminal justice system that most of the people there are there because they have addiction and mental illness issues. We’re taking people that we could help, and keep them out of the system, and we’re punishing them. We’re throwing them in jail. That’s not making things better. It’s making it worse. In addition to treatment, they want to fund drug courts. I think that’s a great idea.
Apparently, they’re looking to do that in the federal system, too. I have a client who is serving time in federal custody who, at one point, had a significant drug addiction issue. It’s well documented. He’s written about it. He’s going to continue writing about it. Having spoken to some of the other inmates who are in custody with him, they have similar issues. They’re talking about having some type of federal drug court. I like that.
Another point is that they want to enhance penalties for people who traffic in Fentanyl. I love this. We have people dropping dead because the heroin down here is laced with Fentanyl. It’s a tranquilizer that’s supposedly coming in from China. It’s being laced into the heroin. It’s deadly the first time out. I love the idea of putting anyone in prison who is trafficking Fentanyl. To me, there is no difference between someone who is trafficking Fentanyl and someone who is trafficking a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a tool to kill people. It can have no other use when it’s being used like this.
They talked about data sharing. We have HIPAA and various state regulations on the sharing of medical information. If someone has been admitted to an emergency room at one particular location, and then they’re admitted to a different ER in another location, the two hospitals don’t know about each other. I like the idea that we’re going to allow some type of sharing about someone’s addiction and mental illness within the medical community. Obviously, we need to respect patients’ privacy. If you want doctors, ERs, hospitals and treatment providers to do their jobs, they need a full history. There’s no point of going into a hospital and complaining about chest pain, and not telling the doctor about various medications that you’re taking. We need to help the doctors and hospitals to do their jobs.
They talked about having the DEA go after the pill mills. I know that we had a big push down here to shut down the pill mills. It’s been well documented with what was going on about five to ten years ago with the George brothers who were making a killing, literally and figuratively. From what I’m hearing, we still have issues down here with people peddling these pain killers. Let’s give the DEA more authority.
There was a Sixty Minutes program recently where they documented some legislation that was passed as a result of Congressman Tom Marino. He is a congressman from Pennsylvania who, along with another congresswoman from Tennessee, managed to get Congress to pass legislation that stripped the DEO of some of its law enforcement authority when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry peddling pills. They are both areas that are very much affected by the opioid crisis. It’s insanity. I think the DEA should have a lot of authority to start making arrests, maybe even of corporate offices, whose corporations are peddling these pills. They know that they are addictive and killing people. We need to give the DEO some authority. Let’s shut some of these guys down.
Another thing in there was a discussion of recovery support services. Here in Palm Beach County, Captain Houston Park of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue has spearheaded a really great program. It helps individuals who come out of the ER after an overdose. It helps those folks to stay clean and gives them access to whatever type of therapy they need. That’s a beautiful thing. As I tell the families that I meet with, getting in recovery and staying in recovery are two different things.
We need to give these folks who are getting in recovery the help to stay in recovery. This is a disease that requires a lifestyle change. We have to give these folks a support system. They need to stay in recovery so that they can be productive. Then they don’t end up back in the emergency room or going to prison. A lot of the great people that I work with are people in recovery. They’ve been through it. They will tell you that you need a support system. I love the idea of recovery support services.
Overall, I think the report reads good. As I’ve said before, this is a problem we could fix if we throw some money at it. I think we need to throw a lot of money at it. We need to make treatment available to everyone. Whether we Marchman Act them or they’re willing to go voluntarily, you have to make that treatment available. Right now, it is not available. The commission says that it’s not available. Ten percent is not acceptable.
One of the first conversations we have when I meet with a family, after we establish that someone meets the criteria for the Marchman Act of involuntary commitment is, where are we sending them? If they don’t have insurance or the ability to pay for treatment, which is not cheap, they will go to a county facility. There will be a waitlist. I think it’s a good start.
Let’s see if Congress puts their money where their mouths are. Hopefully, we can help some people. We can’t rely on government to fix this problem completely. As a society, and our brother’s and sister’s keeper, we have to step up to the plate and say, “We have a problem. What can we do to help?”
Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your neighbors. Say to them, “What can I do to help you?” If you know someone who is dealing with this, send them my way. I’ll give them access to all the free resources that I can. I’m happy to consult with people on a free basis about the Marchman Act. Let’s do something to start moving the conversation forward. Thank you for listening to me talk about the report. Keep up with the comments, suggestions and emails.