Citizens met to discuss the growing opioid crisis in the Central Valley at a town hall paneled by experts on addiction, recovery and treatment.
The town hall, which was held in the G.L. Johnson Chapel at Peoples Church on Monday, was put on by Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno).
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control 40 people die every day after overdosing on such pain medications as Vicodin and OxyContin — surpassing the daily amount of car accident fatalities. Overdose rates in the Central Valley are higher than the state average.
“After the operation is over, after the pain goes away and after we’re well, sometimes there’s a little ticking time bomb in the medicine cabinet,” Patterson said. “The addiction side of this of this is something that is really breaking lives apart.”
Answering questions were Lisa Smittcamp, Fresno County District Attorney; Dr. Michael Habibe, Saint Agnes Medical Center emergency physician and former U.S. Naval flight surgeon; Dr. Peter Abaci, medical director and co-founder of the renowned Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center; and Flindt Andersen, former addict and founder and president of Patients & Addicts in Need (PAIN).
“There’s so many of these drugs out there,” Andersen said. “We can have any of these drugs delivered in the next 15 minutes right here in this parking lot if we wanted to.”
The panel also dealt with the problem of opioid use in teenagers and young adults.
“The kids get these medicines from the medicine cabinets,” Dr. Habibe said. “I had to call a father who was living in Orange County and tell him that his baby girl — 21-year-old girl — OD’ed and we couldn’t get her back. I don’t ever want to do that again.”
“There is not a young person out there that at least doesn’t know about it,” Andersen said.
In regards to handling the crisis, Drs. Abaci said Habibe noted that overprescription of opioids was a major contributor to the crisis.
“Pain management doesn’t have to equal pill management; there are many addressing a whole host of different problems that we’re struggling with,” Dr. Abaci said. And not only is the pharmaceutical industry somewhat guilty, but there’s plenty of guilt to go around.”
Dr. Abaci further elaborated that insurance plans and health care systems don’t provide the necessary coverage needed for chronic pain issues and addiction, a point further elaborated by Smittcamp.
“So a lot of it is dictated on whether they have insurance,” she said. “And if you don’t have insurance and you need an in-patient program, you better have some financial donor who’s ready to give you five, or ten, or $15,000.”
The panel noted that while painkillers are sometimes necessary, other treatment options are available to addictive personalities, with such alternatives as acupuncture, mediation and even chiropractic care brought up. Andersen further said that in addition, rehabilitation centers needed to be reformed and made more available to those recovering.
“Getting clean is the easy part,” he said. “It’s staying that’s the hard part.”
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