By Michael Hill
“When I was in medical training I was taught that opioids were not addictive so long as you gave them to someone who had legitimate pain,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
The nation’s top doctor told this standing room only audience at St. Barnabas Medical Center that’s a huge part of what’s led to America’s addiction crisis. He said diagnosing for addiction should be as commonplace as measuring blood pressure.
“I believe the time has come for us to take a similar approach when it comes to addiction and that we need every clinician to be trained in the basics to understand how to diagnose use disorders and how to treat them as well,” said Murthy.
The surgeon general brought his Turn the Tide Tour to New Jersey at the request of Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker. Also, from the Obama Administration the undersecretary of veterans affairs.
“This is an area where VA is leading American medicine.” said David Shulkin, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shulkin says the nation’s war veterans have a much higher rate of chronic pain than the general population, but the VA recognized the over-prescription issue and used alternative approaches to treat pain.
“So VA had to start addressing this issue. Back in 2013 we launched a major initiative to reduce opioid use and since 2013 we have reduced opioid use in the veteran population by over 22 percent, that’s 151,000 less veterans that we’ve taken off opioids,” he said.
Congress has failed to fund the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act. Sens. Menendez and Booker were asked if they think Congress has done enough to fight the addiction crisis.
“I think the technical term would be hell no,” said Booker.
“When we have an emerging crisis, whether it be Zika or in this case the opioid challenge, we need to address that challenge as if we were addressing any national defense issue,” Menendez said.
The surgeon general announced a new website for doctors and urged medical professionals to take some concrete steps to address the opioid addiction crisis: look for alternatives to opioids, if they prescribe them start with a 3-day supply, educate about the level of concern and prescribe naloxone to reverse an overdose. He demonstrated one with audible instructions but without a needle on the undersecretary.
It’s a welcomed approach says Elaine Pozycki whose son became addicted to prescription painkillers and heroin and died of an overdose.
“That would be more or less closing the barn door before the horse gets out,” said Pozycki from the Partnership for a Drug-Free NJ.
Considering all other ailments, issues and diseases the surgeon general says he spends 50 percent of his working time on fighting addiction in America.
“I’m not surprised, I mean when you really look at the numbers and you look at the death toll,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.
Coronato says despite all the efforts, opioid overdose deaths are outpacing last year’s numbers in Ocean County and he blames dealers for lacing heroin with more potent and addictive chemicals — a sign, he says, the crisis he says is worsening.
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.