Deaths due to opioid and heroin overdoses in South Carolina are close to matching the number of people killed on our state’s roads each year. The opioid epidemic in South Carolina reflects a growing problem in the rest of the country that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Over the last year, The Wall Street Journal has released a series of articles which focus on how synthetic painkillers have become a “global menace”. This past week, the paper reported that several executives of the pharmaceutical company, Insys, had been indicted or are being actively investigated for fraud and bribery in the distribution of Subsys, which is one of several fentanyl drugs that are absorbed through the mouth or nose. The drug is designed for the treatment of extreme cancer pain but the delivery method allows for the pain-relieving and euphoric effects to take hold rapidly. This leads to a significant risk of addiction, overdose and death. Doctors are responsible for making sure the risks of the drug are outweighed by the benefits each patient may experience. The U.S. Department of Justice and state prosecutors have been cracking down on Doctors who have allegedly overprescribed this medication in exchange for payments considered to be bribes by the pharmaceutical industry. (Source: The Wall Street Journal.)
While our criminal justice system is becoming more proactive in addressing the flood of these high powered opioids into the marketplace, Employers are also stepping up to help treat opioid addiction and avoid the tragic consequences caused by dependency on these drugs. Companies are beginning to recognize and address opioid addiction among their employees. Recent studies have revealed that opioid dependence in the workplace leads to significant decreases in productivity and higher costs in health insurance and other expenses that affect a company’s bottom line. Employers are now more closely monitoring opioid prescriptions and use by their employees through case-management programs. Pharmacy-benefits managers are being asked by companies to flag opioid prescriptions, notifying physicians and pharmacists if patients appear to be pill shopping or receiving excessive dosages. Alternatives to treatment for pain are being made available to workers including massage, physical therapy and acupuncture. Most employee health insurance policies include treatment options for opioid addiction and are confidential and available at no cost to employees. Employees should discuss treatment options with their physician or other healthcare professional if suffering from opioid dependency.
The opioid epidemic is also being fought by parents in preventing opioid use and abuse by their children. Acting U.S. Attorney, Beth Drake, along with law enforcement and other state and local officials are reaching out to parents and encouraging them to take opioid use seriously and begin discussing the topic with their kids as early as middle school. During a roundtable discussion in September, Drake encouraged parents to the following recommendations were offered to parents watch a 49 minute video produced by the DEA called, “Chasing the Dragon” which is viewable on Youtube. The video dramatically tells how so-called normal people get addicted and die. Also, parents should safely dispose of any unused prescription medication which may be sitting around in the house. For more information discussed at the recent roundtable event, see John Monk’s report in The State Newspaper.
Over the last ten years, I have seen the effects of opioid addiction not only in my criminal defense practice, but also in family court and personal injury cases. Opioids are by far the most addictive and most available drugs out there today. Unfortunately, most of the individuals who develop an addiction to opioids begin taking the drugs as prescribed by their doctors. Individuals suffering from opioid addiction should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to get help. There are confidential, free programs available. If you need more information, please feel free to contact me or any of the lawyers at our firm.