The powerful painkiller Zohydro is scheduled to hit U.S. markets this week, but health care advocates are desperately pushing for a last-minute repeal. As it stands, such a reprieve looks unlikely.
Zohydro seeks to provide relief for those suffering from chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis, but the drug has raised eyebrows due to it being the first pure hydrocodone medication to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in addition to the controversial manner in which it was approved.
Concerns of Zohydro abuse and addiction were heightened further due to the pills being easily crushable, meaning the medication can be snorted or injected. Although Zogenix, the manufacturers of Zohydro, announced plans to release a non-crushable version of the drug, it will take one to three years for it to hit the market. Zohydro is also up to five times stronger than other opioid medications for pain management that are currently on the market, including Vicodin and Oxycontin. “It will kill people as soon as it’s released,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of the advocacy group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “It’s a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule.”
The drug was approved by the FDA last October despite the advisory committee they brought together voting against releasing it by 11-2. U.S. senators Joe Manchino (D-WV) and David Vitter (R-LA) have since launched a bribery investigation after an FDA official allegedly accepted money from pharmaceutical companies in order to obtain a seat on an FDA advisory panel meeting; a spokesman for the FDA has denied the allegations.
Statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that prescription opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999, from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010. Meanwhile, painkiller abuse has been instrumental in the surge in heroin addiction over the last few years.
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The Huffington Post asked attendees of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and found that a majority - many of whom displayed their libertarianism with "Stand with Rand" shirts - supported the legalization of marijuana, with many freely admitting to smoking pot. This may surprise some, but the results are consistent with the still-climbing numbers of U.S. citizens who support legal pot.
The reasons given at the CPAC for legalization ranged from imprisoning fewer non-violent criminals, revenue boosts from taxes, and "because freedom." See some of the answer's to The Huffington Post's questions below:
Do you support decriminalization? "I support the legalization of marijuana because I recognize that [current drug policy is] simply not working. It's a pretty racist policy. We see minorities being locked up for marijuana possession at an exorbitant rate compared to white males. I also think from an economic standpoint, it doesn't make sense to arrest these folks and spend all this money in law enforcement focusing on something that has been proven to be less dangerous than alcohol."
Have you ever smoked weed? "Yes."
Do you support decriminalization? "Yeah, I do. I think it could be profitable when it's taxed. Also, our criminal system has enough people incarcerated in it. I really don't think people should go to jail for smoking a joint."
Have you ever smoked weed? "Yeah."
Do you support decriminalization? "I think it's just like any other drug. It just needs to be monitored. I don't see any problem with it."
Have you ever smoked weed? "Yeah, everyone has. Anyone who says otherwise is lying."
Leaving behind a terrible example in his wake, Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault, a priest who headed a leading treatment center for clergy with sexual and addiction problems, is going to prison for theft. When his crimes became public, Arsenault resigned as head of the St. Luke Institute, which is just outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. After pleading guilty, Arsenault will spend at least four years in a New Hampshire prison under a plea deal with prosecutors.
The charges against Arsenault ranged from stealing money from his home diocese in New Hampshire, from a Catholic hospital, and from the estate of a deceased priest. For years, prosecutors showed how Arsenault was siphoning money from the diocese and through a consulting contract he had with Catholic Medical Center, a leading hospital in the state. In addition, Arsenault also stole from the estate of Monsignor John Molan, a Manchester priest who died in 2010.
In 2009, Arsenault took a $170,000-a-year position as CEO of St. Luke’s, a rehab center in Silver Spring, Maryland. Known for treating priests who had sexually abused children, the center deals primarily with priests, nuns, and brothers who have a range of other issues as well, including depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors. An internal investigation by St. Luke’s found no evidence of fraud while Arsenault was there.
As opposed to walking the walk as a member of the clergy, Arsenault continues the disturbing trend of religious figures staining the reputation of the Catholic Church. The Manchester diocese reported that the investigation against Arsenault began in early 2013 when church officials received a report that the priest was involved in a “potentially inappropriate adult relationship.” The nature of that relationship has not been revealed, but investigation did turn up the string of Arsenault’s financial improprieties and crimes.
In a weekly video address, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called rising heroin overdoses an "urgent and growing public health crisis" and promised that the Justice Department is committed to helping solve the problem with new enforcement strategies and treatment initiatives.
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates - including certain prescription painkillers – is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life - and all too often, with deadly results," Holder said. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."
Heroin overdose deaths rose 45 percent between 2004 and 2010, and heroin seizures along the US-Mexico border went up by 320 percent in 2008. Holder blames the rise in prescribed medications. "Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to - and increase in - heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we’ve seen over the past decade."
On the Drug War front, Holder said the DEA would adopt new strategies to hit the whole drug supply chain and is laying plans to "prevent storefront drug traffickers from obtaining DEA registrations," and peddling prescription medications from legitimate drug stores.
Holder vowed to work with doctors, educators, and law enforcement officials to educate the public and potentially improve treatment. He also urged first responders to carry naloxone, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid overdose almost instantly, as more than 10,000 lives have been saved in the 17 states (and the District of Columbia) who have amended laws to grant easier access by the emergency drug.
“Used in concert with ‘Good Samaritan’ laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, naloxone can save lives,” he said.
A week before Philip Seymour Hoffman's death propelled heroin into the spotlight of the national media, police in New York City busted a sophisticated heroin packaging and distribution mini-factory in an apartment in the Bronx. In this mini-factory, employees with coffee grinders, scoops, and scales labored 24/7 to break down bricks of heroin into thousands of hit-size baggies. Bearing such stamped brands as "Government Shutdown" and “iPhone,” over $8 million worth of heroin was seized in the raid.
The rise of these mini-factories of heroin processing and distribution is taking place behind the doors of well-to-do New York apartments. Such heroin mini-factories are a sign of an intricate distribution network focused on catering to mainstream, middle- and upper-class customers. As NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan explained, heroin dealers want to find wealthy customers, "who are going to be with them until they die.”
Accounting for about 20 percent of the heroin the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seizes every year, New York is known as the nation's heroin capital. Heroin seizures have grown by 67 percent over the last five years while drug overdoses are now the number one accidental killer of Americans 25 to 64 years old, surpassing even traffic deaths.
The business model for heroin mills emphasizes discipline and quality control with a surprising absence of violence. Residential settings in safe neighborhoods are favored as a means of cover. In a raid by the DEA last year, a mini-factory for heroin processing was found in a newly renovated apartment in midtown Manhattan that rented for $3,800 a month.
Making up to $5,000 a week, workers have gone out of their way not to disturb neighbors, who otherwise might report them to police. James J. Hunt, the acting head of the DEA's New York office, explained that the "Drug dealers are very wary… They wouldn't want word to get out on the street about a mill. They want anonymity."