Tag Archives: Addiction Advocacy

Welcome back to my blog. I appreciate your continued interest and I look forward to your comments.  I have been quite busy lately and as a result I have not posted anything new for a month. One of the projects I have been involved with recently is related to a legislative meeting in Augusta, Maine.

I had the privilege to give testimony to the Maine Health and Human Services Committee this week pertaining to a bill sponsored by Senator David Woodsome (R-York).

I was extremely encouraged by the wide support the bill received. As you may know, Governor LePage (R), has emphasized increasing funds for law enforcement but not for treatment. We cannot arrest our way out of the heroin epidemic!

Here is the bill and Senator Woodsome’s comments, followed by my testimony.  My testimony was coordinated with others, as we each had limited time to present.  Collectively, however, we discussed all the important aspects.

LD 1473, “Resolve, To Increase Access to Opiate Addiction Treatment in Maine”

“Opioid addiction is a public health crisis in Maine. We need to approach the issue on all fronts, and that includes providing access to effective treatment.  I have heard from many constituents in the Sanford area about those who have suffered because of the local methadone clinic that shuttered – we can make a difference in our addiction crisis and in people’s lives by funding treatment and clinics that are doing this work right.”

Testimony of Steven J. Kassels, MD

Medical Director, Community Substance Abuse Centers

January 28, 2016

Senator Brakey, Representative Gattine, and members of the Health and Human Services Committees, my name is Steven Kassels. I have been Board Certified in Addiction Medicine and Emergency Medicine. I have practiced medicine for approximately forty years and I currently serve as the Medical Director of Community Substance Abuse Centers which provides Methadone and Suboxone as part of comprehensive treatment programs for Opioid Use Disorders.  I am here today to speak in support of LD 1473. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to discuss the opioid epidemic with you.

Unfortunately, the disease of addiction continues to be a misunderstood illness and carries with it a significant amount of stigma, which is especially true of opiate dependency/addiction.   When I give lectures and I ask folks to raise their hands if they know a heroin addict, very few hands are raised.  But how can that be when we all acknowledge that we are in the midst of a heroin/opioid epidemic?  I have treated college professors, school teachers, IRS agents, nurses, carpenters, electricians, politicians, homeless people and possibly your neighbors. We all know heroin/opioid addicts – we just may not know who they are.  The stigma of the disease forces individuals to hide and to not seek treatment. This is a significant contributing factor why only one in seven people with the disease of addiction are in treatment. Today the highest increase of heroin users is comprised of white suburban men and women in their twenties and thirties. But why should this surprise us. In the early 1900’s the average opioid user was a middle aged, middle class, housewife and mother who typically was addicted to the opioid drug Laudanum.

Heroin Addiction

CDC MMWR July 11, 2014

fig 1

It is essential that we stop characterizing addictions into two categories:  “Good” Addictions and “Bad” Addictions.  Addiction is addiction, and whether we have dependency to alcohol or to heroin, the mechanism of action in the brain is similar.  Both stimulate the reward center by eliciting their effects on the same area of the brain.  In fact, the medication Naltrexone (“Vivitrol”; “Trexan”) decreases cravings for alcohol and also blocks the effects of heroin.  Alcohol, heroin and cocaine all exhibit their effects by stimulating the pleasure center in the brain, the same center that gets stimulated when we eat a nice meal, go for a jog, watch a good movie or enjoy intimacy.   With all of these activities our internal  opioids, called endorphins, get secreted and stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. In fact, during child birth, increased secretion of endorphins are thought to help to diminish pain.

When a person uses opioids for a long period of time, there are changes in both the production of endorphins and its effect on the brain’s receptors.  There are documented structural and functional changes that take place in the brain.

Brain Scan:  Normal & Addicted Brain

Maine Health and Human Services Committee Steven Kassels Addiction on Trial

Drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated.

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse

The question of whether these changes are reversible is dependent on the severity of the disease, no different than diabetes.  With improved diet, weight loss and exercise, the pancreas of some patients will be able to produce sufficient amounts of insulin to no longer need insulin injections, while others will need insulin replacement therapy for life.  Insulin replacement therapy in diabetes or steroid replacement therapy in the disease of the adrenal gland called Addison’s Disease is no different than endorphine replacement therapy.  Treating patients with methadone or buprenorphine (“Suboxone”) is not replacing one drug with another; it is the use of a medication to replace what the body can no longer produce or use effectively.

The changes in the brain in opioid addiction can be profound and can lead to a vicious cycle of severe withdrawal symptoms leading to drug seeking behavior and drug use to alleviate the symptoms, only to have the withdrawal symptoms return, leading to repetitive behavior.  In the case of heroin, withdrawal symptoms start to return within 4-8 hours.

Opioid Withdrawal

fig 3

Opioid replacement medications interrupt this vicious cycle and decrease and eventually eliminate the cravings and drug seeking behavior.  However, depending on the severity of the changes in the brain, some patients may need medication for prolonged periods.  However, as in all chronic illnesses, success rates are not determined by “curing” the patient; but by limiting relapse rates and allowing the patient to resume a normal life.  Furthermore, the relapse rates for a patient with addiction is not significantly different than those with other chronic illnesses.

Relapse Rates: Addiction & Other Chronic Illnesses

fig 4

We do not arbitrarily limit type or duration of treatment for other chronic illnesses, so why should we for addiction?  The key to success in treating opioid addiction is to eliminate withdrawal symptoms so the person can focus on a life free of drug seeking behavior, reestablish relationships and contribute to society.  Maine statistics support this approach as do studies as far back as 1991.

Information from Maine 2015 Treatment Data System

fig 5a fig 5 b fig 5 c

1991 Study: Effectiveness of Methadone Maintenance

fig 6a

The misunderstanding that the addict can be cured needs further explanation.  We must understand that although it is a person’s choice to use a drug or to drink alcohol, it is not their choice to become dependent/addicted.  Once addicted, similar to other chronic illnesses, there is no cure.  When a person chooses to eat a poor diet, not exercise and becomes obese there is a greater likelihood they will develop diabetes.  This is because the pancreas, the organ that makes insulin, has become injured.  This change can be irreversible requiring the need for us to replace what the patient can no longer make, so we prescribe insulin. When President Kennedy developed Addison’s Disease as a result of his adrenal gland no longer being able to produce steroids, he received replacement therapy.  The end organ that is diseased in opioid dependency/addiction is the brain. But this should not surprise us.  The end organs in alcoholism is the brain and the liver.  Nicotine’s end organ is the heart and lungs.  Why is this relevant?  Because when the opioid addict’s disease progresses from continued use, there are changes in the brain, which may become irreversible.  However, “drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated.”

Opioid replacement medications eliminate withdrawal symptoms and “normalize” brain activity. Methadone and Suboxone in therapeutic doses do not make addicts “high” and in fact block the effects of heroin and other opioids.  But the essential key to success is regular counseling to ensure the patient gets the psychological and social support to integrate back into society in a productive manner.  Replacement medication alone is not comprehensive treatment; counseling is essential and reestablishing the reimbursement rate to prior levels is necessary to be able to provide the necessary counseling to the patients.  We must remember, that many of us live with chronic illnesses, but with appropriate treatment and support, there is a much greater likelihood of living a productive life. As a physician, I consider that to be success!

Author : skassels
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As another holiday season is upon us, I am touched by the stories that highlight the fact that together we are making a difference and that our message is becoming mainstream.  While we should celebrate the progress  made, we must remain relentless in our commitment to convert the naysayers. But let us all remember, that progress is made by educating and not by demeaning or ridiculing those who have a different opinion about Substance Use Disorders.

A special thank you to all the politicians, from both Red and Blue states, who are speaking out that Drug Addiction is a Disease, Not a Crime.

And an especially big thank you to patients afflicted with the disease of addiction for having the courage to speak out.  I hope you enjoy the reflective article about Rediscovering Christmas and the heart felt story of how the Opioid Epidemic Grips a Community; but there is hope!

And let's not forget to thank the many Law Enforcement Leaders who understand the need to destigmatize the disease of addiction.  Here are two examples of Police Chiefs who are helping to save lives through unique programs.  Thank you to Chief Leonard Campanello of Gloucester, MA for establishing the The Angel Program and Chief Robbie Moulton of Scarborough, ME for developing the program called Operation Hope.

We are truly making progress and please feel free to contact me to assist in any way.

To all those afflicted with the disease of addiction and to friends and family members, please do know that you are not alone and there is progress being made. Most importantly, please do reach out. Many of us are waiting to help.

MERRY MERRY & HAPPY HAPPY TO ALL
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Author : skassels
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I am honored to have Geoff Kane, MD, MPH as a guest blogger this week.

I have known Geoff for many years and he is not only an extremely competent physician, but also possesses the highest degree of compassion for patients and the utmost commitment to assisting those afflicted with the disease of addiction. Dr. Kane is the Chief of Addiction Services at the Brattleboro Retreat in Brattleboro, VT.  He is board Certified in Addiction Medicine and Internal Medicine, a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Chairs the Medical-Scientific Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Kane, please visit: geoffkane.com

Thank you Geoff for permitting me to post your insightful and thought provoking blog, which was also posted by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (“NCADD”).

Curbing Addiction Is Everybody’s Business

By Geoff Kane, MD, MPH

Addiction statistics are scary.  For example, excessive alcohol causes an estimated 88,000 deaths per year in the United States.  Deaths from cigarette smoke exceed 480,000 per year.  In 2013, about 100 Americans per day died from drug overdoses.  The annual cost to this country of addiction and other substance abuse—including healthcare, crime, and lost productivity—is over $600 billion.

Such damage ought to prompt interventions that are swift and sure, but that is not the case.  Not only have severe social and economic consequences of addiction been with us for a long time; some measures are getting worse.

Conflicts of interest impede the prevention and treatment of addiction by inhibiting individuals throughout society from adopting alternative actions that would reduce the toll of addiction.  If we attribute all responsibility for addiction to addicted persons themselves, we are like a naïve family member who says, “It’s your problem.  Take care of it.”

People in all walks of life contribute to the proliferation of addiction—whether they realize it or not.  The clearest conflict of interest, however, may indeed lie within the individual with addiction.  More addictive substance will surely forestall withdrawal and ease emotional and physical distress, and perhaps cause pleasure as well.  In the “logic” of addiction, competing priorities such as family, career, and citizenship are eclipsed by the drive to obtain more substance.

Yet others’ conflicts are also part of the problem.  Such as well-intentioned family members who long for loved ones to get sober but later undermine their loved ones’ sobriety when abstinence reconfigures the distribution of power in the household.  Or well-intentioned addiction treatment professionals and mutual-help members who are so attached to specific treatment approaches that they fail to engage newcomers who don’t align with them.  Or well-intentioned community members who only support addiction treatment centers located someplace else, making treatment less accessible in their own neighborhoods.

Conflicts of interest often involve money.  Do some doctors prescribe controlled substances too freely?  Could some addiction treatment facilities provide less than rigorous care so that patients will return?  Are some health insurance companies more invested in restricting access to care than providing it?  Are some managed care reviewers rewarded when they deny coverage instead of certify it?

In order to be used, addictive substances must first be available.  Use increases when these substances are easily obtained, which promotes new addiction along with recidivism among the abstinent.  The business interests of large segments of the pharmaceutical, alcoholic beverage, tobacco, and legal marijuana industries are in conflict with the health interests of the public.  Might the business interests that boost substance availability also influence decisions of government and other policymakers?

Besides availability, belief that the risk of harm is low or otherwise acceptable is a second condition to be met before many individuals will initiate use of addictive substances.  Numerous people who subsequently developed addiction were given a false sense of security from well-intentioned peers, family members, healthcare providers, and the media including advertisers, reporters, and editors.

Respectful, nurturing interpersonal relationships in families and throughout society reduce the vulnerability of young people to addiction and make recovery more attainable for those seeking a way out.  Yet people continue to depersonalize one another, reacting to stereotypes rather than appreciating individual human beings.

Addiction statistics are not likely to improve until we all identify and accept our own unavoidable share of responsibility for curbing the problem.  Individuals seeking recovery are responsible for accepting support and changing elements of their lifestyle.  Communities—meaning everyone, including law enforcement, business, government, healthcare providers, third party payers, and the media—are responsible for reducing the availability of addictive substances and permissive attitudes toward their use; making individualized addiction treatment accessible; reducing barriers to transportation, employment, and housing; and replacing stigma with respect.

A collective desire to be part of the solution may not be sufficient to make a difference.  Healthy change proceeds more reliably when individuals are held accountable.  For example, recovery from addiction often requires that family, professionals, and recovering peers keep tabs on those entering and maintaining recovery and impose consequences if they get off track.  Likewise, we may all better meet our responsibilities if we gently but firmly hold one another accountable to act on addiction in ways that address the overall picture rather than just our own narrow point of view.

Geoff Kane Steven Kassels Addiction on Trial

To think about:  Will manufacturers and distributors of illegal addictive substances ever support the common good?  Is accountability under the law the only possible incentive for them to change?

Author : skassels
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Medical Thriller's Educational Value

Since my last blog when I boldly challenged whether a Murder Mystery can be Literary Fiction, I have been humbled by two more speaking invitations. I believe this further reinforces the premise that the term Literary Fiction is more expansive than commonly espoused.  Should a Medical Thriller’s Educational Value be judged solely upon a narrow definition or on the message it imparts?  Let’s remember that the term Literary Fiction is commonly used in the book-selling business to connote “serious fiction” with arbitrarily applied criteria such as having different types of book covers, titles or types of book formatting. Wow! How about determining literary merit based on messages of social commentary, political criticism, or exploring some part of the human condition.  Why can’t a novel entertain and excite while carrying a serious message?

I have been invited to use my book as a foundation to explore the educational value of using Fiction with a Message to expand the views of graduate students studying Communication and students in the School of Public Health.  Over the next several months I will have the honor and privilege to make presentations at the following academic institutions:

  • University of Massachusetts School of Public Health & Health Sciences, Amherst, MA:  “Addiction as a Disease Model” -  Presentation/Discussion,  December 7, 2015 
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Georgia Campus, Suwanee, GA: “Destigmatizing Addiction” - Presentation/Discussion; December 10, 2015
  •  University of Amsterdam,  Graduate School of Communication, Amsterdam, NL,   "The Use of Fiction as a Vehicle to Communicate & Educate" - Presentation& Discussion;  March, 2016 (date TBD)

As exciting as all this sounds, it is no more important than continuing to use Addiction on Trial  to emphasize the devastating heroin/opioid epidemic still gripping our country. There need not be limits to a Medical Thriller's Educational Value.  I welcome invitations to participate in book clubs gatherings (large and small) to discuss the characters, the messaging, the struggles of addiction and the duplicitous approach of society’s response.  A recent article is a must read: In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs.

Thank you to all my followers who continue to give me inspiration to speak and to write!

Author : skassels
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Heroin Powder

After 10 weeks we are finally finished with blaming, but what a way to end – let’s blame our politicians and our other public officials.  Why? -  Because if all our public officials showed the leadership and courage of Vermont Governor Shumlin, we would have another solution to curb the heroin epidemic.  As I stated in an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe:

There should be just as many public service announcements about addiction as there are Viagra and Cialis commercials. In addition, expansion of addiction treatment services in jails would help to mitigate much of the revolving door phenomenon. Furthermore, we should demand that our medical schools and hospitals improve addiction training of our physicians. While there is plenty of blame to go around, let's focus on the solutions. The scourge of addiction is in all of our yards.  The solution is to decrease the demand with bold public initiatives and a change in attitude.  It is both the humanitarian and fiscally responsible thing to do.

We need our politicians and public officials to stand up for what is right and bring forward the real facts about addiction. I explained this further in another Op-ed submitted to the Boston Globe:

We must cut back on the demand to stand a chance of limiting the financial damage.  And to our politicians, I know this is a politically hot issue, but lives and dollars are at stake and it is time to lead the charge to educate through scientific fact and not out of fear.  I commend Governor Shumlin of Vermont for spending his entire state of the state address on this essential economic issue and his call to attack the epidemic on the demand side (treatment); recognizing that putting more people in jail may make us feel good on the short term, but does not solve the problem.  Governor LePage of Maine addressed the issue of drug addiction as an economic issue as well, but he unfortunately spoke not of increased funding for treatment and access to care, but only of expanded law enforcement and judicial response.

As the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s has again  reinforced, drug addiction, including heroin abuse, is an equal opportunity disease affecting all socioeconomic strata; and knows no boundaries.  This is not a problem of the welfare state or the poor or less fortunate.  It is NOT NIMBY!!  The disease is present in our impoverished neighborhoods as well as our wealthy suburban communities and in our resort towns and backwoods … Establishing treatment centers for addiction in one’s own locale should be worn as a badge of honor, no different than establishing a cancer treatment center or cardiac center; both of which are illnesses that may be related to the disease of addiction.  NIMBY no longer works!

America Heroin Problem

We can make great strides to solve the scourge of heroin addiction, but we need to stop blaming and put words into action.  As I have discussed over the past ten weeks, there is plenty of blame to go around!

Addiction On Trial exposes many of the reasons why we have a heroin epidemic; Police Chief, François Bergeron, understood the political and emotional realities of heroin addiction.  The story may be fiction, but it is based on medical, legal and political truths.  IT IS TIME TO STOP BLAMING AND TIME TO START IMPLEMENTING SOLUTIONS!  Thank you for continued interest in my blog site and I hope that Chief Bergeron’s insights will make a difference (Chapter 15):

Although Chief Bergeron had witnessed first-hand the increasing influx of drugs into not only his community but into all of Downeast Maine, Annette's death and the likelihood it was drug connected posed challenges never before encountered. Although the chief understood that drug addiction was a complicated topic and a burgeoning problem, this view was not shared by most, many of whom even refused to believe that Downeast Maine had a significant drug issue despite the fact that a methadone treatment center about two hours away had recently opened to treat the epidemic of heroin and Oxycontin addiction in the region. There had been a prolonged battle within the ranks of city government and among the citizens who irrationally opposed the siting of the treatment center, delaying its opening for years. Eventually, there was some acknowledgment that Downeast Maine, no different than innumerable regions and communities up and down the east coast, had a heroin and Oxycontin problem, but it was greatly minimized. The clinic was finally approved after much rancor, but treatment was initially limited to one hundred patients. Since no one ever wants to believe its municipality has a significant drug problem, it was decided that opening up one hundred outpatient slots would more than satisfy the need and help to quell the escalating controversy. The clinic filled all its patient slots within a month and droves of needy patients were placed on waiting lists.

This struggle to establish treatment centers was not unique. There were similar controversial and heated discussions in many cities and towns … Lawsuits between municipalities against well-intentioned medical providers were not unusual. Paradoxically, at about the same time, a New England Governor’s Council Forum had convened … Presentations by illustrious speakers demonstrated the extent of the epidemic …What Bergeron remembers most from the conference was the statement by a prominent elected official that “these are telling times when elementary and middle school children are offered a bag of 70-80 percent pure heroin for the price of a double scoop ice cream cone.”  The forum’s mantra was interdiction, education, and treatment. This battle cry was good in theory, but in practice it was a different story at the local level. NIMBY—“Not In My Back Yard”—was the rallying cry of most municipalities. No town would admit to having a significant drug issue; it was always the next town over that had the problem. The rationale was based on the fear that if a drug addiction center was established in one’s own town, which of course did not have a problem to begin with, all the addicts from the neighboring townships would spread the scourge as they migrated for treatment, thereby creating a drug problem that never before existed. Despite the documented epidemic of drug abuse across the nation, hardly any individual town, if you spoke to the locals, had much of a problem.

Chief Bergeron understood the apprehension of the townsfolk, that a drug treatment center in West Haven Harbor would label the town as a drug haven. The tourists would be frightened and stay away, the local economy would falter, and everyone would suffer. As a result, many in need of treatment never got it. Chief Bergeron’s concern for the lack of treatment options was now a secondary issue. He recognized that the townsfolk's anger directed at an addict from away was irrational, especially before all the facts were known, but he also understood their desire for retribution for Annette's murder.

Author : Meghan
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