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Confronting an epidemic

Photo by Kiran Foster, Flickr

Photo by Kiran Foster, Flickr

The numbers of those lost to opiate addiction are staggering. Tony LaGreca’s son Matthew is one.

Seeking to educate and help prevent other families from going through the same hell, LaGreca will speak June 1 at Hope Floats Healing & Wellness Center in Kingston, a nonprofit bereavement center that my wife and I founded. His free presentation at 7 p.m. is open to the public.

LaGreca will share both his personal journey and discuss the history of this devastating problem, which he has dug into with his own research.

His presentation is geared for family members and friends of someone struggling with addiction who may benefit from a father’s perspective and the information he has compiled. Among his findings:

  • 2011–More people in the US are now dying of prescription drug overdoses and heroin than car accidents.
  • 2012–Heroin use numbers hit 620,000. 82 percent were introduced through a pain killer prescription from their doctor.
  • 2013–Every nineteen minutes on average one person dies from prescription drug abuse, the Centers for Disease Control reports.
  • Federal data from 2011 shows 80 percent of those who had used heroin in the previous year started with a prescription painkiller. Doctors wrote 131 million prescriptions of pain pills for 47 million patients, many of whom were under age for legal alcohol.

LaGreca’s talk is one of several upcoming educational forums on opiate addiction planned at Hope Floats. The goal is to share preventive strategies and help educate and support participants who have loved ones struggling with addiction. To register, go to the “Events Page” at or call (781) 936-8068.

Meanwhile, attempts to end this epidemic are being tried on many fronts.

One is that some states — including Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut — have passed or are considering laws to make new opioids that deter abuse more affordable for patients seeking pain relief.

Currently, insurance companies charge more for those drugs than they do for other types of pain medication. According to a report this week on National Public Radio, states like Maine are considering requiring insurance companies to cover them equally. Yet some physicians are skeptical that the strategy will work.

The numbers are staggering.

In advance of the NPR broadcast, Maine Public Broadcasting Network reported that Dr. Noah Nesin, chief medical officer at Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor, said the current opioid problem has largely been driven by misguided prescribing practices. Making abuse-deterrent opioids more available, he says, could exacerbate the problem, “creating a dynamic in which we think, ‘Oh – here’s a safer alternative,’ is an extremely relative comparison.”

For more on what other states and the federal government are trying, a recent comprehensive article in The Hartford Courant states:

“Five years after the Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of a tamper-resistant version of OxyContin, a brand of oxycodone, there are now several other brand-name opioid formulations that can be sold as abuse-deterrent, including Targiniq and Hysingla. At least 20 more are in development. The FDA also has begun the process of developing regulations for abuse-deterrent generic versions of the medications.”



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