George Mitrovich is a passionate, informed, and renowned Methodist layperson. Last spring, George was my guest for a presentation at Duke Divinity School and did fine presentations on Wesleyan social righteousness. Now George has sent me his blog on one of his current concerns and I share it with you.
The Church & Drug Addiction
Church people are fond of saying, we’re in the world but not of it; but, of course, we’re in the world – and the world needs our engagement.
One of America’s greatest issues is drug addiction, as the addictive power of drugs has spread from coast-to-coast and border-to-border; it’s an issue desperately needing the church’s awareness and witness – and the means by which the church’s grace is extended to those in need.
But first, some context:
When the governor of Vermont devoted his entire State of the State address to the heroin epidemic that had cursed his lovely state, that occasion became the first time any governor had focused on a single issue in such a speech.
Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont gave that historic address 7 January 2014. He did so because in one year his state had seen a 770 percent rise in heroin addiction!
I do not live in Vermont, but I have faced, up close and personal, the evils of heroin addiction; for when family members or friends becomes addicts, you experience a hell no decent human being would ever wish upon another.
Once the addictive powers of heroin comes into your life, it never leaves, as we know from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Academy Award winner, who was found dead at age 46 on the floor of his New York apartment from a heroin overdose – when he had been sober 16-years.
When heroin entered our family’s life, I committed to learn about its powers and to warn others of how it can take control of one’s life.
But perhaps the most important lesson I learned, was this:
Those who live under the spell of heroin addiction and other opiates are able to live productive lives, as is now true with our family member, but that requires Methadone or Soboxone medication.
But, here’s the problem:
Only doctors who have had specific training are permitted to prescribe either Methadone or Soboxone. If your primary care doctor hasn’t gone through the training, you must find a doctor who has, and is willing to write your prescription, or turn to a psychiatrist, if you can get an appointment, and are prepared to spend $250-500 an hour, and that’s before the prescription is filled – which will cost you another $600 for a month’s supply.
And, if you are an addict struggling to stay sober, but don’t have insurance to cover the monthly cost of your doctor, psychiatrist or prescription, you will find a heroin dealer and shoot up because it’s cheap and available.
If your reaction to finding a dealer and shooting up is one shouldn’t, then you are ignorant, as I was ignorant, of the overwhelming power of heroin, and the hold it has on those who have come under its horrifying and paralyzing influence.
The prohibition against primary care physicians writing opiate prescriptions is due to the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA), which limits that right, in the language of the Act, to those “who meet certain qualifying requirements, and who have notified the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their intent to prescribe this product for the treatment of opioid dependence and have been assigned a unique identification number that must be included on every prescription.”
This overreach by Health and Human Services (HHS) came about when too many doctors became OxyContin addicts (documented by Dr. John Abramson in his book, “Overdoses America”), and, in reaction, HHS imposed these rules; which means, in many cases, it’s impossible for those needing treatment to find it– while finding heroin suppliers is no problem.
Which is why Senators Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, introduced The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, which expands “the ability of opioid addiction medical specialists and other trained medical professionals to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as Soboxone for patients battling heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.”
This critical legislation, which would permit primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to treat up to 500 people annually (present legislation limits the number from 30-100), has already passed the Senate’s Health Committee, is a direct results of tortured lives being tortured more because they have a disease and need help but the government restricted the means of help being found.
Why should you care?
Because, unless we as a society, we as the church in our world, face this epidemic together, it will be the undoing of America, a greater threat than any terrorist group.
.Your church needs to be involved, and you can start by letting your senators and representative know you support Senators Markey and Paul and The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act.
It’s not the whole answer, but it will get us there.
George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader and an active Methodist layman