Drug Summit at the Reagan Library
The Reagan Library in Simi Valley stands as a testament to the accomplishments of our nation’s 40th President. Some of Reagan’s most notable achievements include ending the Cold War, national tax reform, and combatting the use of drugs across the nation. Nancy Regan’s “just say no” philosophy was the mantra of the War on Drugs, which is largely believed to be an unfortunate failure. However, being a cornerstone of his presidency, it was appropriate that the DEA, Law Enforcement, First Responders, and the surrounding community gathered at the Reagan Library Drug Summit to discuss the state of the opioid epidemic.
The summit hosted a diverse group of attendees, ranging from the DEA, FBI, local officials, people in recovery, but most notably parents who lost their children to opioid overdoses. Behavioral health and medical professionals were also in attendance, as well as non-profits and 12-Step support groups. The evening’s panel included Chief David Livingstone with the Simi Valley P.D., Julia Feig, RN and Director of Emergency Services at Adventists Health Simi Valley, DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux, Pat Montoya, President of Not One More, and Nicholas Petrov, a recovering addict.
Some of the most passionate, well-informed, and powerful responses came from Nancy Chappell. Nancy is a former teacher, small business owner, military spouse, and most importantly – a mother of three. Nancy’s oldest son died in 2015 from drug related causes.
Chasing The Dragon: The Life of An Opiate Addict
After an initial welcoming from Michael Kulstad and Robert Patterson, there was a showing of the documentary Chasing The Dragon: The Life of An Opiate Addict. Produced by the DEA, the film is intended to demonstrate how innocent experimentation with drugs can lead to a life of addiction – and ultimately death. Chasing the Dragon showcases the stories of well-off kids from good families, and there was a common narrative amongst them all:
- Started smoking weed and drinking with friends at an early age
- Opioids were made easily available
- Through a parent’s medicine cabinet
- Prescribed for an operation/injury
- Loved the feeling and became dependent, and ultimately addicted.
The film was a trigger for many of those in attendance, with some stepping out or lowering their heads during the more intense moments. For many, they were reliving the same story that resulted in the death of their son or daughter.
Missing the Point?
The film was difficult at times to watch, but it was important and necessary to show. It demonstrated how accessible opioids are, and the deadly nature of these drugs. We felt, however, it was presented from a narrowly focused perspective that echoed back to the Nancy Reagan “just say no” philosophy.
Sadly, the film failed to address everything under the surface of substance use disorders, nor were they addressed by the panel. It did not take into consideration the individual’s family systems, family history of addiction, mental health, trauma, denial, and so on. Granted, opioids themselves are habit forming and can lead to dependence, but it is more often the underlying disorders that fuel the continued use of a substance. We found it discouraging that this film is being used as an educational tool in schools across the nation, and it failed to incorporate clinical elements of prevention and recovery.
This approach is an alarming flashback to the scare tactic approach e.g., “Scared Straight” and D.A.R.E., that not only did not work, but in the long run it made people more likely to engage in the target behavior. As long as the DEA and other Law Enforcement continues the “supply side” war on drugs and ignores prevention, education, intervention and treatment, the problem will only continue to worsen.
Chronic Pain and Opioids
Another key point that was not discussed at the Summit was the invisible epidemic of chronic pain and opioids. There are over 100 million people in the U.S. living with chronic pain. For decades and to this day, the most widely accessible method of treating chronic pain is with opioid medication. Furthermore, the CDC highlights key data showing “Prescription opioids continue to contribute to the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States. More than 40% of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription opioid, with more than 46 people dying every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids”.
We cannot adequately address our nation’s opioid crisis without including the chronic pain and invisible illness population in the conversation. Many of those suffering with chronic conditions have relied on opioids exclusively to manage their pain, primarily because these medications are cheap and accessible . Unfortunately, more doctors and insurance companies are making it more difficult to obtain these medications, and patients are taking to the black market to find pain relief.
With the opioid epidemic ever present in our communities, more people are educating themselves on the risks associated with long term opioid use. They are discovering for themselves that opioids were never intended for long term chronic pain management, and that continued use of the medication will actually increase their pain sensitivity.
Here at A Healing Place – The Estates, we are treat individuals suffering with chronic pain, substance use disorders, and psychological disorders. We are active proponents of holistic and non-pharmacological pain management practices. We also believe that for long term effective chronic pain management, we must shift away from reliance on passive modalities (opioids), and shift to an active life of chronic pain management. Many of the patients we treat were started on opioid medication either because they did not have access to alternative pain management, or they were never made aware of alternative resources.
See you in DC!
We look forward to following up with many of the state and federal officials we had the pleasure of meeting. A Healing Place – The Estates is planning a trip out to our nation’s capital to meet with Robert Patterson, Acting Administrator with the DEA. We will be taking him up on his offer to meet at his office in D.C., and we will be sure to keep our readers posted on what comes next.