CASAColumbia Staff Report from the FED UP! Rally in Washington, DC
Sunday, September 28th, 2014 marked the 2nd annual FED UP! Rally in Washington, DC, followed by a group march to the White House. CASAColumbia proudly sent four of our staff members to the rally to participate in this call to action to help spread the word about the opioid (narcotic painkillers and heroin) epidemic in our country.
The FED UP! Rally was first launched in 2013 to call for immediate federal action to end “the worst drug addiction epidemic in our nation’s history.” The FED UP! Coalition reports that more than 150,000 lives have been lost in the last 15 years due to opioid overdoses and that millions more are addicted to these dangerous and potent drugs. Yet according to the Coalition, the national agency that is most suited to help in controlling and diminishing this problem, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), doesn’t appear to have the same sense of urgency in responding to the public health crisis at hand.
After returning from the weekend-long event, we sat down with CASAColumbia’s Mark Stovell, Gurpreet Kaur, Elizabeth Mustacchio, and Esther Warui to get their thoughts on the Rally.
What was your favorite part about the FED UP! Rally?
People from diverse backgrounds came together in Washington, D.C. to address the opioid epidemic in our nation. My favorite part of the Rally was when individuals shared their personal stories of how opioids have affected them or their loved ones. One speaker stood out in particular. A mother named Jennifer, who lost her son to an overdose, declared the seriousness of the problem when she stated that, “We are losing the equivalent of two jumbo jets full of people a week.” She added that there is not nearly as much money going into funding affordable treatment of opioid abusers as there is to finding a “lost jet.” – Gurpreet Kaur
The rally and reception focused on the fact that addiction is a disease, and that anyone at any given time can be affected by it. People of all different races, ages, and backgrounds suffer from addiction. – Elizabeth Mustacchio
The FED UP! Rally was a special event in the sense that it brought together a variety of concerned members of the general public advocating against the opioid epidemic. A majority of the speakers at the rally were individuals who were in long term recovery or family members of those who lost their battle to opioid addiction. The personal stories shared a similar progression of illness where individuals initially sought out opioids from their physicians/dentists to deal with legitimate pain issues but resulted in a downward spiral of abuse. – Esther Warui
What were you most surprised about?
I was most surprised to hear from Dr. Andrew Kolodny (Chief Medical Officer at Phoenix House and former President of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing) that President Obama hasn’t shown the same level of leadership regarding the opioid epidemic as he has with other public health issues. I know the Obama administration has been taking steps to improve prevention and treatment, mainly through the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but it would be helpful for the President himself to talk more about the opioid epidemic to help more people realize how big this problem is and why it should be fixed. I was also surprised by the amount of people smoking cigarettes at the rally. People are more likely to die from tobacco-related illness than they are from opioid overdose, and it’s just a reminder that we need to address harmful substance use in all its forms. – Mark Stovell
What did you learn either about the opioid epidemic in general or specifically from speakers/other rally attendants?
The drug addiction epidemic in the US has never been this bad at any other point in history. This is due to the fact that so many new drugs are available and can be easily accessed. Also, the correct dosages of these new prescription narcotics are not being prescribed by many medical professionals. – Elizabeth Mustacchio
If you had an epidemic that resulted in more deaths than homicide, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents, the nation would be considered negligent for failing to address such a major public health issue but yet here we are wondering how many more lives have to be lost for our nation to respond. – Esther Warui
What do you think are next steps in addressing the opioid epidemic in our country?
Opioid drugs are a key part of treating pain for millions of Americans. Patients receive painkiller prescriptions from multiple doctors without informing the doctors of their other prescriptions. The next steps would be to create some sort of centralized prescribing system so patients aren’t able to “doctor shop”. There should be access to affordable drug treatment for people that are suffering. – Gurpreet Kaur
I think the next steps would be to find more ways to continue spreading the message from FED UP! to the general public. More people need to know about the amount of deaths that are attributed to the opioid epidemic and more families need to know how they can handle a situation if a loved one is showing warning signs. I also think we need to reach out to medical professionals and ask them to educate their patients and be more careful when prescribing medications. Doctors need to be able to recommend safe and affordable treatment options. – Elizabeth Mustacchio
I think the next steps to addressing the opioid epidemic involve expanding access to naloxone for law enforcement and for friends and family members of people who are addicted to opioids in order to prevent overdose deaths. We also need better health insurance coverage of medications to treat opioid addiction. – Mark Stovell
It was evident from the tragic, personal stories that this epidemic will continue to damage our communities if heavier regulation is not instituted. Federal funding is necessary to investigate this public health issue and from this research, we as a society can be more knowledgeable on how to prevent and treat opioid addiction. Also, the FDA needs to institute tighter regulations so that we circumvent having an oversaturated market of narcotics. The aggressive marketing tactics utilized by the pharmaceutical industry are maladaptive and need to be driven by a focus on patient care instead of profits. Last but definitely not least, physicians and dentists also have to bear some responsibility in this crisis and take proper measures to ensure that they prescribe cautiously and use discretion at all times. – Esther Warui