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Heroin Listening Session Review and Moving Forward

Heroin Listening Session Review and Moving Forward
Admittedly, sometimes my writing is sophmorish and focused on poking fun at the establishment who is often locked in their mindset about a variety of issues.  But, today I want to offer a somber look at the listening session from last night and review the disconnect, pain, and often heart wrenching trouble of our fellow citizen, and look at what our legislature can really do to improve the situation.  For those in attendance this will hopefully add some consistency to what we heard.

First, the winner in last nights forum was St Croix Drug Court Judge Vlack, who rightfully pointed to multiple problems within the system from the failed "War on Drugs," to the immense waste of money incarcerating addicts while our legislature laments the lack of funding for treatment.  He stole the night for me.

There were multiple families there that shared their tragic story of heroin including one young man who spent 2.5 years in prison for his heroin addiction which started at 15.  When he asked where treatment was available for our youth it was clear from the responses in the room, three responses in fact, that we lack a unified system of access, coordination, or in most cases information.

Treatment was a constant theme at the session with story after story pointing to the repeated failure of addicts and the "in-and-out of rehab" nature of the addiction treatment system.  Representative Nygren shared more than once that essentially 100% of the people they incarcerate for heroin reoffend upon release.  Yet, over and over he mentioned system after system of law enforcement, punishment, and incarceration as the necessary steps to solving this issue.  I think we call that the definition in insanity.

Here are 3 steps our state could take to make a real impact on the system if we had legislators who actually "listened" last night.

1) Punishing our addicts needs to stop.  Judge Vlack's drug court may be an integral part of the solution for addicts, but his tool box needs to be weighted towards treatment options and seeing the addicts before they go to prison, not after.  All the funding in the world is available if you simply eliminate the incarceration for victimless drug crimes and instead funnel those dollars to treatment vouchers.  All of this can be done at the state level.

2) It is not helpful when heroin is labeled a "clandestine drug."  It is an opiate drug like every other opiate drug and should be treated as such.  Prohibition of this drug takes the "management" of the addiction out of the hands of doctors and places it in the hands of drug dealers who do not care about the addict.  When physicians control the distribution and dose we can end the "whack-a-mole" nature of drug dealers, identify the addicts, defund the drug cartels, and actually treat our sick.  This is just common sense.

3) Our view on treatment options needs to evolve.  Our addicts want effective treatment, and so I want to outline two new therapies and the early results of the studies.  For those families that have fought with addiction, please see these as hope for other families.

The first study was concluded in 2012 using a substance called Ibogaine to virtually eliminate the craving for heroin.  This drug is not a magic bullet to cure the addiction, but the vast majority of current treatments fail to eliminate the craving and thus retard healing the patient.  The efficacy (does it work) is reflected in the first image above.

The study found that there were no adverse health affects to using the drug.  In other words, it's safe and non-addicting.  Again, this is not a magic bullet to a cure, but addicts fear deeply the withdraw symptoms and torturous cravings involved in the first days of treatment.

The second study involves a drug called Ketamine, which is used to assist psychotherapy treatment of the addiction and take the addict beyond the need for the heroin.  This drug was study written up in 2007 with the following results:

"In this study of the efficacy of single versus repeated sessions of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy in promoting abstinence in people with heroin dependence, 59 detoxified inpatients with heroin dependence received a ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KPT) session prior to their discharge from an addiction treatment hospital, and were then randomized into two treatment groups. Participants in the first group received two addiction counseling sessions followed by two KPT sessions, with sessions scheduled on a monthly interval (multiple KPT group). Participants in the second group received two addiction counseling sessions on a monthly interval, but no additional ketamine therapy sessions (single KPT group). At one-year follow-up, survival analysis demonstrated a significantly higher rate of abstinence in the multiple KPT group. Thirteen out of 26 subjects (50%) in the multiple KPT group remained abstinent, compared to 6 out of 27 subjects (22.2%) in the single KPT group (p < 0.05)."

As I listened to the legislators on the panel last night there was nothing in their feedback to the audience that indicated they were there to do anything but acknowledge the problem and then head to Madison and pass their four bills, none of which address the actual problem, and only Representative Knudson acknowledge any possible new solutions.

Finally, I have five siblings who have all fought drug addictions, Methamphetamine in particular, and another who is fighting with prescription drugs even today.  I am not just a political hack trying to make a point or convert a member, I have skin in this game.  If our legislators were indeed there to listen to new ideas, the legislation is easy.  Task our universities to do a comprehensive review of these new treatments and listen to the recommendations they make about the clinical efficacy of these drugs.

Unfortunately, my fear is they will do nothing, which makes last nights session a complete waste of everyone time as they apparently already have all the answers.

There is always hope I guess.

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