Measure helps curb prescription drug abuse
By Sherrie Rubin | 6 p.m. April 30, 2015
All parents think that their child could never overdose on drugs. How could that happen? They are caring, involved parents, after all.
I thought it too, until Oct. 9, 2005, when the life of our suburban family was shattered. Our son Aaron, then 23, overdosed on a prescription painkiller. Lack of oxygen to his brain brought him to the brink of death, and after a series of heart attacks and strokes and nearly four weeks in a coma, doctors told us to make his funeral arrangements.
Miraculously, Aaron survived. Now in a wheelchair, Aaron cannot walk nor speak. He can only communicate with his fingers – one for yes, and two for no. He’s here and happy, but he is trapped in his own body. For the past decade, I have educated students and parents about the dangers of opioid abuse and misuse, and to remind parents that these pills may be in their own home medicine cabinets.
On this, the 10-year anniversary of Aaron’s overdose, I support AB 623, a bill that would help curb prescription drug abuse and reduce the number of dangerous pills available.
This bill, by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, will require pharmacists to inform patients how to store and dispose of opioids at the counter and encourage the use of a new kind of pain pill – one that is far harder to abuse. AB 623 would improve access and affordability of abuse deterrent formulations (ADF). Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, is a co-author, demonstrating the bipartisan support for a bill endorsed by law enforcement groups, pain advocates and medical providers.
ADF opioid medications provide the same pain relief as conventional opioids but contain properties that make crushing, cutting and dissolving difficult or that block the euphoric effect when it is manipulated.
Many abusers chew, crush, cut, grind or dissolve opioid pills to inhale or inject to create an instant “high.” More than two-thirds of those who start out by popping pills progress to other ways to ingest opioids. Manipulating opioids to ingest them is the most dangerous type of abuse, and often the cause of overdose deaths.
In 2010, five years after Aaron’s overdose, the makers of OxyContin changed the medication to an ADF that cannot be crushed into a powder. A newly published study from Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine found that OxyContin overdoses and dispensing declined substantially after ADF OxyContin was introduced.
I believe that abuse deterrent formulations could have deterred Aaron’s abuse of OxyContin.
I never would have fathomed my loving son – a popular high school athlete dedicated to health and fitness – would inject opioids to get high. I had volunteered at his school, was a stay-at-home mom and thought I was involved in his life.
But I was unaware of the addiction that had gripped him. If I had known more about prescription drug abuse, I would have recognized the signs and acted.
I believe that AB 623 can prevent overdoses by encouraging the use of ADF pills, and by prohibiting health plans from requiring step therapy requirements, where a patient must try and fail on an opioid before getting access to an ADF opioid. It also will require health plans to have the same prior authorization process for opioids with and without ADF.
Aaron is a survivor, and I am grateful that he is here, but he’s not the son I once knew. I grieve for that Aaron and the loss of his dreams, goals and potential every day.
My family founded H.O.P.E Drug Awareness, Education and Treatment Inc.
(www.hope2gether.org) to support families in this fight against prescription drug abuse. Aaron joins me at schools and venues through out the country to warn families of the dangers lurking in their own medicine cabinets.
I hope that legislators will recognize that AB 623 could prevent more “regular kids” like Aaron from heading down this dangerous and deadly path.
Aaron is a living reminder that it can happen to anyone and that no family is immune.
Rubin, a resident of Escondido, is a co-founder of H.O.P.E Drug Awareness, Education and Treatment Inc.