One drug salesperson working in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut has pleaded guilty to taking part in a kickback scheme that involved the potent synthetic opiate, fentanyl. The 33-year-old woman admitted to paying large sums of money to prescribing physicians in order to induce them to prescribe a spray called Subsys, a fentanyl-based medication.
Despite the devastatingly addictive nature of that drug, and the untold number of lives that may have been harmed or lost if unsafe prescriptions resulted from her choices, the maximum penalty for violating the anti-kickback law is a fine of $25,000 and five years in prison. Unfortunately, if any of the doctors who accepted the kickbacks ultimately prescribed that medication unnecessarily or when another, less addictive drug would have sufficed and it resulted in addiction, then there are still people in Rhode Island who are struggling today as a result.
The Myth of Safety
Too often, it is assumed that a doctor’s prescription means the drug is safe to take in any manner or method. The fact is that the reason why the drug requires a doctor’s script is because medical inquiry is necessary to determine all the factors at play and make an educated decision about what type of medication and in what dose will be most effective.
For example, two people who struggle with the same disorder will not necessarily be prescribed the same medications to treat it. Based on other medications they are taking, their history of attempted treatment, co-occurring disorders, weight, and other factors, a specific dose will be chosen. Because the pills are made in a regulated industry, come from a doctor, and dispensed by a pharmacist, many people believe they are completely safe.
While it’s true that there are different risks to taking street drugs – produced and dispensed completely differently than legal prescription medications – it is also true that there are significant risks associated with taking some prescription drugs. Too much, the wrong combination, or the wrong method of ingestion can be overwhelming and trigger a medical emergency, including overdose. Repeated chronic abuse of any addictive substance, with or without a prescription, can also lead to addiction.
Though a prescription drug, fentanyl is rarely prescribed for out-of-office use. It is such a potent synthetic opioid that it is estimated to be 100 times stronger than its pharmaceutical cousin, morphine. Drug dealers often use the drug to lace street substances like cocaine or heroin with the goal of creating a strong high in the user. Fentanyl can be deadly in very small amounts, and an inadequately mixed batch can result in deadly doses, whether the user is a long-term user of opiates or engaging in first-time use.
Regular use of fentanyl, in spray or any other form, can contribute to the development of an addiction to the drug. This can ultimately translate into seeking street opiate drugs in order to maintain the addiction when the prescription is not enough or becomes too expensive. This is why the drug salesperson’s actions are so damaging, turning medical care into a for-profit game without concern for the potential costs to others.
When Opiate Addiction Takes a Toll
Whether the opiate addiction started with a prescription or the first use was heroin, physical and psychological dependence can kick in very quickly. Friends and family members are encouraged to take action immediately and work hard to connect their loved one with treatment services that can help them to heal.
Too often, families wait for their loved one in crisis to hit “rock bottom.” However, especially with opiate addiction, that does not exist. Every use can trigger overdose due to the nature of fentanyl, and waiting can be deadly.
Intervening with someone who is using opiates can mean helping them to:
- Understand the risks associated with continued use
- Identify when their use has become a problem
- Recognize that addiction is a medical disorder and not a moral failing
- Acknowledge that treatment services exist and they do work
- Consider the possibility that treatment may be the best choice for them
- Take steps to find out more about their options in treatment and begin the process of recovery
Are you ready to help someone you care about move away from opiate drug use?