The Fred Sheftell / Edward Pollak Inaugural Lecture

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On November 9th, 2017 Liberation Programs launched its new series of lectures to foster a candid discussion among leaders from Fairfield County on the effectiveness of community mobilization and action that is needed on local drug policy. The Fred Sheftell / Edward Pollak lecture series was named after two men who were instrumental in making Liberation Programs what it is today and for improving thousands of lives in lower Fairfield County that would have been lost or destroyed due to addicton.

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The topic of this inaugural lecture, “The  Opioid Crisis: 100 Years of Failed Drug Policy” was aimed at discussing how the “war on drugs” has largely failed in its mission, costing the U.S. economy trillions in the process. Liberation Programs’ CEO, Alan Mathis pointed out this fact as he opened the event. He noted that this current opioid crisis is one of seven or eight crises that have occurred since the civil war. However, in each situation, the government, community leaders, and drug policy are usually slow to recognize the problem, act on the problem, and realize what solutions are not working. Mr. Mathis stated that “Dr. Fred Sheftell and Ed Pollak believed that we need to think deeply and critically about the issues that affect our lives.” Thinking deeply and critically about the current opioid crisis and drug policy has the potential to save many lives.

The Seriousness of Addiction

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The moderator for the event, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow discussed his own personal experience with addiction. He spoke about how drug policy and the culture at large should address the opioid crisis and other addiction issues facing our country. Mr. Kudlow called for our culture to become more aware of the seriousness and life-ruining potential of drugs. He said, “There is nothing humorous about a disease that kills.” He espoused a belief that the culture of death is spreading through our country as many choose to live for the high that drugs bring and other addictive substances can provide instead of understanding the consequences of their actions. He noted that he may not know everything about drug policy but “I speak from the heart and from my own experience. I know what I know. I know drugs ruined my life.”

Drug Policy Needs to See Addiction as a Disease

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Dr. Yngvild Olsen, Medical Director of the Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc., Baltimore, Maryland and past chair of the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s (ASAM) Public Policy Committee began her presentation on the chemical and biological aspects of addiction. She stated that there may be a culture of death but creating a culture of recovery is much more powerful.

From there, Dr. Olsen explained the complex nature of addiction–the cause of addiction and how it affects the brain. An interplay between genetics, environment and childhood trauma is the likely cause of addiction. While there is no addiction gene, many genetic factors can increase the likelihood of developing a substance use problem. Once the substance gets to the brain it tampers with dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. This causes the individual to want to use the substance again. Over time, the individual will experience brain changes. This means the part of the brain that seeks out dopamine releasing activities increases and the control area decreases. Someone with these brain changes will have a harder time resisting the impulse to use the addicting substance.

This shows that addiction is a disease and that local and national drug policy needs to look at the problem as such. Dr. Olsen stated that one of the most effective ways to manage opioid addiction is to provide methadone treatment. Methadone not only decreases opioid cravings, it decreases the risk of spreading HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C by increasing the use of clean needles. It also decreases crime and improves the life span of those who use the medication. Dr. Olsen closed her presentation by noting that she only got one hour of training on addiction while in medical school and she wants both the medical and the governmental community to know more about addiction and how it operates as a disease.

Treatment, Supply and Methadone in Drug Policy

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Dr. Robert G. Newman is the President Emeritus of Continuum and former Director of The Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute of Beth Israel Medical Center. During the lecture, he presented on the scientifically proven beneficial effects of methadone treatment. He also discussed how doubt in methadone’s efficacy in drug policy can have devastating effects. Dr. Newman cited various politicians who have spoken out against methadone use. Some have tried to limit the amount of methadone clinics and restrict certain individuals (e.g. pregnant women) from using the medication.

Dr. Newman advocated for drug policy makers to not only take methadone seriously but to also focus on treatment instead of just the supply. There are stricter rules around prescribing opioids but that is not enough. Current drug policy does not focus on those who have already become addicted to these substances. The focus of drug policy needs to be on those who are not in treatment today, said Dr. Newman. “We have to estimate how many people are not in treatment and how many are in treatment and eliminate that gap.”

The lecture ended with a conversation between speakers and the moderator as well as those in the audience. A lively discussion ensued as topics of personal responsibility, prevention, treatment, and the disease model of addiction were addressed. Hopefully, the attendees left the event with a better understanding of how drug policy needs to be changed. Liberation Programs is adopting a goal of ending opioid deaths in Fairfield County and we invite you to take action with us.

 

 Stop Stigma Now co-sponsored this event.

 

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