Attention all drug stores: Follow CVS on stopping tobacco sales!

This is a great move by CVS/pharmacy. They have stopped selling all tobacco products at their stores. My father Bill Garrity and I did this decades ago at our store, Garrity Drug. One day in 1989, my dad approached me and said that since we were in the business of health care, we should not be harming people’s health. We discussed the issue at length and decided that the money we would lose in not selling tobacco products mattered less than the lives we would be improving.

My dad was a forward thinker. He wanted to promote health no matter the cost. CVS is a trend setter for this round of retail health care vs. harmful toxins. Walgreens has expressed no interest in following suit, possibly because they have had low earnings and various other bad publicity issues of late. At least one chain drug store has re-introduced the movement a small independent drug store in Freeport, Illinois started many years ago.

Tobacco (nicoteine) is one of the most addicting substances known to man. The other ingredients included in tobacco cause damage to one of the most vital organs we have: the lungs. If you can’t breathe, you die. Every emergency room physician or nurse will tell you that finding an airway is critical to life.

Please help keep the movement alive by calling your local pharmacy and requesting they stop selling tobacco products. We need to stand up and be responsible regarding our health and the health of others. Smoking isn’t cool, it kills.

Shortage of social workers, counselors and other psychotherapists is painfully evident

Our society has neglected mental health care for so long now, the symptoms are seeping out in strange arenas. The state of Illinois medicaid department has been battling obstetrician-gynecologists, oncologists and urologists who are submitting claims for psychotherapeutic sessions. These medical providers have no direct training in mental health care, but the demand is so high, they are forced to treat their patients on their own because they can’t find social workers or counselors to handle the work.

America, and other first world countries have a habit of “sidelining” people with mental health issues. There is a stigma about mental health that results in a poor understanding of underlying causes and treatment. The solution is very simple. We need more hands on one-to-one and group therapy with individuals who struggle with psychological disorders.

Our increasing isolation due to the internet, television and other forms of media have resulted in less social interaction between people. We humans are social creatures. We need interaction with other humans. That is why 12 step programs have become so popular. The people that utilize AA, NA, OA etc. realize they can’t figure it out on their own and that they need to talk and relate to others.

The same is true with serious psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. The sufferers of these diseases need human contact and care. Many are neglected and often they deny their disorder which leads to further isolation. Old world societies used to keep these individuals within the family structure and care for them. We cast them out as problems because we are too busy with our own lives.

I implore more people to enter the social work, counseling and other psychotherapy fields to allow more humane treatment of our fellow mental health sufferers. We can’t afford not to. As we can see in Illinois, we will pay now, or pay later.

Adapting to society’s health needs – another great example

When human behavior alters, and it begins to affect their health, we respond right?  Well, it is easier said than done.  The state of Alaska has the right idea by funding a program that makes free pregnancy tests available to bar patrons.  This is a response to the increase in newborns with fetal alcohol syndrome.

I think it sheds a positive light on humanity when we think outside the box and risk public scorn by getting to the root of the problem.  We need to see these efforts on a grander scale in battling substance abuse in general.  I believe a broader education effort is warranted by the federal government in addressing the dangers of alcohol abuse on every front: domestic violence, assault, drunk driving etc.

Even needle exchange programs should be expanded.  Yes, everyone thought it would promote drug use, but it doesn’t.  What it does do is prevent disease transmission from sharing needles.  We need to have naloxone available along with these clean needles, without prescription.  Naloxone has saved thousands of people who have overdosed on heroin and other opioids in the last year since it started to be accepted more broadly.

After all, we have modified our responses to other health crises: AED (automated external defibrillator) for heart attacks (that may be the result of poor diets); ubiquitous sanitary hand cleaner dispensers; warnings on cigarette packs etc.  We tend to respond when the outcry reaches a certain crescendo.  The problem now is that there are so many cries, that many health concerns- mainly those related to what most consider illegal or just aberrant behavior – get ignored.

Again, behavior changes and people will do what they are going to do.  We need to respond appropriately by protecting the health of these people.  They are sick people, they are not bad people.  They are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers etc.  people.  That’s all.

What are your feelings about addressing health concerns that fall out of the mainstream?

Time article


Addiction is a disease – increase treatment availability and decrease prison time

OK, so another article points out that our prisons are full of drug addicts.  We knew that already, but we are now lead to believe that many people are only sent there after multiple relapses.  I don’t have hard data to support this and neither does the Ohio Department of Correction.  Still, the article points out that judges: 1. don’t feel comfortable using their local treatment providers; or, 2. there are not enough beds available.

As a criminal defense attorney, I have personally witnessed both scenarios.  Some judges would like to try treatment indefinitely, if they only felt that there were safe treatment centers where drug use was not rampant.  Then there are other judges who would keep using treatment if they could find a bed for the defendant.

Of course, there are the recalcitrant and burned out judges who have just given up on treatment and maybe the disease concept itself, and immediately send the defendant to jail or prison.  Many times they have the erroneous assumption that defendants will get treatment while locked up, but it is rarely available.

We need to educate the judicial system of the benefits of treatment, get the legislature on board with more funding for treatment, and last but not least, educate the public that addicts are suffering from a disease.  Addicts are not morally bed people, they can’t stop once they get started.  We need to get started on helping them get well.


Marijuana edibles have safety issues, and not for beginners

Two people have died as a result of overdosing on marijuana edibles, and emergency room visits are on the upswing.  Colorado may have been the first to legalize marijuana, but they are also experiencing the growing pains associated with a psychoactive drug in the hands of lay people.  Let’s be clear about one thing first: marijuana is a drug.  Yes, you can call it “God’s herb” but it is still a substance that can alter your thinking and other bodily functions, in ways that cannot be predicted.

I am guilty of uneducated use of this drug as I used to smoke a lot of weed before I got into recovery.  I was also guilty of making edible forms of pot.  I definitely misused it and could easily have had negative consequences as a result of my use and abuse of it.  Again, as with all my drug use I don’t know why I surveyed and many of my friends did not.  It is truly “Russian roulette” when you ingest any drug (alcohol, marijuana, LSD, cocaine,  heroin etc).

This news about marijuana edibles causing death, is coming at a time within the first year of legalization in Colorado.  That only means we are just seeing the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Weed is a fat soluble drug, and therefore, when it is ingested orally, it can take a while for the body to break it down via the digestive system.  This delay is apparently the problem.  People who don’t understand this delay want immediate results after eating and when they don’t get it, they eat more.  This results in a potentially toxic, lethal dose.

Newbies who where previously afraid of smoking marijuana, due to the potential negative effects on their lungs, are easy targets for the edibles.  Just eating a few cookies, lollipops, brownies, etc of pot may be an attractive introduction to the drug for this segment of the population.  Marijuana intoxication is not to be taken lightly.  Yes, you long term smokers out there may object, but try to be a good steward of conscious, safe marijuana use if and when you decide to turn someone on to your habit.  It isn’t your mothers weed out there anymore.  It is a more potent and potentially psychologically and medically dangerous drug these days.

Some people will write anything to sell a book…

There is a recent best selling book “The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry” that pans Alcoholics Anonymous. The basic premise of the book is that AA requires you to behave exactly the way the 12 steps tell you to, or else. This is hogwash. My experience in AA has been exactly the opposite. We members of AA and other 12 step programs are rather disorganized, truth be told. You don’t have to tow any party line, and there is more flexibility than an outsider might think.

True, the underlying tenet of the 12 step program is to change, and not engage in the behavior that got you there in the first place. The “Debunking” authors will have you believe that 12 step programs require strict rules of behavior. In fact, all 12 steps are SUGGESTED! There are no requirements. Telling an alcoholic and addict that it is one way or the highway, sends them down the road immediately.

No, the authors simply want to make some money by saying that an organization that started in 1935, that has no formal leadership, that does not seek funding, that has saved millions of people, that does not force attendance, that works if you work it, is somehow a flawed model. Why do 12 step programs succeed with all the flaws debunkers point out? Because it works. Enough said.

It is almost like the saying “that almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.” Sure, there will be those who AA does not work for. The God and praying issue being cited by most as a reason for failure. Too bad AA started in a day and age when God was a big deal. Not so much now, but spirituality is the goal anyway, not God.

Still, we go on. AA works for me and countless others. I look forward to the debunkers new program. Do they have one? No, just a book detracting from something that works. Good for them. If they start a program and it works as good as the 12 steps, I will check it out. I don’t want to fall into the contempt prior to investigation group. In the meantime, I will head to an AA meeting and you, dear reader, can peruse the attached article on the resilience of AA.

New Mexico Pharmacists First Approved to Prescribe Overdose Drug

As we already know, there is no one way to fight the heroin epidemic.  We must use multiple tools to prevent the senseless deaths caused by heroin and other opioid overdose.  A new tool is offered by the state of New Mexico.  They already are forward thinking by allowing pharmacists to prescribe a limited selection of prescription drugs, but now they have added probably the most immediate life saving drug to the pharmacists formulary.
In this day and age of overworked doctors, an alternative to seeing a capable health care professional has been demanded.  We have had advance practice nurses (APN) and nurse practitioners (NP) who have had the ability to prescribe and relieve some of the burden of over worked MD’s for some time now.  Now, in some states that think outside the box (sorry, Ohio, not you), we are allowing pharmacists to step up and help the cause.

As a pharmacist, drug counselor. attorney and recovering opioid addict, I know only too well, the plight of addicts who need any avenue of assistance that can help them survive this disease.  We need more treatment beds, better sentencing laws with a focus on drug courts (70% of all crimes are related to substance abuse), medical assisted treatment (Suboxone, methadone, Vivitrol etc), drug education and prevention and of course, the last ditch effort: naloxone in a nasal applicator or IM injection to prevent an overdose.

New Mexico, I applaud you!  Naloxone should be on every wall next to a AED defibrillator.  It saves lives and can’t hurt anyone who comes in contact with it, as it has no side effects or adverse consequences.  After all, we have fire extinguishers everywhere, but we rarely use them.  Look at naloxone as the fire extinguisher that that can save your loved ones life.

Feds approve powdered alcohol; ‘Palcohol’ available later this year

This is a strange public outing for a strange new addictive product – one possibly due to the fact that the company didn’t realize the product would be approved, and that it will not be warmly received by the overall public.  The Telegraph, a British news organization, was the first to publish this information.  Since it is a US approved product, it is amazing a UK paper scooped all US papers.

The bottom line is that this new dosage form of alcohol can only result in negative consequences.  If you need alcohol available at all times, maybe you have a problem with alcohol.  People will start sneaking the powder into every venue and location that prohibits alcohol – because they can.  It will result in one more problem for enforcement of alcohol use policies, whether law enforcement derived, school policy or otherwise.

The fact that it is new, is alone, enough to get curious children and most people who have problems with alcohol to use it.  Even those who have been sober for any period of time, may decide to give it a try and start their addiction up mall over again.  Addicts like to get away with whatever they can.  This new powder form of alcohol makes that possible.

This can only end badly.  Even though I am a busy DUI, DWI, OVI attorney here in Cleveland, Ohio, I disagree with the approval of this new drug.  We need individual states to stand up against the feds, ala Governor Patrick Duval in Massachusetts, who wants to prohibit the highly addictive and potentially deadly form of hydrocodone, Zohydro, from being prescribed in his state.  Start talking to your legislators now.

“Nobody is jumping for joy when they have to go into substance abuse treatment”

It’s funny, and sad, when I think about people who don’t understand the underlying involuntary nature of addiction.  They think that addicts have full control over all of their actions and decisions.  Believe me, no one would choose to engage in behavior that results in breaking loved ones hearts, stealing from them, getting violently ill from being without the drug of choice, going to prison… and the list goes on.  It is the worst feeling in the world, but we just can’t stop once we get started.

Unfortunately, the government is also misunderstanding the needs of addicts.  When Ronald Reagan made the decision to close long term mental health facilities, allegedly based on the abuse of clients, he also had a deleterious effect on addiction treatment.  Since addiction is a mental health disease, it meant that any facility that billed the government for services (i.e., Medicaid), they were limited to 16 treatment beds.  The result being, we have a shortage of inpatient beds for indigent addicts.

This shortage results in waiting lists to get help.  What do addicts do if the have to wait?  They usually continue to treat their disorder by using more of the substance that prevents them from getting sick, their drug of choice.  We need to contact our legislators and demand they pass state laws getting around this federal restriction.  The Reagan philosophy of “Just Say No” doesn’t work.  This is a mental health disorder that has risen to a medical emergency with the current opioid/heroin epidemic.

No, we addicts don’t jump for joy at going into treatment, but if you want people you care about, get the opportunity to recover, do your part today!

Prescription drugs not as safe as you think…

So we Americans have a love affair with prescription (and non-prescription – over the counter- “OTC” drugs). We always want a quick fix and reach for a pill to solve our ills. The bad news is that these supposedly “pure” substances, may not be as pure as we thought.

CNN recently reported that 40% of our drugs are made in India, and the sanitary conditions in those India pharmaceutical plants is not that good. The conditions were bad enough that the FDA had to pass an act that requires drug makers to pay extra fees to off set the FDA inspection of their plants. This is only fair, as they are making a tidy profit from drug sales. Pharmaceutical sales is consistently one of the top money makers in the last 30 years.

It’s actually interesting that when seniors started to go to Canada to buy their expensive maintenance meds a decade ago, the US drug companies were saying they better watch out for contaminated drugs. As it turns out, Canadian drug manufacturing plants are some of the cleanest and safest in the world.

All the time, US drug companies were opening up plants in India and trying to keep it quiet. Let’s face it, we really can’t trust the drug makers or the FDA. We are in a situation where we have to take what we get because of drug import laws and other government organized big pharma protectionism. Maybe we should take control of our own lives and begin eating healthy, exercising, using alternative therapies etc, instead of blindly reaching for a drug. It feels weird saying that being a pharmacist, but if I have seen (and shared) the light, maybe others will follow.