We’ve not quite reached the midpoint of the year, but 2016 has already been quite eventful. Shortly after the holiday season, music icon David Bowie passed after what we’ve learned was a very private struggle with cancer. Since Bowie’s untimely death, there’s been some controversial legislation causing a ruckus in the state of California; specifically, if certain legislation would pass, it would mean far fewer beds in California rehabs and, therefore, many more addicted Californians unable to get treatment and left to their own devices.
And we’ve not yet even made it to this week’s top stories in the world of substance abuse and addiction treatment.
Prince’s Death Caused by Physician Malpractice?
By all appearances, this seems to be a pretty bad year if you’re a music icon–better take it easy, Madonna–with Bowie’s mid-January death followed by Prince’s death just a few weeks ago in the latter half of April. When we learned that the cause was cancer, Bowie’s death seemed much more tragic than mysterious; however, with Prince just 57 years old when he died, one can reasonably assume there must have been some unnatural cause or catalyst.
Although the autopsy and toxicology tests have been completed, it will be a few more weeks before the information is made public. However, officials have all but confirmed that Prince’s cause of death was an accidental overdose and have not yet ruled out some type of foul play. Sources close to the music legend have spoken of some health problems he had been facing recently and a number of doctors he had been seeking to address those concerns. Additionally, less than a week before his death Prince had suddenly become very ill while flying to his home in Minneapolis from a show in Atlanta, Georgia; his private jet made an emergency landing in Illinois where he was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and treated for a Percocet overdose. He was released just a few hours later.
In an eerie twist of fate, the overdose that caused Prince’s death was allegedly caused by the very same painkiller that showed up in the toxicology examination conducted after Heath Ledger’s untimely death in 2008. Sources close to the icon believe that Prince abused painkillers like Percocet in an effort to cope with a lingering hip problem that caused the star continuous pain. However, the fact that Prince had ongoing access to such quantities of painkillers– even after a recent overdose– has authorities questioning whether there wasn’t some level of malpractice involved on the part of any of the music legend’s physicians, who are not currently allowed to prescribe controlled substances while authorities continue their investigations.
Virginia Prison Offers Opioid Rehab Program That Ex-cons Want to Return to Jail For
We’re all surely familiar with what the statistics say about addiction and the criminal justice system. More often than not, a convicted offender was under the influence at the time he or she committed the crime for which the individual is serving a prison sentence. Out of almost two-and-a-half million inmates currently inhabiting jails and prisons throughout the U.S., at least 1.5 million of them meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction. The obvious solution would be to start addiction treatment programs in prisons to help inmates get clean, but only 11 percent of all addicted inmates have access to treatment, which is barely more than one in ten.
In Chesterfield County, Virginia, the sheriff’s department has implemented the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program, or HARP; it’s a six-month program for the treatment of heroin and opioid addiction, offering an array of mental health, peer-to-peer, and clinical services to inmates in the county jail. According to those who run the program, one of the goals of HARP is to teach long-term coping strategies to the inmates so that they are better able to resist or avoid relapse once they have completed the program and are released from jail. Additionally, HARP sets up the inmates with professional aftercare that starts at the time of their release; the aftercare is one of the most important components of this pilot program because it addresses the obvious problem of these individuals returning to the same environments where they became addicted and turned to crime.
So far in 2016, there have been 850 deaths from heroin overdose in the state of Virginia. The county of Chesterfield has seen 50 heroin overdoses and 14 heroin overdose deaths since January, so HARP was created as a way to address this issue by working with inmates since criminal offenders and heroin addicts often overlap to a degree. To date, the program operates on very minimal funding combined with community and professional volunteers, but there are plans for the sheriff’s office to pursue more substantial forms of funding in 2017 so they can expand the program.
The results have been astounding. Inmates have been willing and eager to participate in the program and there are even a number of inmates who are requesting to come back and finish the program after their release. Part of the success of the program is because those who created and oversee it– such as Major Ben Craft and other members of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office– genuinely want to help the inmates and address the nationwide heroin problem in ways that don’t solely entail arresting people.
California Raises Legal Smoking Age to 21
It should come as no surprise that on Wednesday, May 4, the progressive state of California became the second state to pass legislation that increases the legal smoking age to 21. The one provision to the new law, which stalled the bill for six months due to appeals made by Republican lawmakers and veterans’ groups, is that the legal smoking age will remain at 18 only for military personnel. According to the appeals, anyone who is “old enough to die for their country” should be considered “old enough to use tobacco”.
This new law gained quick support after surveys showed that 90 percent of all current smokers started smoking between the ages of 18 and 20. Additionally, it was determined that raising the smoking age to 21 would automatically curtail the smoking of the 15 percent of people aged 18 to 20 who use tobacco products. Another initiative behind the legislation was the alarming rise in popularity of so-called e-cigarettes, especially among teenagers who don’t see these “vape” products the same way as traditional tobacco. However, many studies have found vaping to be just as dangerous as smoking conventional cigarettes, so this new law in California applies to e-cigarettes and related products as well.
Hawaii was the first state to officially raise the legal smoking age to 21 just this past January; according to the Hawaiian law, anyone between ages 18 and 20 who is caught smoking any tobacco products will pay a $10 fine for the first offense followed by a $50 fine or community service for each offense thereafter. Although California is only the second state to adopt this same stance, there are more than 100 cities, including New York City, and counties to have enacted similar policies, raising the legal smoking age to 21.
Jamie Lee Curtis Pens Essay about Her Prior Opioid Abuse as Tribute to Prince
While Jamie Lee Curtis is now very outspoken on her views regarding addiction, especially opioid addiction, this is relatively new information to most of us. In fact, the “scream queen” first opened up about her struggles with painkiller addiction back in 2009 following the death of yet another pop star–they’re dropping like flies!–who was said to have died from an overdose: Michael Jackson.
In her essay that was published on Huffington Post, Curtis spoke about how she had been prescribed painkillers for a routine cosmetic procedure and quickly found herself physically and psychologically dependent on them. She would take way more at once than was advised, waited anxiously in pharmacies for her refills, and even stole pills from her sister when she needed a few extra to get by. Her candid tale has rung true and close to home for many, and now she has published yet another recount of her struggles with addiction, but this time in a tribute to Prince.
In her latest essay (also published on Huffington Post), Curtis says that she considers herself one of the lucky few who have managed to beat this disease and come out of opioid dependence alive. With 17 years of sobriety for which to be thankful, Curtis writes that she can sympathize with Prince because she, too, was a toxic person for a long time. She goes on to say: “I, like all of you, mourn the passing of a great artist but I also mourn the passing of potential artists past and present, caught in this deadly vise… Let’s work harder, look closer and do everything we can not to enable and in doing so, disable, our loved ones who are ill. This is what it sounds like when we all cry.”