Myrtle Beach Councilman Wants To Put The Wrong Drug Offenders In Jail
October 4, 2016 (Fault Lines) – The Chairman of the Horry County Council in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has come up with an old solution to the new problem of opiate addiction. Just put the addicts in jail. Because if you can’t do drugs, problem solved.
Mark Lazarus has proposed the idea that folks who overdose should be put in jail for a mandatory 72 hours until they can be sent to a treatment center. Lazarus’s heart may be in the right place, but his head is up his ass. There is no question heroin has come back with a vengeance. The highly addictive drug leads to overdose a lot faster than any of the usual suspects out there. That’s a problem.
Lazarus’s solution, unfortunately, has all the hallmarks of a crappy answer to a complex problem. It sounds good on its face. Unless you happen to be an addict or a family member of an addict, you probably have very little sympathy for someone who can’t control their drug use. So maybe three days in jail sounds like a pretty decent way to put a problem out of sight and out of mind. For at three days, anyway.
If you understood nothing about jails and addiction, pulling someone away from their supply for the weekend has a lot of attraction. Of course, when you come up with an idea that involves putting people in jail and the police don’t even like it, that should be a red flag.
Myrtle Beach police chief Warren Gall told city council members Tuesday the mandatory jail time wouldn’t work at the city jail, which is a 48-hour hold facility that doesn’t have the medical personnel to treat overdose survivors.
At least a police chief understands this a medical problem, not a criminal problem. But that just involves the logistics of the program. Beyond the fact that it can’t be done, there is also the root of the problem that needs to be addressed. And as little sympathy as you might have for a drug addict, a local doctor points out the real cause of this issue: other doctors.
“I think it’s a horrible idea because most people … assume that people are abusing drugs and that’s the problem,” said Dr. David Tonkin at the Elite Pain Management clinic in Little River. “But … two-thirds of the people who overdose on opioids are actually overdosing on legitimate prescriptions from physicians.”
Dr. Tonkin apparently understands these are not irresponsible partiers getting high and forgetting when to stop the good times. They are legitimate pain patients that medical personnel are ignoring on the front end of their drug use. Tonkin points out (not in these exact words) that negligent medical treatment is the root cause of the growing opiate epidemic.
Tonkin travels all over the country talking to groups about the gateway drug — prescription painkillers — that has fueled a heroin epidemic in cities across the country and the prescribing “gatekeepers” that have gone mostly unchecked … until recently.
“It’s the physicians that are causing a majority of the problems,” Tonkin said.
“Physicians hate to hear they’re doing something wrong, but they are. … The doctors are the gatekeepers,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control has recognized the majority of these drug addicts aren’t starting in a shady heroin den somewhere downtown. In fact, their addiction is starting in the most unlikely of places. The quiet interior of the local family doctor’s office.
“Every day, 3,900 people start using pain medicine for non-medical reasons,” Tonkin said, citing a CDC statistic. “Every day 500 people start using heroin and out of that 500 people, who start using heroin, four out of five of them started (with) using pain pills.”
This usage represents a drastic increase over the last decade. That increase is starting from doctors not paying attention to a patient’s initial problems.
“The doctor has six minutes to see the patient. The patient comes in the office, all they worry about is their pain,” Tonkin said. The patients “cannot feel their blood pressure, their diabetes, but the doctor realizes in six minutes he has to address all their problems and all the patient wants to talk about is the pain. So what do they do real quick? They fill out that Percocet prescription. ‘There you go, let’s talk about your diabetes.’
Like Tonkin mentions, doctors don’t want to be told they are doing something wrong. Why do they have only six minutes to see a patient? And if that is really true, why aren’t they standing up to say no?
It’s hard to let go of old solutions. The War on Drugs makes us feel safer. There is a real comfort to seeing a black-clad raid team armed with submachine guns and body armor blow down a door and pull dope dealers out in handcuffs.
That image is harder to stomach when it’s your local kindly doctor and his sweet nurses on the other end of that battering ram. But if you want to be harsh about dealing with a drug problem, that’s the solution. If you want a war, that is the likely target. Of course, that war is going to have the same ineffectiveness it had against cartels as it will against the medical profession.
The statistics Dr. Tonkin cites are pretty clear. It’s hard to say the opiate addiction epidemic is a mystery. Seems obvious. The six-minute visit to the doctor ends up as a street buy for a bindle of heroin. Over and over, until the overdose.
If 80% of the problem can be traced to doctors and their speedy appointments, the addicts seem a lot more sympathetic. Maybe a weekend in jail would make those doctors a little more careful about who they hand out pain pill prescriptions to. That’s how we deter drug dealers, right?