Addiction Hits Close to Home at Appalachian Festival

On day two of Frostburg State University’s Appalachian Festival, John Temple, a West Virginia University Journalism Professor, shined the light on a problem most in the audience can find a personal connection to. Presenting on his third book American Pain, Temple dives into a world of greed, agony, and addicts.

His story follows two brothers, Chris and Jeff George, and Doctor William Overstreet as they found a way to create a lucrative business out of some people’s need to feel nothing. In Fort Lauderdale, the three opened up the South Florida Pain Clinic in 2007, writing prescriptions of high dose pain medication to anyone who could give them an MRI. Local authorities watched as this “Pill Mill” grew and others sprouted up in the state, each seeing 100 plus patients a day.

The brothers and Dr. Overstreet were making thousands of dollars by not only prescribing, but also filling prescriptions in-house. Others caught on to the trend and started to use these businesses for their own financial gain. Quickly, vans from all over were being filled with addicts and were making the drive to Florida to see doctors that asked just enough questions to work for a legitimate medical center.  Travellers had been coached in what aches to describe and what medicine to ask for by those driving. Payment drivers took half of whatever prescription was filled, loaded up and drove home.

Surprisingly, Temple explains that most of their customers come directly from Appalachia. With 43% from Kentucky alone, a whole nation was being reached. Temple found that taking the trip is “indicative of the level of desperation most addicts feel” to obtain their next high. Becoming dependent on painkillers is no different than addiction to the drugs we hear about on television. Temple was careful enough to not give away too much more of his novel, but urged the audience to understand that “we need to stop thinking these [pills and hard drugs] are a separate addiction.” The parallels Temple drew between heroin and pill addiction shocked Madison Fell, a senior at Frostburg. “It’s so simple, anyone could become addicted to those things. I know three or four people that have [prescribed pain killers] in their rooms right now.”

Western Maryland is fighting its own battle with addiction currently. Becky Myers and Chris Delaney from the Allegany County Health Department Behavioral Health Services presented immediately after Temple and confirmed what most of the audience was thinking: this problem was not going anywhere. In 2014 there were 210 reported non-fatal overdoses in Allegany County, 39% were opioid related, and by July 2016, 234 non-fatal overdoses have been reported, 74% opioid related.

The partnership between the community and the Department of Health is vital to continue this battle. Naloxone, an over the counter emergency drug that reverses the effects of an overdose until professional medical help arrives, will hopefully improve the statistics of non-fatal overdoses. The Department of Health has partnered to properly train others to use this drug. As of now 441 individuals have been trained, 156 of them are law enforcement. A local student who has requested to remain anonymous commented, “My uncle went to a training on that. He keeps a prescription in the house in case one of my cousin’s friends OD’s.” As the epidemic continues, it is safe to say this training will become a necessity for all in the region.

To find out more about American Pain visit http://johntemplebooks.com/books/american-pain/

John Temple, author of American Pain, presents statistics on overdose deaths between 1970 & 2007.
John Temple, author of American Pain, presents statistics on overdose deaths between 1970 & 2007.

For more information about the Allegany County Health Department Behavior Health Services and their fight visit http://www.prescribechangeallegany.org/

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