Addiction Prevention Advocate On Trump's Public Health Emergency Declaration

Originally published on October 26, 2017 11:46 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Gary Mendell listened to the president's remarks today with special interest. He lost his son to addiction in 2011 and went on to form the advocacy group Shatterproof. He has worked with President Trump's opioid commission and was in the audience today at the White House. He spoke to me from the White House just as the event was letting out.

Gary Mendell told me he takes heart in the emphasis the president placed on curbing opioid prescriptions on the front lines in doctors' offices. And now that he knows the will is there, I asked him what concrete steps he'd like to see the administration take from here.

GARY MENDELL: Well, ideally I would like for every prescriber in the country not only to have to be educated in proper prescribing but also to sign a document that they adopt the CDC guideline as a standard of care. And if every doctor in the country were to do that, it would be totally a sea change in prescribing practices.

SIEGEL: The CDC of course the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MENDELL: Correct.

SIEGEL: What do you say to the observation that even if we got things right at the point of prescribing opioids, we would still have the situation on the streets with fentanyl and with heroin and that indeed a lot of the people in need of treatment are not taking prescription drugs; they're taking street drugs?

MENDELL: Sure. I would give two responses to that. Number one, let's have less people become addicted. That's the best treatment - is prevention. And the best way to do that is prescribing practices. And reducing the number of pills being prescribed is going to reduce the number of people who use heroin or ultimately fentanyl because 80 percent of those who use heroin today started with prescription painkillers.

And then related to treatment, addiction is the only major disease in this country without a national standard of care for the treatment of addiction. You can go to 10 doctors for heart disease. Each of the doctors will treat you the same way. But for addiction, everyone is treated with all different methods. So what this country needs to have is a national standard of care for the treatment of addiction.

SIEGEL: Just one other question, if I might. And I ask this because I know that you've - because of the terrible situation with your own son losing his life to addiction. You've no doubt thought a lot about addiction and what it's all about. Some years ago, I went to Kansas where there was an epidemic of methamphetamine abuse, a terrible drug that was really ruining lives. People were cooking it in garages. They were blowing up their homes by mistake in trying to cook this drug. And they were using it without doctors to prescribe, without foreign drug suppliers sending drugs yet into the country. When do we get to whatever the hunger is, whatever the need is for drugs?

MENDELL: Well, there's no one simple answer. For opioids, it's very simple in overprescribing. We are prescribing today three times the amount of pills that we prescribed 15 years ago, and we still prescribe four times the amount that they do in the United Kingdom - four times per person. So if we bring that down into balance, everything will improve. Fewer people will become addicted. Less treatment will be needed. Less people will move to heroin because they haven't started with prescription painkillers. It's really one simple fix related to the opiate situation. Related to all drugs, as a society, we're too much about pills for solutions and less about resistance as a society to what we may feel emotionally or pain we may have externally.

SIEGEL: Mr. Mendell, thank you very much for talking with us about it today.

MENDELL: It's my pleasure. And I really appreciate you bringing awareness to everything we've talked about. So thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Gary Mendell of the advocacy group Shatterproof. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.