Seth Leibsohn: Politicizing and Misunderstanding the Opioid Crisis

By Seth Leibsohn

The nation’s opioid crisis is real and it is serious. As Christopher Caldwell recently pointed out, “those who call the word ‘carnage’ an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.” And so, too, are those playing politics with the crisis. Even beyond the politicization—or, perhaps, because of it—there is still a great deal of misunderstanding as to what is driving this crisis.

As for the first problem, the politics: Senator Claire McCaskill (D., MO) has announced that she is initiating an investigation of several opioid manufacturers, and is requesting “reams of information” from them. But note the one manufacturer she did not target and from which she did not request information—Mallinckrodt. Mallinckrodt, after all, is headquartered in Missouri, her own state. Odd, that. And it’s not as if Mallinckrodt is a bit player in the manufacture and sales of opioid drugs. Indeed, “it is one of the nation’s largest” producers, responsible for nearly 20 percent of the market share of opioid prescriptions. The companies McCaskill has targeted are responsible for a total market share of 5.25 percent combined. Odd, that. If she were serious about investigating pharmaceutical companies, she most certainly would be investigating the one based in her own home state which also happens to be the one responsible for most opioid sales in America.

But all of this is not even the beginning of the beginning in addressing America’s opioid crisis. For when political leaders like Senator McCaskill are not playing politics with the issue, they are too often misunderstanding it. Some of that is not their fault.

Part of the problem in addressing the opioid crisis is that the terminology can be confusing or misleading. People hear “opioid” or “prescription opioid” or “fentanyl” and begin to lump the problems all together as a crisis driven by legitimately prescribed drugs. No doubt, that is a part of the problem, but it is nowhere near the biggest part of it. Take a look at the best statistics available (taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the CDC):

  • In 2015, there were 33,091 opioid overdose deaths.
  • Heroin deaths constituted 12,990 of those deaths.
  • Synthetic opioids (mostly illegal fentanyl) constitute another 9,580 deaths.

Because opioid deaths usually involve the use of more than one drug, percentages and raw numbers will not neatly add up to 100% or the 33,091 deaths. As the White House Website puts it: “A portion of the overdose deaths involved both illicit opioids and prescription opioids.” But what we can see from the above is that over 68 percent of the problem is from the use of illegal drugs.  Or, as the CDC put it in December of 2016: “[T]he increase in opioid overdose death rates is driven in large part by illicit opioids, like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.”

As for the prescribed opioids, the majority of overdose deaths from those come from the diversion and illegal distribution of them. As the CDC notes: “Most people who abuse prescription opioids get them for free from a friend or relative.” The people “at highest risk of overdose” “get opioids using their own prescriptions (27 percent), from friends or relatives for free (26 percent), buying from friends or relatives (23 percent), or buying from a drug dealer (15 percent).” Thus, for the population that overdoses from opioid prescriptions, 64 percent abuse them from a diverted or illegal source. In other words, the abuse of opioid prescriptions that leads to overdose deaths involving a patient acquiring a legal prescription and misusing that prescription on himself is less than 30 percent of the prescription problem and constitutes about 15 percent of the overall opioid overdose problem.

This is backed up, as well, by the most recent testimony of the Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, Dr. Debra Houry. Just last month, she testified to Congress stating,

Although prescription opioids were driving the increase in overdose deaths for many years, more recently, the large increase in overdose deaths has been due mainly to increases in heroin and synthetic opioid (other than methadone) overdose deaths, not prescription opioids. Importantly, the available data indicate these increases are largely due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Again, the main driver of our current crisis is the use and abuse of illegal drugs, not legally prescribed drugs. Indeed, there is some common sense to this. Almost anyone who has had a surgical procedure was likely given a legal opioid like fentanyl. As one prominent anesthesiologist recently wrote: “To an anesthesiologist, fentanyl is as familiar as a Philips screwdriver is to a carpenter; it is an indispensable tool in my toolbox. It is the most commonly used painkiller during surgery. If you’ve had surgery, it is more likely than not that you have had fentanyl.” And yet the vast majority of people who have had surgical procedures do not have substance abuse or opioid abuse problems.

Yes, there is a popular reverse gateway theory regarding heroin abuse—i.e., that high percentages of heroin users started by abusing prescription opioid drugs. But that is misleading and, indeed, looks at the problem from the wrong direction.

As Dr. Robert DuPont from the Institute for Behavior and Health has put it:

[W]hile 80% of heroin users used a prescription opioid before they first used heroin, the vast majority, over 96%, of people who have used a prescription opioid non-medically [i.e., illegally] have not transitioned to using heroin.  Five years after the initial nonmedical use of a prescription opioid, only 3.6% ever used any heroin.  Among prescription opiate users, the people most vulnerable to switching to heroin are those who are also abusers of other drugs including alcohol.

In other words, the vast majority of prescription opioid patients do not transition to the use of an illegal drug like heroin.

Other data bear this out, as well. For example, according to an important article in the January 2016 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that “[A]lthough the majority of current heroin users report having used prescription opioids non-medically before they initiated heroin use, heroin use among people who use prescription opioids for non-medical reasons is rare, and the transition to heroin use appears to occur at a low rate.”

The numbers and factors detailed here are not meant to diminish or emphasize any serious or particular effort to address the variety of opioid issues contributing to the present crisis but, rather, to detail the full picture of the problem in sharp relief. Playing politics with this crisis will get us nowhere and waste a lot of time, energy, and resources. Public confusion about what is leading the epidemic and behind the majority of cases driving the crisis is another problem altogether, made worse by playing politics with it. It is time, past time, to get serious about this issue and take it on in a serious manner.

There are a great many efforts aimed at dealing with pill mills and irresponsible and rogue sales of prescription opioids. That is all to the good. But those efforts will not solve the problem or even get to the roots of the largest parts of it. A responsible and successful prevention campaign is needed and must be combined with serious drug education policies and messages along with a greater border and law enforcement effort. For concerned Americans, first and foremost, it is our duty to become educated about the issue.

Seth Leibsohn is a Contributing Editor to American Greatness and is the host of The Seth & Chris Show, heard nightly on 960am/KKNT in Phoenix. You can connect with Seth on Twitter: @SethLeibsohn

Frosty’s Democrat Talking Points

By Ella Gent

Last week, we wrote about Frosty Taylor’s so-called “Republican Briefs.” As we pointed out at the time, Frosty is less interested in “News and Updates,” as her website claims, and more interested in vile gossip, attacks on Republicans, and outright lies.

However, despite spending the vast majority of her time demonizing and attacking fellow Republicans, Frosty has never overtly supported Democrats or their talking points. That is, until Sunday morning’s post.

Sunday, Frosty gave voice to a left-wing Arizona Democratic Party e-mail that attacked Senator Flake. Since Frosty is not a real journalist she just believed the worst and added her voice to the attack. Frosty’s fake news never does any real research. Or she would have known that she was attacking ALL of the Republicans in the Arizona delegation!

It is understandable why Democrats would attack Senator Flake. He has supported each and every one of President Trump’s nominees. He’s pledged to do whatever it takes to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. His voting record on conservative issues is always among the highest in the Senate. Of course Democrats would like to see him defeated.

Indeed, what’s confusing is why a self-described “Republican” would amplify the attacks on Senator Flake from the Arizona Democrats. Using wildly out of context “facts” and twisting a recent vote to imply wrongdoing, Frosty and her friends at the Arizona Democrat Party are doing all they can to defeat Senator Flake.

To be clear, the Senator’s vote was to roll back an 11th-hour Obama regulation that the entire Republican delegation felt was the right thing to do. Without question, Congress will take up the matter of internet privacy over the next few months, but in the meantime, stopping a regulatory end-run by the Obama Administration should be applauded, not attacked…and certainly not attacked in a “Republican” newsletter by using Democrat talking points.

Frosty, of course, fails to mention that every single member of the Arizona Republican Congressional delegation voted the same way that Senator Flake voted. Voting with Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, and others isn’t party of Frosty’s #fakenews agenda. She fails to provide the other side of the argument. She just attacks…and uses Democrats to carry her message. At best she is dishonest, at worst she simply didn’t do any real research.

Frosty Taylor is welcomed to submit a response to this guest opinion.

Media apologies to Devin Nunes can start now

The Left’s defense of Susan Rice (haven’t we seen that phrase written somewhere before???) in the Trump spying case will follow two lines of argument.

One is that Rice, as President Obama’s national security adviser was “simply doing her job” when she began ordering the “unmasking” of, first, Trump campaign officials, then, post-election, Trump transition-team members. It’s not an outlandish defense, considering the wide latitude given intelligence officials like Rice to conduct surveillance.

The other line of defense is the Left’s remarkable capacity to simply ignore behavior that — were it anyone but St. Obama and  Friends — would prove unavoidably compelling to anyone with even modest curiosity.

Rice reportedly was asking for reports involving Trump associates as early as last summer, even before he was nominated. Before clamming up (as of the evening of April 4, she hadn’t made a statement), she appears to have lied about what she knew, claiming she knew nothing about information being incidentally collected on Trump transition officials.

No telling where this story goes, if anywhere. ABC and NBC news ran nothing Monday evening on the Rice revelations, while CBS national news issued a cloyingly sympathetic report that seemed prepared by Obama spin-meister Ben Rhodes, noting in the first paragraph that Rice simply needed “to understand the context” in which all these Trump people kept turning up (incidentally!) in all these surveillance reports — none of which, by the way, involved Russians.

Whatever comes of it, one thing that should come of it (in my perfect world) is an abject apology to Rep. Devin Nunes from all the media whose knee-jerk instinct was to mock the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after he announced having seen documents supporting Trump’s claims to have been spied upon by the Obama administration.

The story line was all about Nunes’ trip to the White House, while mostly indifferent to what Nunes claimed to have found.

The Arizona Republic’s editorial on the subject was a classic of media group-think.

In addition to serving up abject hysteria about “the external threat to the sovereignty of our elections” (I swear!!! Go read it! It’s the very first line! Duping John Podesta into giving up his g-mail password is an existential threat to the sovereignty of our elections!), the editorial smears Nunes with a thick coating of liberal condescension.

“Nunes sent up a smoke screen — and we need to get beyond this kind of distracting political posturing. Way beyond it.”

Well, we’re beyond the smokescreen now. The smoke has lifted and — why look here! — guess who’s behind the smoke:

Susan “It was a spontaneous reaction to a video” Rice, conducting vitally important surveillance of Trump officials from July through December, and making certain their names were known to anyone who looked at the documents.

Which, as former Obama aide Evelyn Farkas noted, included as many people as they could round up.

 

Now, Becky….

A Letter to the Editor that include the phrase, “I am outraged…” is a letter from a zealot.

Right or Left, they all arise from the same crop of pods (yes, I did watch “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” last night on Turner Classic Movies, thank you). One arrived from a Person of the Outraged Left in The Republic today.

“I am outraged that our senator, Jeff Flake, during his time to question the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would ask: ‘Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?” wrote Republic reader Ms. Becky (full name withheld because maybe she’s taken a pill and calmed down by now).

You know, it was an odd question for Sen. Flake to ask. But with all the purple-faced fake outrage being directed by the Left against Gorsuch (the worst? the absolute worst? oh, yesssss: Right here), a little silliness doesn’t hurt.

Flake in fact has indicated just how seriously he takes Gorsuch’s nomination. And his seriousness won’t please Ms. Becky.

But here is the thing: After four days of Senate hearings with this elegant, intelligent constitutionalist, a reasonable person — Ms. Becky in her present state of pique clearly excluded — simply cannot end a Letter to the Editor with this, and not be pegged as a Perpetually Outraged Pod Person:

“Gorsuch is not fit to sit on the Supreme Court. He must be opposed.”

MCRC Briefs Defines Party Purity, Defies Party Unity

By Ella Gent

It’s an old and tired act. And for too many years, it has polluted the dark corner of Arizona Politics where conspiracy theories, hatred, and attacks rule the day.

We’re referring of course, to Frosty Taylor’s #FakeNews site, the MCRC Briefs.

Monday morning, Frosty’s readers were treated to yet another example of #FakeNews when she printed, verbatim, an outright lie about Chairman Jonathan Lines, quoting a letter he never wrote from a voter he’s never met.

There’s no such letter. Just another Frosty Fable.

First off, despite her intentions to confuse her audience, Frosty’s #FakeNews is in no way affiliated with the Maricopa County Republican Committee, which is ably run by Chris Herring. But Frosty wants to give you the impression that she is the voice of the County party.

She isn’t. But the lies don’t stop there.

No, Frosty has created a cottage industry of using her shrinking platform to attack Republicans. She goes after elected officials. She berates Precinct Committeemen. She bullies anyone who doesn’t adhere to her myopic world view, and despite her claims of impartiality, writes the kind of slanted and biased articles that would make the writers of Pravda stand up and take notice.

Worst of all is that Frosty, despite modeling herself as a champion of grassroots Republicans, doesn’t seem much interested in advancing Republican causes, candidates, or policies. Browse through any one of her blog posts in the last month, and once you get through the poor writing, misspellings, and non-sequiturs, you won’t find criticisms of Democrats or the leftists agenda, no information of registering voters or any pro-GOP information. What you will find are attacks on Republicans, outlandish paranoia, and lie after lie after lie. If Frosty Taylor so enjoys attacking Republicans, perhaps she’d be more comfortable as a Democrat!

All of this would be moderately amusing if not slightly annoying, if Frosty weren’t now actively engaged in trying to bring chaos to the Arizona GOP. In January, Frosty strongly backed the two losing candidates for Chair in Maricopa County and for the Arizona GOP, using her blog to push false narratives, ask slanted questions and lies about other candidates. Despite her best efforts, both Chris Herring and,two weeks later, Jonathan Lines were elected. Could people finally be seeing through the falsehoods?

But Frosty just couldn’t accept that she and her candidates lost. Recently, in conjunction with Jim O’Connor, she has begun to whisper about and organize a “recall” effort of Chairman Lines. While absolutely absurd on its face (Lines has been in office less than 2 months, just concluded a wildly successful Executive Committee Meeting, and is poised to break records for fundraising at this month’s Legislative Salute), there’s really no cause or justification for taking this action. But that won’t stop Frosty…she’ll keep attacking her fellow Republicans and damage the party until she gets her way.

Or until everyone stops reading.

===

Frosty Taylor / MCRC Briefs are welcome to submit their own response. That door is always open.

Trent Franks, Other Arizona Conservatives Need to Keep Healthcare Promises

By Sam Stone

The Trump Administration may be less than two months old, but for conservatives, it may already be D-Day in Washington.

In less than 48 hours, the House of Representatives is set to vote on the curiously named “American Health Care Act” – the current GOP effort being pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan as a repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

This bill is the wrong idea at the wrong time and it does not deserve a “yes” vote. Right now, the count says that it’s too close to call. So every member of Congress counts.

Here’s our question: Will Trent keep his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare in a responsible way?

Let’s step back.

Trent Franks is no rookie when it comes to opposing Obamacare. Look at his record here. Lots of detail and votes against what he consistently calls: “Health care proposals that wrested control of the American health care industry from the hands of private organizations and turn it over to the federal government.”

Right when this year’s Congress began, Franks and Congressman Andy Biggs introduced the Protection from Obamacare Mandates and Congressional Equity Act.

Franks said it contained three bedrock principles:

  • First, it gives every American more coverage options.
  • Second, it would allow Americans to purchase their coverage across state lines, opening up more opportunities for competition that will, in turn, help to lower costs for consumers.
  • Third, our alternative protects the patient-doctor relationship.

Just a month ago, Rep. Franks said: “My concern is [a repeal-replace bill] will give some lackadaisical senator a reason to vote against it. My concern is the entire repeal is in mortal danger … There may be some people who will get weak-kneed.”

These are valid concerns, but they sound like reasons not to vote for the current plan, which has all sorts of problems.

The reliable conservative policy think tank Heritage Action makes the fundamental case that the AHCA falls short:

“Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act.  That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy.

“Rather than accept the flawed premises of Obamacare, congressional Republicans should fully repeal the failed law and begin a genuine effort to deliver on longstanding campaign promises that create a free market health care system that empowers patients and doctors.”

Congressman Franks is a solid conservative leader. Currently, he is listed as “leaning no.” That’s why this is the ideal time to give him the support, encouragement and, well, cautionary warning he may need to stay true to his principles and his promises by not resting until Obamacare is gone – and in its place a true, principled alternative – instead of Obamacare-lite.

No, Ms. Bahr, the Navajo Generating Station is NOT closing because of wind and solar

All politics involves the art of lying. The Left obsesses over Donald Trump’s unique practice of the art (Although… really. Wasn’t James Comey just a couple months ago the lying spawn of Satan-Trump himself?), but prevarication is a well-worn screwdriver in the progressive toolkit, too.

Leftist lies are often by omission. If someone had had the good sense to ask President Obama what might happen if your insurance company were to alter that healthcare plan you like by as little as a comma, then we all may have learned that you really couldn’t keep the fricking plan, after all.

Missed opportunities.

The Arizona Republic recently published (apparently only in its paper editions) a great example of a Leftist’s Lie by Omission. It ran on Saturday on the oped pages. By the director of the local Sierra Club, Sandy Bahr.

Bahr wrote about the impending closing of the Navajo Generating Station near Page. It is the largest coal-fired power plant in the Western U.S. In addition to delivering power to a multitude of states, it provides power to the Central Arizona Project, which delivers (uphill!) Arizona’s portion of Colorado River water. That takes a lot of power.

The NGS had an Obama-era target on its back. Closing it was a top goal of Obama’s activist Environmental Protection Agency. But even with the obnoxious “Clean Power Plan” in hand, Obama’s fierce change-agents at the EPA couldn’t quite pull it off. They managed to shut down a third of the plant’s capacity, but that was it.

Then, earlier this year, the owner-operators announced the plant would close. The driving force? It wasn’t the heavy hand of Washington at work. It was economics. Coal, historically one of the cheapest and most efficient-burning sources of energy, could no longer compete with other, cheaper power-providers.

Enter the exultant Ms. Bahr, crowing on the pages of the Republic about how coal-fired power “simply cannot compete against cheaper — and cleaner — energy options.”

Which is true. And if Ms. Bahr had simply ended her sentence there, she would have been spot-on accurate. Coal really is in a death spiral as a fuel source nationally because natural gas is so cheap.

But Ms. Bahr is an environmental activist, which renders it impossible for her to acknowledge that coal is being displaced by cleaner burning gas, because gas is not perfect, and Leftists bow only to perfection.

So she had to write this: “The largest coal plant in Arizona, and the entire U.S. West, may be shutting its doors far sooner than anyone expected because it simply cannot compete against cheaper — and cleaner — energy options such as solar and wind.” (emphasis added)

For honest environmentalists, the revolution in the natural-gas industry is a hugely significant event. But it is largely because of fracking, which they despise. So very few on the Green Left can acknowledge how natural gas is dampening the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

But the NGS is not closing because of competition from heavily subsidized energy options such as solar and wind. It is closing because natural gas. Because fracking.

Nowhere in Ms. Bahr’s oped (subscription required) does she mention the words “natural” and “gas” next to each other. And that is just a falsehood.

Even in the Age of Trump, it qualifies as a lie.

 

 

Conservative (once again) objects of curiosity in the New York Times

The Times is trying, bless them, to help readers grasp what motivates these curious creatures called ‘conservatives.’

This one is an earnest stab at explaining the Trumpists without explicitly declaring them unworthy. But, as always in the New York Times, the writer can’t let loose of the exotic-goldfish perspective. And she can’t resist making it clear — like a kid dancing with sparklers — that no matter how hard she works to make it appear she’s being fair to these sods, they’re still sods. And she wants you to know she knows it.

I believe the term is “othering.”

The piece is by Times contributor Marin Cogin, who writes an “On Campus” column that on Sunday examined some of Donald Trump’s odd-duck collection in the White House from the perspective of their days on college campuses.

“How Liberal Colleges Breed Conservative Firebrands” is one of those patronizing head-patters that seeks to illustrate the exotics while making it clear that there’s none of that empathy-stuff going on here.

We are in an age of pay-back time on college campuses. A generation of history-civics-economics education avoidance is returning the inevitable dividend. Today, it’s pampered Middlebury that’s in the news as a First Amendment wasteland, where braying about “flawed notions of ‘free speech'” being afforded to ‘racists’ marks you as a righteous rebel. Meanwhile, the contempt for anything conservatives hold dear is widespread. And few budding socialists on campus are shy about expressing it.

Cogin is writing to and for them.

Aren’t campus political contrarians all underdogs? Aren’t they idealistic and committed? Isn’t the very idea of being “anti-establishment” a good thing? I think you know the exception to these rules.

Conservative students on campus don’t raise consciousness. They “provoke.” Indeed, as Cogin identifies the initial subject of her story — Trump senior policy adviser Stephen “young Gargamel” Miller, a product of progressive Santa Monica, Calif., and Duke University — conservatives on campus are not just provocateurs. They are “contrarian-provocateurs.” They provoke by not agreeing with you, the devils.

All traits that are admirable in the comfortable mobs of young leftists are hostile and needling in not-liberal students (those Libertarians, notes another Times writer, are just as tedious).

Miller, as the writer observes, is “an aggressive self-promoter.” And a “bomb thrower.” (Which makes one wonder: Has any NYT piece ever identified a real bomb-thrower as a “bomb-thrower?”)

It’s not a bad feature on fly-over people and their ways. But, oh, the insufferable virtue-signaling. If you wish to honestly profile someone who you know most of your readers already hate, do you really have to quote what David Letterman (“creepy”) and Stephen Colbert (that “young Gargamel” zinger) think of the guy?

We do already know that, you know.

Message From MCR Chairman Herring – Proclamation of Purpose

House Ed Chair Paul Boyer, Rep. Drew John Endorse Tracy Livingston for Superintendent

Phoenix, AZ – Two more members of the Arizona House of Representatives, House Education Committee Chairman Paul Boyer (R-LD20) and Representative Drew John (R-LD14) today announced their support for Tracy Livingston as the  next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“As Chairman of the House Education Committee, I am responsible for advancing policies that will strengthen every classroom in Arizona,” said Rep. Boyer. “As a teacher, I am responsible for the best interests of my classroom full of kids. Because I have to approach education from both perspectives, I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen and heard from Tracy Livingston. I’m supporting Tracy for Superintendent of Public Instruction because we need someone who understands the impact education policies have on kids, on teachers, and our classrooms. Tracy will fight to end Common Core and will champion giving parent’s choices and control over their kids’ education.”

Echoing the sentiments of his colleague, Rep. John had this to say: “Improving Arizona’s schools will require more than just good policies. We are going to need dedicated teachers who love their kids and what they do. And what better place to put just such a teacher than into the office of State Superintendent. That’s why I’m endorsing Tracy Livingston and why I hope you will support her.”

While 13 states currently elect their Superintendent, none of those elected in recent years appear to have spent the majority – or even a significant portion – of their careers in the classroom. Unlike them, Tracy Livingston has spent her entire career teaching kids and understands the needs of students, parents and teachers alike.

“The non-traditional student of 20 years ago is now the norm,” Mrs. Livingston noted, “and teachers are having to adapt, but school policy and administration isn’t keeping up. Teachers are facing a greater burden today than ever before, yet the enormous run-up in educational spending over these last few decades hasn’t reached the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I know we can do better – and I know what we need to do to make it happen. It’s time for a teacher to lead.”

###

Mrs. Livingston is a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelors in Broadcasting from the Walter Cronkite School, and a Masters of Education. First elected in 2014, Tracy is a member and former President of the Maricopa Community College Governing Board. Before that, she served two years on the Peoria Unified School Board. Tracy has also served as an elected Republican Precinct Committeeman in Legislative District 22 since 2011.

Tracy and her husband, David, have one son, Kyle, who is an EMT in Prescott, Arizona. David Livingston is a member of the Arizona House of Representatives. The family currently lives in Peoria with their two rescue Siberian Huskies, Katie and Spencer.