Wednesday March 20, 2019

Major Opioid Maker Company Opens A Fund For The Damage Caused Due To Addiction

Combating the ongoing crisis of opioid addiction will require innovative approaches to both prevention and medication-assisted treatment.

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Addiction, overdose
Major Opioid Maker to Pay for Overdose-Antidote Development. Pixabay

A company whose prescription opioid marketing practices are being blamed for sparking the addiction and overdose crisis says it’s helping to fund an effort to make a lower-cost overdose antidote.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma announced Wednesday that it’s making a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray.

The announcement comes as lawsuits from local governments blaming Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and other companies in the drug industry for using deceptive marketing practices to encourage heavy prescribing of the powerful and addictive painkillers. Last week, the number of lawsuits against the industry being overseen by a federal judge topped 1,000.

The Cleveland-based judge, Dan Polster, is pushing the industry to settle with the plaintiffs — mostly local governments and Native American tribes — and with state governments, most of which have sued in state court or are conducting a joint investigation. Hundreds of other local governments are also suing in state courts across the country.

The sides have had regular settlement discussions, but it’s not clear when a deal might be struck in the case, which is complicated by the number of parties and questions on how to assign blame.

 

Addiction, overdose
Purdue Pharma offices are seen in Stamford, Connecticut. VOA

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year. The majority of the deaths involved opioids. But a growing number of them are from illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, rather than prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.

 

Governments are asking for changes in how opioids are marketed, and for help paying for treatment and the costs of ambulance runs, child welfare systems, jails and other expenses associated with the opioid crisis.

Polster is expected to rule in coming weeks on motions from drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies to dismiss thee claims. Trials in some of the cases — being used to test issues common to many of them — are now scheduled to begin in September 2019.

Purdue agreed to pay $634 million in fines back in 2007 to settle charges that the company downplayed the risk of addiction and abuse of its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin starting in the 1990s.

It’s facing similar accusations again.

Earlier this year, the privately held company stopped marketing OxyContin to doctors.

Addiction, overdose
A police officer demonstrates the use of naloxone in Millersville. VOA

Naloxone

The naloxone grant is a way the company can show it’s trying to help stem the damage done by opioids. “This grant is one example of the meaningful steps Purdue is taking to help address opioid abuse in our communities,” Purdue President and CEO Craig Landau said in a statement.

Naloxone is seen as one major piece in overdose prevention strategies. Over the past several years, most states have eased access to the antidote for laypeople. First responders, drug users and others have taken to carrying naloxone to reverse overdoses. But the price of the drug has been a problem for state and local governments.

Also Read: US Opioid Crisis: Deaths in 2016

Pittsburgh-based Harm Reduction Therapeutics says it is trying to get its version to the market within two years.

“Combating the ongoing crisis of opioid addiction will require innovative approaches to both prevention and medication-assisted treatment,” said Harm Reduction co-founder and CEO Michael Hufford, said in a statement, “but it all starts with making sure lives are not lost from overdose.” (VOA)

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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Church
The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

Also Read: Practice What You Preach: Celebrities Should Stand By Their Public Image In Private Domain

It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)