Posts Tagged ‘fentanyl’

Biden Rights a Wrong on Marijuana

Thursday, October 20th, 2022

By Bob Gaydos

A national marijuana policy is needed.

A national marijuana policy is needed.

One trait of a good leader is the ability to identify an injustice and take action to rectify it.

With one stroke of his pen, President Joe Biden recently demonstrated how to use the power of his office to do just that. In the process, he also reminded Americans that a president’s primary duty is to act for the greater good of all the people rather than to constantly seek personal benefit. (A welcome reminder.)

   Biden’s pardon of more than 6,500 Americans convicted on federal marijuana possession charges was a dramatic statement of policy change and a welcome redress of past bias in enforcing drug laws. Coming out of the blue, as it did, it could also be a factor in the coming midterm elections.

    It’s a big deal.

    Even though none of those pardoned was still in prison, Biden’s pardon sent a message: It is well past time to revamp the nation’s laws regarding marijuana use on a national level and to redress the long-standing racial bias in enforcement of the laws. At a time when many states are taking action individually to legalize the use of marijuana, for recreational as well as medicinal purposes, the president’s action brought a welcome national focus to the issue. 

    “While white and black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Biden said. “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”

    Of course, presidents don’t write laws; Congress and state legislatures do. Biden’s message was meant as a wakeup call to those bodies that a cohesive, national policy on marijuana is long overdue and makes much more sense than our current hodge-podge of state laws.

    Biden was unambiguous in what he thinks should be done. His words:

     “First: I’m pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden.

     “Second: I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana offenses. Just as no one should be in federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.

    “Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin — and more seriously than fentanyl. It makes no sense. I’m asking Secretary (Xavier) Becerra (Health and Human Services) and the attorney general to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

    Clear and concise.

    The so-called “war on drugs,” begun by President Richard Nixon in 1969, was, among other things, theoretically supposed to focus on “prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted.” For the most part, that health-oriented focus has been ignored for half a century as the federal government fought a losing battle focused primarily on getting rid of drugs and locking up users (especially non-white marijuana users) as well as sellers.

    As Nixon’s henchman, John Ehrlichman, subsequently revealed, the real purpose of Nixon’s “war on drugs” was to criminalize blacks and hippies and their leaders. It was political.

    Now, more than a trillion dollars later, another president has issued a sensible call for a review of one of the more glaring failures of that misbegotten war. 

      Biden has done what he can do. It’s up to lawmakers  to write fair and honest laws regarding marijuana. A majority of Americans support this. While the lawmakers are at it, it’s also well past time to recognize drug addiction as a health issue, not a crime issue. Reducing the demand for drugs might prove to be a more effective strategy than simply trying to reduce the supply.

    Of course, this approach might put a crimp in some politicians’ campaign messages, but it would clearly be for the greater good of all the people.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at

To Live and Die in America

Monday, April 25th, 2022

 The world in 500 words or less 

By Bob Gaydos

Maybe it’s just me, but…

Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust.” He says he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust.” He says he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

— New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau fined producers of the film, “Rust,” $139,793 — the maximum amount — and issued a stinging criticism of safety failures in connection with the fatal shooting of a cinematographer and wounding of the director during the filming of the movie. Actor/producer Alec Baldwin, who fired the fatal shot, says he was told the gun was safe. He is probably not through with the courts and may rue the day he lost his gig playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

— South Carolina has given the phrase “pick your poison“ a whole new meaning. Unable to procure the drugs to administer lethal injections to Death Row inmates, the state now offers electrocution or firing squad as the available means of meeting your maker. A recent candidate appealed both the sentence and method as cruel and unusual and a court has postponed his date with destiny. There have been only three firing squad executions in the U.S. since 1950, all in the state of Utah. Why is that not surprising?

— The reason South Carolina had to stop using lethal injections for executions is that pharmaceutical companies apparently forbid the sale of their products for that purpose. Wish they showed the same concern for some of their drugs that are killing people who are not on Death Row.

— Prescribing fatal overdoses of fentanyl for 25 seriously ill patients would seem to be taking the doctor-playing-god thing a bit too far. Then again, a jury in Columbus, Ohio, had no problem with it, acquitting Dr. William Husel of murder charges in a trial involving 14 of those deaths. Putting people out of their misery did cost Husel his job when the hospital fired him and 26 other employees who went along with his unorthodox treatment protocol. Why it took several years and so many fentanyl-induced deaths has yet to be answered.

— The judges who selected this year’s winners of the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award got it perfect. Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, was an obvious choice and eminently deserving, but the perfect selection was Rep. Liz Cheney, the only Republican in Congress with the guts, conviction and public name recognition to meaningfully stand up to the Trumpers spreading the stolen election lie and trying to treat the Jan. 6 insurrection as something other than a failed coup attempt. Forcefully defying the powers who can impact your political future takes moral courage, especially for Republicans today. I think JFK would applaud the choice. And, while I don’t share a lot of political views with Cheney or her father, Dick, I believe the former vice president should be proud of his daughter and her stout defense of the truth. Ironic, huh?


Pill Mills: Prescription for a Tragic Loss

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
My sister, Ann Bradford Morrison, 1952-2010

My sister, Ann Bradford Morrison, 1952-2010

By Emily Theroux

For me, May Day will forever be a yawning chasm of unmet expectations, a muffled cry for help I never heard.

On one side of the precipice is a younger me, stretching my arms across the open space, hoping not to fall over the brink. On the other side is my sister Ann at 21, barreling straight toward me in her sky-blue Jeep, her bags packed with elaborate stripper gowns and sequined G-strings. Tucked in a zippered side compartment of her make-up case are two pairs of false eyelashes and a vial of Valiums, her drug of choice for that particular decade.

I call her name, terrified she won’t stop in time. “Turn back!” I cry. “It’s never too late. You can start over.”

She waves at me, manic, artificially cheerful. Her mouth is moving but I can’t hear the words. Instead of stopping, she accelerates. I cover my eyes with my quaking hands, plagued by a tremor of kinship to her plight. I hear the screech of metal, but the anticipated crash never follows. Opening my eyes, I find myself in bed. I see the quilts, tangled from night sweats, thrashed to the floor. I must have been napping, just as I was the day the phone call came, three years ago today, from Tampa.

Once again, it’s Saturday, May 1, 2010, at 5:46 p.m., one agonizing moment trapped for eternity inside the cultured pearl ring that is Ann’s talisman, the one I thought I’d kept but can’t find anywhere. I awake from the dream of everything that might have been, but never from the nightmare. My sister is gone, her indefatigable life force reduced to an urn of ashes on my mantel. Whatever I once foolishly imagined was salvageable is lost to the brutal, inexorable forward slog of time.


A sudden death is always the hardest kind to comprehend, to assimilate. One day, I was on the phone, long-distance to Tampa, just as I had been three or four times a week since my sister had moved there from upstate New York six years earlier. The next day, the phone jangled again, jarring me awake.  I heard the  familiar voice of Ann’s partner, Paul, uttering three dreadful and unfathomable words: “Ann is dead.”

I couldn’t process it; I didn’t believe him, and I told him so. I had just talked to her, and everything was fine. She was writing her new novel, begun just two weeks earlier. She wasn’t suicidal and she wasn’t ill. She was only 57 years old.

Paul had very few details to impart to me. When he left for work that morning, Ann was awake and getting ready to begin her very circumscribed day. (Over the years, she had become agoraphobic and rarely left their small apartment. Most days, she sat in her recliner all day with her laptop and a glass of white wine, chain-smoking as she wrote.) Paul tried to call her several times throughout the day, but she never picked up. That was unlike her, and Paul grew worried, but he worked as a security guard and he couldn’t clock out early.

When he got home at 4:30, he found Ann in their bed, lifeless and very cold. The medical examiner was there, Paul was telling me. I could barely hear him for the dull roaring in my head, as if I were at Folly Beach again, where our Charleston cousins took us as children, holding a conch shell against my ear.

It appeared that Ann had died some time in the morning. The police had found half-empty pill bottles on her nightstand, but that wasn’t unusual. Ann spent the latter part of her life in chronic pain from herniated discs that developed years after she had competed as a bodybuilder.  Nothing in her life was done in half-measures. She “lifted heavy,” right along with the men, and had bulging muscles throughout her thirties.

Ann lived her life in an extreme fashion and paid dearly for her choices farther down the road.


We wouldn’t know for weeks exactly what had happened to her, not until the toxicology report arrived — although I already realized that if she hadn’t had a heart attack or an aneurysm (which I knew were unlikely because she was found in her bed, under the covers), it must have been the pain pills.

Ann’s body lay in the morgue that first night, awaiting autopsy. I couldn’t bear the thought of her in that place. She was two years younger than me. I was her protector, and often, her enabler; like my mother before me, I took her in when she had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t think rationally; what if she was lonely or afraid or needed a blanket?

It dawned on me that I would never talk to her again; I couldn’t ask her any of the unanswered questions that such a death inevitably leaves in its wake. I listened frantically to my voice mail; the only tangible remnant of her, if you can call it that, is the recording of a single pathetic call made late at night when she was so high, I couldn’t understand what she had been trying to tell me. She had needed me, and I wasn’t there to help her — neither that night nor the day she died.

When the medical examiner’s report finally arrived weeks later, the results were stark and unavoidable. Ann had died from a drug overdose — a combination of three prescription pain medications and a cough suppressant.  “Accident (prescription drug abuse)” was listed on the report as the manner of death.

My tragic, flawed, beautiful sister had attached four transparent, 50-microgram fentanyl patches to her skin at various points on her torso.


The sheer heft of the grief that followed, its ponderous weight on my chest — as if a powerful raptor were perched on my sternum, clutching my flesh, squeezing my lungs together — astounded me. There was simply no remedy for it, nowhere to flee.

But one thing gradually came into focus at the periphery of that pervasive fog: I needed to understand what combination of circumstances made it possible for my sister to procure a substance as potentially deadly as fentanyl, which I knew she’d never been prescribed before. A strong opioid originally developed as a surgical anesthetic, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and “very easy to overdose on,” according to a Toronto drug program coordinator, particularly when more than one patch at a time is used.

My sister had always been an expert manipulator. She started drinking straight vodka at 15, filching it at first from my parents’ liquor cabinet and later persuading an 18-year-old friend to buy it for her. She stowed the bottles in her bedroom closet with a hoard of  emergency “puke bags.”

Within a year, Ann graduated to street drugs — heading to Rochester’s Midtown Plaza in search of a dealer known as “Frog,” who was rumored to lurk in the mall’s underground parking garage. This punk-ass kid sold her an ample supply of “black beauties,” an amphetamine that had my erstwhile A-student sibling speeding her brains out for three days and then crashing for the next two, a devastating routine that caused Ann to flunk out of the eleventh grade and led my poor, clueless parents to surmise that she was “manic-depressive.”

By this time, Ann had also become a proficient “doctor shopper.” By 17, she could talk circles around a physician three times her age with a prescription pad in his hand. She consumed quantities of sedatives, speed, opioids, and muscle relaxants that would have flattened a horse.

Once, during an overnight hospitalization after Ann swallowed six Quaaludes, the emergency room doctors were astonished when she emerged from a coma they had predicted she wouldn’t survive. My mother, jaded by a decade of Ann’s escapades, shocked the chief resident when she deadpanned, “It’s the God’s honest truth: You couldn’t kill her.” Sadly, I believed from then on that Mama’s pronouncement must have been true — until the day it happened.

The fact that Ann stayed alive as long as she did, I realized later, was not so much a miracle as a one-off, an aberration, a fluke of cosmic proportions.


According to a November 2011 study of prescription painkiller overdose deaths released by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, Ann ranked in every single parameter defining people most at risk for overdosing on opioids:

  • People who obtain multiple controlled substance prescriptions from multiple providers — a practice known as “doctor shopping”
  • People who take high daily dosages of prescription painkillers and those who misuse multiple abuse-prone prescription drugs
  • Low-income people and those living in rural areas
  • People on Medicaid (who are prescribed painkillers at twice the rate of non-Medicaid patients and are at six times the risk of prescription painkiller overdose)
  • People with mental illness and those with a history of substance abuse

The only endangered demographic that Ann didn’t belong to was rural residents.


I knew several months before Ann’s death that when the Medicaid doctor who prescribed her pain meds finally balked at her request for an increased dosage, Ann “fired” him and lit out for a local pain clinic. Earlier, she had continued to frequent the doctor while supplementing her “stash” with prescription painkillers supplied by illegal Internet “pharmacies,” which sold controlled substances to customers who lacked valid prescriptions.

Illicit “pain clinics” soon began to spring up, taking advantage of lax state regulations, particularly in and around Houston, Los Angeles and South Florida. Addicts and legitimate pain sufferers alike flocked to these locales to stock up on their scrips of choice, arriving by the busload. (Ann, I should add, was a card-carrying member of both groups; plagued by chronic, unrelenting back pain and unable to afford surgery, yet also hooked on the prescribed remedy for it.)

The Obama administration’s first National Drug Control Strategy for reducing drug use and its consequences, published in 2010, included initiatives to help states address doctor shopping and “pill mills,” drive illegal Internet pharmacies out of business, and crack down on “rogue pain clinics” that failed to follow appropriate prescription practices.

But coordinated efforts to root out the criminals, monitor addicts, and expand addiction treatment services came too late to help my sister. A year after she died, Florida state lawmakers finally passed legislation designed to derail “the Oxy Express.” By that time, according to state attorney general Pam Bondi, her state had become “the epicenter for pill mills in the nation, and prescription drug overdoses cost at least seven Floridians’ lives per day.” In 2012, two years after Ann’s death, the FDA targeted 4,100 illicit online pill vendors with criminal charges, seizure of illegal products, and removal of websites.

Ann slipped through the cracks — or, more accurately, the gaping fissures in prevailing drug policy. Even worse, I’ll never know who helped her do it. She didn’t tell me the name or location of the clinic, and Paul couldn’t remember it or find any record of it. I couldn’t track her former Medicaid doctor, either. Addicts are secretive people, and Ann took hers with her to oblivion.


Dredging up the details won’t bring my sister back, but who knows? Maybe persisting in my quest to find out what’s being done about the problem will some day avert this nightmare for some other tormented family.

Failing that, may it restore my dreams to flashbacks of a less complicated time, when Ann and I, at 4 and 6, lay on our backs in the grass and gave names to the shapes we perceived in the mobile cumulus clouds above us. When the sky was finally dark enough for stars, we watched them twinkle “on,” one at a time at first and then a gathering expanse of them, a canopy of gemstones against velvety blackness.

If there was some kind of order to it, a pattern of galaxies or constellations, our untutored eyes couldn’t discern it. Too young to fathom either limits or infinity, we settled for random bursts of wonder, daring to imagine that such a spectacular light show had been devised for our viewing pleasure alone.

Logic was not what we were looking for anyway; unfettered splendor was what we had in mind.