Roy Exum: Lazarus Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In the Bible’s Gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” So the Master went to a place called Bethany and called Lazarus out … out of a tomb where he had been buried four days earlier, and famously raised the man from the dead.

This may be hard to believe but Lazarus is now alive in at least 20 states and he’s getting more popular in others. You need to know about Lazarus, most especially today, as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will unveil a seven-point attack on our biggest health problem. Right now over 70,000 Tennesseans are believed to be “seriously addicted” to prescription drugs. Far worse, Tennessee ranks second in the nation in per-capita use of opioids (prescription narcotics) and everybody realizes not that many are sick.

Governor Haslam’s well-planned attack on drugs, according to experts from Memphis to Johnson City, is scary, not because we so desperately need to stop this epidemic but far worse. The greatest fear is that the seven-point program will hamper the source of illicit prescription drug to the point they will not be as readily available on the street. Those addicted will look for a substitute and that is where Lazarus will spring to life.

On April 4th the Tennessee governor signed Senate Bill 1631 into law that will allow doctors to prescribe our Lazarus drug beginning July 1, 2014. The real name for the miracle drug is naloxone hydrochloride (brand name: Narcan) and it is an opioid antagonist. Or, put bluntly, if somebody has overdosed on heroin, if this is quickly administered it will save their life.

In Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Bill into law on April 24. And before you start scratching your head over “amnesty,” both the Tennessee and Georgia laws make anyone who must be given the life-saving naloxone -- or who administers the drug -- “immune from disciplinary or adverse administrative actions.”

That’s how bad the war against illegal opioids has gotten. Heroin is making such a comeback you can get it in many high school restrooms. It is cheap and as easy to obtain as marijuana. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2012 over 2 million people took opioids for recreation for the first time. How many you think took them for the second time or the third? Then guess what?

So the fear – or the threat – is obvious. A drug addict will do anything rather than endure the horrors of withdrawal so many who are hooked badly on prescription drugs -- who would never dare touch heroin otherwise -- have second thoughts as the Vicodin, the Oxyicodone, and the Lortabs get scarce. If it weren’t for the “amnesty” clause, lawmakers fear even a victim’s best friends would not dial 9-1-1 in fear of legal retribution so this way it is hoped Lazarus drugs will work.

Researchers have found that 75 percent of those who use heroin today took the opioid highway to get there. In 1960 it was the reverse – 80 percent of drug users went straight to heroin but opioids are more subtle, cunning, and lure their victims like a moth to a flame.

Michael Rabkin, a spokesman for one state health initiative, explained it in a recent article that appeared in the Nashville Tennessean. “If you have back pain and you talk to your aunt or your uncle, they may say, ‘Oh, I have back pain, too. Why don’t you take some of this medicine that I have left over?’ That’s not something we want people to do,” he said, “but people do it.”

Here’s the other shock – the nine percent of Americans who are now abusing drugs aren’t just the poor, the downtrodden, the ex-cons. No, we have judges, doctors, beauty queens, and people from quite literally every walk of life who are fighting addiction. This is a fact – if you can get a prescription, you can become addicted.

This is not to say pain medication is bad. Taken properly and carefully, prescribed narcotics have been an asset to millions of us. But for 70,000 Tennesseans to be seriously addicted in a state that ranks as the No. 2 user of opioids in the country shows that we and our neighbors have some serious days ahead.

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