Now living in Middletown between Dayton and Cincinnati, Stacy Litz grew up in Portsmouth and became addicted to opiates here as well. Now 10 years clean, Litz works in Dayton as a certified peer counselor helping addicts and former addicts cope with their situations.
On May 16, Litz was one of three experts to testify before members of the U.S. Congress on the problems created by doctors over-prescribing opioids for pain. According to Litz, up to 80 percent of those addicted to opiates first encountered the drugs after some surgical or medical procedure of one kind or another. Litz said her clients often tell her once doctors stop prescribing medications, they turned to heroin or other street drugs. The irony is, Litz continues, that non-opioid alternatives are and have been available to doctors for some time. For whatever reason, they just aren’t prescribed as often.
Litz said in her own case, a herniated disc in her neck led to a prescription for opioid pain medication. Litz had been pregnant when the problem first occurred, and spent months in pain, also fearing for her life and thinking she might not have a long time with the child to which she was about to give birth.
“I became addicted to the very different and plentiful narcotics I was receiving,” she said.
Like others, Litz eventually moved on to illicit drugs. She adds she was never told of any alternatives to opioids. “I just listened to my doctors, I didn’t know there was a choice,” Litz said, adding had she known there were alternatives, “my narrative would have been very different.”
“Even after 10 years clean, I still have times it pecks on my shoulder, saying I can make things better.”
Her story and those of other addicts are why Litz went to Washington to encourage new rules requiring doctors limit prescriptions for opioids and use the available alternatives instead.
“We’re losing lives to addiction every day,” Litz said. “We need to stop it where it starts. Our government is our government. They should be helping us.”
The recent Washington briefing was sponsored by Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Terri Sewell (D-AL). Litz was there as one representative of the group Our Choices Matter. They also spoke with representatives from the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Litz said, for the most part, her message seemed well received.
“I’m not saying opioids aren’t needed at all. There are people with chronic pain they can help,” Litz continued.
However, she adds, too many people receive opioid prescriptions for relatively minor procedures such as having wisdom teeth removed. Litz proposes that in such instances, the number of opioids prescribed should be enough for no more than 72 hours. After that time, pain should have subsided to the point opioids are not needed. If pain remains severe, Litz again mentions there are non-opioid alternatives available, though she admitted they may cost more. But she also argued costs will be lower in the long run if fewer people become addicted.
Litz admits she can’t be sure her recent efforts will make any difference. “We need to be heard. One match can start a fire,” she said.
In reality, Congress has taken some steps intended to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions written. In 2016, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) helped sponsor what’s known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA.) Among many other provisions, CARA limits initial opioid prescriptions to three days in many instances. Litz isn’t convinced that’s enough.
“I personally believe that if opiates are not introduced in any form rather than in the surgical setting or even the 72 hours after prevents addiction if we have doctors and surgeons that start administering non-opioids/nerve blockers,” Litz said in an email, adding the three-day provision in CARA was a step in the right direction, preventing doctors from prescribing 60-plus days of narcotics.
“But it isn’t a solution. No one can determine when a patient will become addicted,” Litz continued.
According to a prepared statement from Portman’s office, Portman announced in March what his office called CARA 2.0 co-sponsored with several other legislators. The legislation provides $3 billion in new funding for opioid programs.
“Passage of CARA was a historic moment — the first time in decades that Congress passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery. Now we have the opportunity to build on this effort, increasing funding levels for programs we know work, and implementing additional policy reforms that will make a real difference in combating this epidemic,” Portman said.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931