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In opioid fight, pharmaceuticals are the problem, marijuana the cure

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

“The opioid epidemic.”

The death and destruction of millions of people has been tagged and properly branded now. The politicians have created task forces. Charitable groups have distributed pamphlets.

The rest of us can do what we always do with these sorts of awful realities: Shake our heads mournfully, agree that it’s awful, quickly change the subject and move on about our business.

On one hand that’s understandable. After all, what are we going to do? We’re not hooked. We’re not giving these drugs out to anyone.

But on the other, the way we’re handling this “opioid epidemic” sure doesn’t seem to be shining the spotlight on all of the proper perpetrators and viable solutions.

I worry that’s happening because the general public isn’t paying close enough attention.

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Because while politicians scramble to focus the spotlight on the abusers and hash out treatment options, what seems to be mysteriously absent from the glare of the spotlight are the doctors who hand out painkiller prescriptions like they’re candy and the drug distributors who are shipping millions of pills to Podunk town pharmacies.

Or, to put that another way, those absent from the spotlight just happen to be the people and companies who pour millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of the politicians now tasked with solving this problem.

Which is why the general public desperately needs to be involved.

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Because let me put some local perspective on this for you.

Last year, The Charleston Gazzette-Mail in West Virginia laid out astonishing numbers found in private records it somehow obtained from the State’s Attorney General’s office. Those records were the drug distribution numbers from wholesale pharmaceutical suppliers, which noted every pill sent to the State’s pharmacies over a six-year span, 2007-2012.

In that short span, those drug suppliers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the State’s pharmacies.

That’s 130 million pills per year. Enough for every man, woman and child in the entire state of West Virginia to take a pill and a half per week, every week, for six years.

And now, consider this: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, Alabama doctors wrote more prescriptions for painkillers than any other state in the country.

To be exact, doctors in Alabama wrote 143 prescriptions for every 100 people in 2012.

In a 2014 story for al.com, Dr. Jerry Harrison, the chair of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, said the ranking wasn’t an anomaly. Alabama ranked first in painkiller prescriptions from 1987 through 2001 and remained in the top five since.

It’s insane.

Yet, have you heard many politicians talk about prescription reform?

We heard plenty of outrage when doctors were asking people if they owned firearms. But prescribing 1,000 oxycodone pills to a single patient in a month? Not a peep.

(By the way, that example isn’t random. It comes from when I tried unsuccessfully to stop a moron doctor from over-prescribing painkillers to a family member.)

To be fair, the CDC has recommended prescription guidelines for painkillers in the past two years. But doctors don’t have to follow them. And believe me, it’s nearly impossible to make them stop over-prescribing the drugs or take action against them if their over-prescribing cause death.

Because usually, it’s not death from oxy. Usually, the oxy addiction turns into heroin addiction, because heroin is cheaper. And that causes death.

And yet, given our grim reality in this State, it seems our lawmakers are altogether unwilling to consider an alternative that works.

Marijuana.

That’s right, there’s growing evidence that marijuana can be used to curb withdrawal symptoms for people coming off opioids. And in addition, there is a mountain of evidence showing that states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana are experiencing lesser rates of opioid addictions overall, and declining rates since legalization.

Because marijuana can be substituted in some cases as a painkiller. It’s much less addictive and you cannot overdose from it.

You likely know how that has been greeted in Alabama. A few days ago, lobbyist and reverend Joe Godfrey told al.com that legalizing marijuana would be like rolling around in poison oak. Godfrey said the Bible forbids the use of “mind-altering” substances.

I remember that time Jesus turned the water into more water.

It’s that sort of backwards, irrational thinking – the kind that focuses correction mostly on the addicts and never ventures outside of the norm or threatens drug industry profits – that has allowed this issue to fester and grow.

Until we change, which will only happen if the public demands it, it will only get worse.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Opinion | For Coach Tub, no thinking required

Joey Kennedy

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Has Tommy Tuberville ever had an original thought? It doesn’t sound like it. Coach Tub basically spews Republican talking points and keeps his mouth firmly locked onto Donald Trump. He disrespects Alabama voters so much that he thinks that’s all he needs to do to win a place in the U.S. Senate.

Tuberville recently addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at its September meeting. As reported by APR, Tuberville is quoted as saying the following, and I’ll offer a short rebuttal. I’m doing this because Tuberville is clearly afraid to death to debate his opponent, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

So here goes:

Tuberville: America is about capitalism, not socialism. I think we are going to decide which direction we are going to go in the next few years.”

Me: We decided which way we were going to go years ago, when the federal government started subsidies for oil and gas companies, farmers and other big industry and business. That, coach, is your so-called “socialism.”

I’m not necessarily opposed to subsidies to boost business, depending on the cause, but I’m not going to let a dimwitted, know-nothing, mediocre, former football coach pretend we don’t already have “socialism” in this country.  

What Tuberville really means is that he’s against “socialism” like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or food assistance or health insurance. He’s a millionaire already, so there’s no need for him have empathy for or support a safety net for people who are less fortunate socially and economically. That’s Tuberville’s “socialism,” and the Republican Party’s “socialism,” and Trump’s “socialism.

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That’s a cruel, mean perspective that would cast aside the great majority of Americans for the rich (Tuberville, Trump) and connected and, where Trump is concerned, the fawning.

Tuberville: “I am not a Common Core guy. I believe in regular math. We need to get back to teaching history.”

Me: I would love to ask Coach Tubby, one-on-one, exactly what he thinks “Common Core” is. I’ll guarantee you he can’t explain more than he already has. “I believe in regular math?” There is no other math. It’s math. Does he think there’s a math where 1+1=3? There isn’t one. There are a variety of ways to teach math, but there’s only math, not a “fake” math or a “Republican” math or a “Democratic” math or, God forbid, a “Socialist” math.

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And when Coach Tommy said, “We need to get back to teaching history,” one wonders if he’s ever been into a classroom. We know more than a few of his former players weren’t in many classrooms, if reports are correct. But they always played the game under his uninspired coaching.

Of course schools teach history.

The history Coach T. is talking about is Donald Trump’s “white” history, the one we’ve been teaching in our schools forever. Not real history; you know, the one where the United States was founded as a slave-holding nation, where Native Americans were massacred and starved by the hundreds of thousands, where white supremacy was codified within our laws, where any color but white was subjugated. That history. The history that is finally fading away, so we can really see where we’ve been as a nation—so we know where, as a nation, we need to go.

Tuberville: Tuberville said he supports following the Constitution and appointing a replacement for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

Me: Well, of course he does. Tuberville doesn’t have an independent thought in his body, and Donnie told him this is what he’s supposed to think. The big question: How much will a Senator Tuberville be able to function as a member of a minority party in the Senate — with no Papa Trump in the White House to tell him what to do?

Both scenarios are real possibilities, if not likelihoods.

There is no question that Doug Jones is far more qualified than Tuberville. Jones can work across the aisle, which will be vitally important if Democrats take control of the Senate. Jones has his own thoughts, which sometimes go against the Democratic Party’s wishes. Jones is independent, smart and represents Alabama well.

Tuberville is a failed football coach who lives in Florida. That’s about it.

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Opinion | All politics is local. All of Alabama’s mayors races this year

Steve Flowers

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(APR GRAPHIC)

With it being a presidential election year and an election for one of our United States Senate Seats and all of the interest that goes along with those high-profile contests, it has gone under the radar that most of our cities in the state had elections for mayor and city council last month.

Mayors serve four-year terms and to most Alabamians they are the most important vote they will cast this year.

The job of mayor of a city is a difficult and intricate fulltime, 24-hours-a-day dedication to public service.

They make more decisions that affect the lives of their friends and neighbors than anyone else. The old maxim, “All politics is local,” is epitomized in the role of mayor. Folks, being mayor of a city is where the rubber meets the road.

In looking all over the state, it appears that most Alabamians are content with the jobs their mayor is doing.  In almost every contest around the state, the incumbent mayor turned away the challenger usually by a wide margin.  Indeed, a good many of the incumbent mayors in the Heart of Dixie had no opposition.

Many of these incumbent mayors were reelected without opposition. Gordon Stone, the mayor of Alabama’s fastest growing community, Pike Road, will be entering his fifth term as mayor.  Pretty soon Pike Road will have to start calling themselves a city.

Vestavia’s Mayor, Ashley Curry, won a second term without opposition.  This former retired FBI agent has done a yeoman’s job managing this upscale, Jefferson County suburb.

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Jasper Mayor, David O’Mary, who escaped opposition, will begin a second term.  He has run Jasper like a well-tuned engine. Albertville mayor, Tracy Honea, garnered a third term without opposition. Luverne Mayor Ed Beasley was also unopposed.

In the contested races, most of the matchups were no contest. Two of Alabama’s largest and most prosperous cities, Huntsville and Hoover, had mayoral races. Tommy Battle coasted to an easy 78 to 22 reelection victory in Huntsville. If Kay Ivey opts to not run for reelection in 2022, Battle will be favored to win the governor’s race. However, being Governor of Alabama would be a demotion to being Mayor of Huntsville.

Hoover citizens must approve of Mayor Frank Brocato’s job performance. Brocato trounced Hoover City Council President Gene Smith by a 76 to 24 margin.

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Opelika’s popular and effective, longtime mayor, Gary Fuller, turned back his challenger 66 to 34 to win a fifth term.

In Cullman incumbent mayor, Woody Jacobs, won a second term overwhelmingly. Hamilton Mayor Bob Page won a second term. Troy’s 48-year-old mayor, Jason Reeves, won reelection to a third four-year term with 74 percent of the vote. Incumbent Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs won an impressive 68 percent victory for reelection over two opponents.

Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie may have turned in the most impressive showing.  He shellacked former City Councilman Dean Argo 70 to 30.  His fellow citizens must approve of frugality with their city finances. Wetumpka’s popular and hardworking, longtime mayor, Jerry Willis, turned back his challenger by a 69 to 31 margin. In neighboring Millbrook incumbent mayor, Al Kelley, won reelection 67 to 33. Mayor Kelley has overseen the growth of his city from 6,000 in population to over 20,000. Tallassee reelected Mayor John Hammock to a second term.

Clanton lost their mayor of three decades, Billy Joe Driver, to COVID-19 this year. His successor will be Jeff Mims, who won the election in the Peach City. Mike Oakley won the mayor’s race in Centreville with a 60 percent margin.  It is proper and fitting that an Oakley will be Mayor of Centreville.

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley won a landslide reelection garnering 68 percent of the vote. Incumbent Pell City Mayor Bill Pruitt won reelection by an impressive 73 to 27 margin.Longtime Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon won reelection in the Camellia City. Opp’s first female mayor, Becky Bracke, won a second term with 60 percent of the vote.

There were two mayoral upsets on August 25. Scottsboro’s incumbent mayor was defeated by challenger Jimmy McCamy.In the thriving, growing city of Fairhope challenger Sherry Sullivan trounced incumbent mayor Karin Wilson.

There are runoffs for mayor in several major cities, including Enterprise, Ozark, Selma, Tuskegee, Alexander City and Northport.  These cities will elect their mayors on October 6 in runoff elections.

Some of you may be wondering about two of the most populous cities. Tuscaloosa and Dothan have their mayoral races next year in August 2021. Tuscaloosa’s Walt Maddox and Dothan’s Mark Saliba will be tough to beat. All politics is local.

If you have not been counted in the census, you have not got many more shopping days to Christmas.

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Opinion | That climate change hoax is killing us

Joey Kennedy

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(APR GRAPHIC)

I grew up with hurricanes. For my first 11 years, my parents and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, near Beaumont. My father was transferred by the company he worked for, Texas Gulf Sulfur, to deep South Louisiana in 1967. We lived in Houma, in Terrebonne Parish, but Dad worked near Larose, in Lafourche Parish.

Hurricanes were regular events in Southeastern Texas and South Louisiana. Still are, but in much more frequent numbers. And Alabama gets clobbered every so often, most recently yesterday and today. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, and you can be assured the damage will be extensive, especially from flooding.

Flooding was a big factor in Texas hurricanes too, when I lived there. Hurricane Carla, in 1961, devastated High Island, not far from our home. Flooding was widespread. Carla was a Category 4 storm. But notably, that September, Carla was only the third named storm of the hurricane season.

This year, we’re running out of names. Striking Alabama this week, only a few days after Carla struck Southeastern Texas in 1961, Sally is toward the end of the hurricane alphabet. The National Hurricane Center and World Meteorological Organization are literally running out of names for storms this year.

Earlier this week, and maybe still, there were five named storms in the Atlantic. This is only the second time on record that five named storms are in the Atlantic at the same time. And they’re using up the Alphabet. The first time this happened was 1971, at a time when humans were first becoming aware of climate warming.

Little do we know, that before Sally decided to squat on Alabama, Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda on early Monday morning. There are so many hurricanes around, we can’t even keep up with them.

They’re like Republican scandals.

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Probably more than any other indicator, hurricanes tell the story of climate change, the very real climate change that Donald Trump and many Republicans deny or call a hoax.

Like the COVID-19 Pandemic. Like so many events that Trump and Trump Republicans can’t (or won’t) believe. Like the corruption that permeates the Trump administration. Like the wildfires destroying the far West Coast states.

That’s not climate change, claims Trump. It’s because California won’t sweep the forests. I call BS. Even on California being responsible for sweeping. Most of the forestland in California is federal land. Most of the burning areas are on or near federal trees. Yet, the state of California spends more money on forest management than the federal government, which owns most of the land. That’s the truth. No hoax.

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Trump should order secret federal teams of ICE forest sweepers to do their jobs.

The hoax from Republicans and the Trump administration is that crazy antifa hit squads are invading the West Coast to reign terror on the populations there. National security experts continue to assert that white supremacists and nationalists are the most dangerous domestic terror threat. But Trump defends those radicals – “they are very fine people” — because they hold up some mysterious white heritage above all others. If Trump is anything, he’s the whitest Angry White Man ever.

Climate change is real. The coronavirus pandemic exists. White nationalists are the most serious domestic terror threat in this country.

Black lives do matter.

Yet, once again and often, Trump shows the orange-hued emperor has no clothes. As Stormy Daniels has previously said, that is not a good look.

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Opinion | The presidential race is underway

Steve Flowers

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020. (STAFF SGT. TONY HARP/AIR NATIONAL GUARD AND GAGE SKIDMORE/FLIKR)

Now that the national political party conventions are over and the nominees have been coronated, the battle royale for the White House is in full throttle. The nominees, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, will shatter the age barrier — whoever is elected will be the oldest person ever elected president.

If Trump is re-elected, he will be 75 years old when sworn in. If Biden wins, he will be close to 79 years old. When I was a young man, folks at that age were in the nursing home — if they were alive. By comparison, 60 years ago, when John F. Kennedy was elected, he was 42.

If, by chance, you are worried about their traversing all over the 50 states and keeling over in the process, calm your fears. Trump will campaign in only about 10 to 12 states, and Biden will campaign in probably only two. Why, you might ask? There are only 10 or 12 states that matter in a presidential contest.

Under our Electoral College system, the candidate that gets one more popular vote than the other gets all of that state’s electoral votes.

The country is divided like never before in our history. You either live in a red Republican state, like Alabama, or a blue Democratic state, like California. You might say the hay is in the barn in all but about 10 battleground, so-called “swing states.”

There are 40 states that it really does not matter who the Republican nominee is, one or the other of the two party’s candidates are going to win that state and get all of that state’s electoral votes.

Our national politics has become so partisan and divided with such a vociferous divide that old Biden will carry California by a 60-40 margin, and Trump will carry Alabama by a 60-40 margin. Unfortunately for Trump, Alabama only has nine electoral votes. California has 55.

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The election is won or lost in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

It is in these six states that all the campaign money will be spent and where the two aged candidates might campaign. It will all boil down to certain zip codes in these six states. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most of the battleground states.

Trump, for the first three years of his presidency, reigned over a tremendous economic boom. He had a fighting chance at re-election based on one factor: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

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All that changed in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit our nation and devastated our economy. All the growth of three years has been devastated. During the same month of March, the aging Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, captured the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.

Under the Electoral College system, Trump has to carry most of the key battleground states in order to win. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most, if not all the pivotal swing states because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the economy was busting through the roof, Trump could claim credit for the thriving economy.  Likewise, the economic recession caused by the coronavirus is not Trump’s fault. However, it happened under his watch. There is a tried and true political maxim: “If you claim credit for the rain, then you gonna get the blame for the drought.”

There is also a cardinal rule in politics: all politics is local. Folks, Biden was born and raised in Pennsylvania — in the blue-collar city of Scranton, to be exact. Even if Trump were to miraculously carry all five of the large, pivotal states, he will have a hard time carrying Pennsylvania.

I know most of you reading this do not like to hear this dour outlook for Trump. But there is hope. First, I am pretty good at predicting and analyzing Alabama political races — not so much when it comes to national politics. In fact, I am usually wrong.

Another golden, proven caveat in politics: they only count the votes of the people who show up to vote. Older voters tend to be Republican. And older voters are the ones that show up to vote.

We will see in six short weeks.

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