Opiate epidemic spreading in Philly

WILLIAM BENDER / DAILY NEWS STAFF Roland Lamb , director of the city's Office of Addiction Services, says opiate addiction continues to be a "serious issue" among Philadelphians.
WILLIAM BENDER / DAILY NEWS STAFF Roland Lamb , director of the city's Office of Addiction Services, says opiate addiction continues to be a "serious issue" among Philadelphians.
Posted: October 10, 2013

ROLAND LAMB, director of the city's Office of Addiction Services, can rattle off drug stats all day long, but the button on his lapel - the word "stigma" with a slash through it - tells you where he stands on America's drug war.

It's Lamb's way of protesting an "arrest first, treat later mentality" that he says is similar to "locking up type 2 diabetics for not following their medication and not staying on their diets."

"The reality is we're talking about a disease that's manifested behaviorally in a social context," Lamb said of drug addiction. "I don't necessarily believe we do anybody any good by arresting people who are addicted."

Yesterday, Lamb presented his office's latest statistics, showing that Philadelphia continues to struggle with an opiate epidemic. Not just heroin, but also strong prescription painkillers that produce a similar high and can turn some patients - or their friends and relatives - into addicts.

"This is a serious issue that crosses all age groups and demographics," Lamb said.

Last year, for example, opiates accounted for five of the 10 most frequently detected drugs in bodies handled by the city Medical Examiner's Office.

"We're seeing most of our new initiates with illicit drug use beginning with prescriptions for opioids," Lamb said. "No longer do you have this vision of someone who's being approached in a dark alley if you want to do some drugs."

Lamb called for shifting resources from law enforcement to treatment-based strategies to combat substance abuse.

A recent paper in BMJ, a British medical journal, found that illegal-drug prices have generally decreased and drug purity has generally increased since 1990, despite billions spent attempting to disrupt the global drug supply.

Philadelphia has long been known as a destination for cheap, high-purity heroin.

"I would like to figure out ways to keep people out of . . . the criminal-justice system altogether so we can begin to work with them and they can have a future for themselves, as opposed to getting arrested, having a record and then having to deal with getting in recovery," Lamb said.


On Twitter: @wbender99

Blog: ph.ly/DailyDelco

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