To those in the healthcare industry making the epidemic even worse

Anyone ever hear about the health care industry or pharmaceutical company’s involvement in the drug and opioid epidemic? Well, ladies and gents, this is tragic… this letter was just submitted to the President of this particular health care entity. This is not a bashing and smear campaign, hence leaving out the health care facility’s name – it is however, time for people to open their eyes, be educated from it, and act accordingly. People need to be aware this is happening and protect themselves and loved ones and take a stand against this!

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing as an extremely disappointed and appalled Director and Founder of a non-profit organization in Richmond, VA. My disappointment and pure disgust is due to your hospital and actions that occurred this week.

REAL LIFE works with individuals battling adversity, primarily due to former incarceration(s), homelessness and/or substance use disorders. We started as a program in the Richmond Jail and fairly quickly expanded as a non-profit in the community due to the dire need. Currently, we operate through a 5,000 square community center that operates as a catalyst for overcoming adversities, sustaining sobriety, and providing a pathway to a thriving future through cultivating stronger families, gaining meaningful employment, and improving personal interaction skills, while building a foundation of faith. In addition, we have a male recovery house in South Richmond.

I know you are aware of the need we address daily, as you as a health system sees it daily – you see and treat the effects of the aforementioned adversities and witness the tragedy of the drug/heroin epidemic regularly. It is no secret, that collectively, we must work to curb this crisis, which continues to get worse. Further, it does not come as a surprise that pharmaceutical companies and medical entities have received criticism for the role they have played within the epidemic. It is for these reasons, I am bringing this to your attention.

On the evening of January 2, one of the residents of REAL LIFE’s recovery house, the REAL House, visited your Emergency Room due to an injury at work – it ended up being a fractured foot. He was in severe pain and therefore was offered Percocet. He shared with the medical professional who offered it that he was in a recovery house and didn’t think he should take the Percocet. They continued to push the Percocet stating, it is a legal prescription and that a call could be made to me telling that it was legally prescribed. My client continued to share he did not think it was a good idea and asked for a different type of pain medication. He was told there was no other pain medications other than Percocet available. After similar continued conversation, he still left with a script for one week of Percocet.

Based upon the expertise of your leadership at your facility, I do not believe I need to spell out all of the horrific issues surrounding this. However, I will outline some of the bigger issues, as to ensure it is crystal clear.

  1. Percocet is an opioid. They are very addictive. Even if taken legally by a prescription, many people have become addicted. This is even more pronounced for those who battle a substance use disorder already – the risk of dependency (and then escalation to heavier street drugs) is significant.
  2. Patients should be asked if they are in recovery before a medication plan is enacted. If for some reason this is not done, if a patient shares they are in recovery, the medication plan should immediately be tailored to someone in recovery (i.e. not give them opioids). Medical professionals should be a part of the recovery plan and not destroy it.
  3. Staff should be trained on other medications available for pain other than just Percocet; all hospitals carry more than one pain killer and prescribing physicians should be aware of this and not state differently.
  4. Staff should be trained on substance use disorders and recovery. Every single staff person should be aware of these issues and have knowledge of how addiction effects the brain, that certain medications are addictive, how certain medications will act as a trigger to the addict, and steps one must take to maintain their sobriety.

While I do know there are physicians at your facility that understand substance use disorders, as well as the role that the medical profession and pharmaceutical companies have played in this, it is clear that not everyone is on the same page. I feel so blessed and thankful my client was strong enough to only take the one Percocet that was basically pushed upon him as the “only pain medication option” and that he did not fill the script – as he and I both know he would have gone right back to using. I will add, however, that I have another client in the same situation who did take the suggested pain killer and ended up relapsing very bad and wound up back in jail – it is a miracle she did not die. However, it is just a matter of time if these practices continue.

If this epidemic is ever going to be curbed, we must work together collectively. Greater intelligence, ethics, and attention must be paid to these items by us all. There are many non-profit agencies beyond REAL LIFE that work daily to tackle this deadly tragedy. However, if hospitals and physicians continue to push opioids and other pain medications in this manner, our effectiveness is significantly decreased; we might as well cart folks from the hospital to the jail and cut out all the danger in the middle.

I encourage you to engage top RVA docs such as Dr. Mishka Terplan and Dr. Omar Abubaker as a means to educate health systems as a whole and to replicate the phenomenal approaches they have taken that work and that are literally saving lives. I beg you to take a proactive approach in addressing and remedying this situation before this happens to another patient that entrusts your health system with their care. Please join our movement and do not turn a blind eye to this.


Sarah Scarbrough, PhD
Founder and Director