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Jason Cherkis
Jason Cherkis is a national investigative reporter for The Huffington Post. He has investigated and reported in-depth pieces on gun violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, and the neglect of plant workers in Kentucky. He first joined The Huffington Post as a politics reporter covering the 2012 elections. He previously worked as a crime reporter for 14 years at Washington City Paper, where he was a two time Livingston Awards for Young Journalists finalist, and received multiple awards from the Association of Alternative News Weeklies.

Entries by Jason Cherkis

Famed Historian Sees 19th-Century Solution To Current Heroin Crisis

(0) Comments | Posted November 25, 2015 | 12:32 PM

WASHINGTON -- David Courtwright, the nation's leading historian on drug use and drug policy, has published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine arguing that physicians must heed the lessons of the 19th and 20th centuries in order to successfully combat today's opioid epidemic.

The professor of history at the University of North Florida recounts how the medical and pharmaceutical communities had successfully worked to control the epidemic on their own by reducing the number of opiate prescriptions across the country. Doctors "had succeeded through primary prevention, creating fewer new addicts as existing addicts began quitting or died of old age," he writes.

Meanwhile, Courtwright adds, a prejudice that began more than a hundred years ago has yet to be fully defeated by modern science. As the first opioid epidemic was underway, some doctors and some municipal governments engaged in what would now be called a form of "harm reduction" -- an approach known as maintenance. Where an addiction was deemed to be unbreakable, at least at that moment, doctors would maintain the supply of narcotics so that addicts would avoid withdrawal, which can be deadly, and would not resort to crime or the black market to continue using.

As Courtwright recounts, the Progressive movement strongly condemned vice, and led the push for prohibition of the non-medical use of narcotics and alcohol. The federal government carried over that mentality, with the narrow blessing of the Supreme Court, eventually prohibiting doctors from prescribing for the purposes of maintenance. That bias against maintenance continues today within the U.S. treatment system, even as advances in science have developed effective treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine. Methadone was proven an effective long-term treatment decades ago.

"The key objectives — reducing fatal overdoses, medical and social complications, and injection-drug use and related infections — are difficult to achieve if abstinence-oriented treatment is the only option available," the historian writes. "Yet that remains the situation in many places, particularly in rural locales, where officials dismiss methadone and buprenorphine as unacceptable substitute addictions."

To help tell the contemporary history, Courtwright in his NEJM article cites a Huffington Post investigation into the treatment industry from January.

"We need more and better treatment for addicts, including medically assisted recovery, and that's where your article and mine really intersect," Courtwright told HuffPost. "I made the point that general prejudice against maintenance has spilled over and exacerbated the failure to provide adequate medically assisted recovery."

The HuffPost investigation showed how Kentucky’s scarce access to such recovery methods was exacerbating the current epidemic. In 2013, the majority of fatal overdose victims in the northern part of the state had tried an abstinence-only treatment -- which bars the use of medications like buprenorphine -- before their deaths. 

“What your article helped people to understand and what a lot of people still don't get, is there's a difference between an opioid addict who goes into treatment and somebody who's an alcoholic or a heavy cannabis user who goes into treatment, because the truth is that if that a cannabis user or that alcoholic comes out of treatment and relapses, they're probably not going to immediately kill themselves," Courtwright said. "Whereas the opioid addict comes out of treatment and because they've lost their tolerance and because they're overconfident about the size dose they can safely take, they're going to die.” 

The historian admitted that for a long time he had thought the extent of any opioid problem would be limited to those buying heroin on the black market. When he began his research in the 1970s, he did not dream that there would be another opioid epidemic -- one twice as prevalent as the one in the early 20th century. This fall, he recalled seeing an ad for a medicine that could relieve opioid-induced constipation. The ad had aired during an NFL football game.

“I fell out of my chair,” Courtwright said. “I was just astonished. It was certainly a sign of how common the condition has become in American...

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FDA Approves Nasal-Spray Version Of Overdose Drug Naloxone

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 10:36 AM

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it approved a nasal-spray version of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. The new version will make it easier to administer and less intimidating than the previously approved injectable form. Commonly sold as Narcan,...

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Drug Czar Approves Of Gov. Chris Christie's Viral Message On Addiction

(0) Comments | Posted November 5, 2015 | 4:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Chris Christie's personal call for a more humane approach to drug addiction became the first...

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An Opioid Addict Finds Help After Calling 911, Not An Arrest

(1) Comments | Posted October 30, 2015 | 1:50 PM

WASHINGTON -- After watching President Barack Obama’s speech last week in Charleston, West Virginia, addressing the country’s opioid epidemic, a man living nearby called 911 asking for help in finding a treatment facility. Officers with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the residence, where they found...

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Carly Fiorina Confronts New Post-Debate Factcheck

(6) Comments | Posted October 29, 2015 | 8:58 AM

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina woke up Thursday morning to arguments that her performance the night...

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Obama Tells Outdated Opioid Treatment Industry It's Time To Change

(5) Comments | Posted October 21, 2015 | 12:48 PM

President Barack Obama tackled the opioid epidemic on Wednesday by telling health care providers across the country that access to medication-assisted treatment must be expanded.

For decades, those treating opioid addiction ignored the scientific consensus that the best approach involved medications approved by the Food and Drug...

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Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Is Saving Lives, But Not All Police Departments Are On Board

(7) Comments | Posted October 16, 2015 | 6:25 PM

WASHINGTON -- Amid the heroin epidemic, there is little disagreement over the effectiveness of naloxone, the medication that can revive opioid addicts from an overdose. It has come to be seen as an essential tool to combat the skyrocketing number of overdoses.


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New York Law Blocks Judges From Practicing Medicine From The Bench

(0) Comments | Posted September 29, 2015 | 4:33 PM

WASHINGTON -- Drug court judges in New York will no longer be allowed to order defendants in recovery to stop taking doctor-prescribed medications as part of their treatment, as the result of a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Public health experts say medication-assisted treatment such...

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Obama Administration Makes Big Announcement Addressing Heroin Epidemic

(0) Comments | Posted September 16, 2015 | 9:13 PM

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Obama administration announced a major policy shift Thursday in its efforts to combat the nation's opioid abuse epidemic. Speaking at a conference on opioid addiction in Northern Virginia, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said her agency would rewrite regulations to remove some of...

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With Police Body Cameras, D.C. Mayor Promises Transparency With Caveats

(1) Comments | Posted September 11, 2015 | 1:01 PM

WASHINGTON -- After months of policy debate, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has unveiled her proposed regulations for how the public can access police body camera footage. While many jurisdictions have sought to shield police departments from turning over footage to the public, the mayor's plan avoids such across-the-board...

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Heroin Epidemic Stars In Conservative Ad Against New Hampshire Governor

(0) Comments | Posted September 8, 2015 | 5:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- The heroin epidemic is becoming fodder for political ads. A few weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a long-shot Republican presidential hopeful, tried to blame President Barack Obama for the epidemic in a campaign spot. Now comes the conservative nonprofit Citizens for a Strong New...

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Hillary Clinton Proposes $10 Billion Plan To Fight Addiction

(2) Comments | Posted September 2, 2015 | 10:41 AM

WASHINGTON -- Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will unveil an ambitious $10 billion plan on Wednesday that seeks to modernize the nation's approach to combating the opioid epidemic. Among her myriad policy proposals addressing prevention and treatment, the 2016 Democratic front-runner is, notably, throwing her weight behind the scientific...

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Maine Drug Addiction Clinic To Close, Blaming Gov. Paul LePage's Policies

(1) Comments | Posted August 25, 2015 | 12:33 PM

A drug addiction treatment center in Sanford, Maine, has announced it is closing, blaming the policies of Gov. Paul LePage (R) for its decision.

"We're in the business of treating the disease of addiction," Charles Faris, president and CEO of Massachusetts-based Spectrum Health Systemssaid in a statement Monday....

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Chris Christie Ties Heroin Epidemic To Obama

(15) Comments | Posted August 24, 2015 | 9:20 AM

WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the first Republican presidential candidate to blame President Barack Obama for the country's heroin epidemic in a political ad.

In a newly released campaign ad, Christie rattles off a list of criminal elements that have had free rein during the Obama administration. Near the top of the list, Christie references the spike in opioid drug use.

The ad begins with Christie, a former prosecutor, speaking directly into the camera: "Lawlessness in America and around the world under Barack Obama." Christie declares "drugs running rampant and destroying lives" as images of a hoodie-wearing addict shooting up and a close-up of what appears to be an addict overdosing appear on screen. 

The heroin epidemic actually began nearly two decades before Obama took office. It started with the spread of OxyContin and Percocet addictions. "Pill mills" helped spur these painkiller addictions in Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia. But during the Obama administration, a crackdown on the mills helped spur a resurgence in heroin use.

In a Huffington Post investigation published in January, federal and state officials admitted that they knew such a crackdown would lead to a heroin problem.  

“We always were concerned about heroin,” said Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy official for Obama who also worked under the Bush administration. “We were always cognizant of the push-down, pop-up problem. But we weren’t about to let these pill mills flourish in the name of worrying about something that hadn’t happened yet. … When crooks are putting on white coats and handing out pills like candy, how could we expect a responsible administration not to act?”

But Christie critics also point out New Jersey's rise in overdose deaths -- nearly triple the overall U.S. rate. Although Christie has successfully negotiated for discounts on naloxone, the medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, drug treatment options in his state have not been able to meet the overwhelming demand.

The opioid epidemic is quietly proving to be an issue on the campaign trail. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has talked about the problem. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently helped introduce legislation that would improve access to medical treatment for opioid addicts. 

Christie elaborated on the ad Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."  

"This president has set a standard in Washington of lawlessness," he said. "What I mean by that is this: If you don't like the law, don't enforce it. So if you don't like the immigration laws, don't enforce those and let there be sanctuary cities throughout the country and do nothing about it. If you don't like the marijuana laws, don't enforce the marijuana laws in certain states if they don't feel like enforcing them."  

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How Kentucky Embraced A Life-Saving Drug For Opioid Addicts

(0) Comments | Posted August 18, 2015 | 1:32 AM

WASHINGTON -- In the fall of 2013, there were very few doctors in Kentucky willing to prescribe naloxone, which can save opioid addicts who are overdosing. But in Northern Kentucky, the region of the state hardest hit by the heroin epidemic, a group of volunteer doctors, nurses and...

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Feds Now Pushing States Toward Medical Treatment For Heroin Addicts

(2) Comments | Posted August 13, 2015 | 7:21 PM

WASHINGTON -- For the first time, the federal agency responsible for most public funding of drug addiction treatment has added language to its grant applications designed to push the treatment industry away from the abstinence model.

Treatment for substance abuse disorders in the United States widely...

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Bill Cosby Lawyer Made Bizarre Comparison To D.C. Police Conduct Case

(2) Comments | Posted July 24, 2015 | 11:56 AM

WASHINGTON -- To help combat a damaging deposition in which he admitted that he gave Quaaludes to younger women before having sex with them, Bill Cosby has added Washington lawyer Monique Pressley to his defense team. In recent days, Pressley has done damage control for the comedian, spinning the...

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Gov. Kasich Makes Heroin Overdose Drug Available Without Prescription

(19) Comments | Posted July 17, 2015 | 1:08 PM

WASHINGTON -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Thursday took a dramatic step toward addressing the devastating toll the opioid epidemic has had on his state. He signed emergency legislation that will essentially make Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects...

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Here's How You Can Help Stop A Sexual Assault Before It Happens

(72) Comments | Posted July 8, 2015 | 11:21 PM

Earlier this year, a woman named Jackie Fuchs reached out to The Huffington Post saying that she was ready to come forward with a secret she had lived with most of her life: When she was 16 and the bassist for the Runaways -- going then by the name Jackie...

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One Very Large Man's 18-Year Quest For Hot Dog Eating Glory

(99) Comments | Posted July 2, 2015 | 1:55 PM

WASHINGTON -- Eric "Badlands" Booker is exceptional at eating burritos.

In fact, he may be the best in the world. He holds the record for this particular act of gluttony, having once taken down 15 in an eight-minute span.

His gastronomical heroics have also made him a celebrity...

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