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Sep-15-2012 22:37printcomments

Taking the Battle Against OxyContin to America's Streets

"Be the change that you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

OxyContin protest

(MYRTLE BEACH, SC) - When I began my work ten years ago at exposing Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin for their criminal marketing of OxyContin, I was adamant about certain things that I felt I needed to accomplish. Most of them I have accomplished -- testifying against the pharmaceutical company in Virginia when they admitted they lied about the dangers of OxyContin, pleaded guilty and were sentenced.

Being asked to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the criminal marketing of OxyContin. Working as an investigative reporter and writing every week about the prescription drug epidemic killing and addicting in the hundreds of thousands. I am most honored to be a voice for those family members who have lost loved ones and thought their voices would not be heard.

I seldom write about what brought me to my activism and exposure of pharmaceutical companies for their over-marketing of dangerous and highly addictive drugs. Some people know that my daughter, Jill died because she had the misfortune of being prescribed OxyContin. This has long been not about Jill though -- it is about every parent's child. Because this prescription drug epidemic will be coming through your front door one day whether it be your child, your grandchild, your neighbor, your best friend -- it is in epidemic proportion.

I have connected with people in the Senate, in Congress and at the FDA in my fight against this death march of drugs. Although I have been very disillusioned with the FDA and their indifference to the prescription drug epidemic and their ties to pharma.

I have been fortunate to meet with and talk with physicians, attorneys and family members as concerned as I am that pharmaceutical companies are allowed to use financially funded pain foundations as public relations companies stating we have an "under treatment of pain" in this country. This couldn't be further from the truth. Just have a wisdom tooth extracted and you will be written a prescription for pain -- and a prescription for a lethal and addictive narcotic.

Pharma and their billion dollar profits has been able to convince the medical profession that pain is a "disease" and not a "symptom". I use the word "criminal" frequently because I believe very strongly that what has happened in this country with prescription drugs being pushed for every level of pain is criminal.

From the beginning of my work, I was not a proponent of picketers or demonstrators. But I am changing my thinking now. The FDA has played into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry and is a partner with drug companies rather than a protector of the American people.

This year I had the honor of meeting a man named Avi Israel from Buffalo, New York. I wish I could say it was social, but it was a meeting out of tragedy. Avi lost his 20 year old son, Michael last year because a doctor prescribed highly addictive pain killers to a 20 year old and Michael committed suicide because his physician told the family Michael needed these highly addictive painkillers.

Avi Israel has not sat back and mourned and grieved for Michael. He does that privately and with his wife, Julie.

What Avi does is he goes to Washington, DC and doesn't ask to see Senators, Congressmen, the Surgeon General, or the appointed presidential drug czar by knocking on their doors -- he breaks their doors down. Doors open to Avi and he is a force to be reckoned with. Avi doesn't do it for Michael -- he does it for your children and your family members so they don't suffer the horrific loss that he and Julie have experienced in the death of Michael.

Below is an email that Avi recently sent me. Normally I would not put this into an article because of the gut wrenching contents of the writing, but maybe my thinking has to change. Maybe the FDA needs a smack of reality. They have let us down and this father is not going to sit back and let the FDA be controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. Here is the email I received from Avi Israel -- it is every parent's nightmare and could be your nightmare:

To Marianne Skolek The first thing I noticed when I kicked my bedroom door open on June 4, 2011, was Michael’s wisdom tooth on the floor. Then I saw my son laying between the bed and the wall and blood all over the wall and ceiling. I recall very vividly the thought going through my head, “this is no good. Michael is beyond help”. I knelt down, held his head in my lap, kissed his forehead, rubbed his arm and told him that I will forever love him. His body shook one more time and I heard his breath leaving him. My next thought was “why”? Why did Michael have to die? Had Michael and us, his parents been informed by his doctors how bad opioid addiction is, Michael would be alive today. Had Melinda, his counselor, made a better effort to find him a bed, Michael would be alive today. I remember telling myself how I lost my son, my only boy, at the age of 20, because our health system let him and thousands of kids down every day. In the following weeks I found out about the FDA. The federal agency that is responsible to regulate medication and set rules and policies for doctors. The FDA is the agency that was created to protect people like Michael, who had a chronic disease, and was fed opiods and psychotropic drugs with no regard to the consequence, and ended up with a second chronic disease called addiction. They let my son and thousands of other kids die. My beautiful boy, who wanted to be an architect, because of the liberal prescribing habits and the non restrictions of opiates took his life . He was 5’11” and weighed 107 lbs at the time of his death. In the past 15 months I found out there are thousands and thousands of kids and adults who end up in the same place as Michael. That’s because of the beaurocratic agency that is supposed to control and regulate the pharmaceutical industry is letting them run amuck. Doctors, patients, parents, and the population as a whole are not aware of the danger of opiate addiction. We are 1/5 of the world population but we consume over 95% of hydrocodone produced in this world. Are we the only ones in pain in this universe?

On October 29 and 30th, the FDA will hold a hearing that was forced upon them by the U.S. Senate. The hearing is about changing hydrocodone from schedule III to schedule II. It will be held in Silver Spring Maryland at the FDA headquarters. We, and tens of others will be there, with pictures of our loved ones to show the world how we got robbed from the pleasure of having seen our children grow up.

*... Over 40,000 deaths a year are related to opiates in this country. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of time before you or someone you know is struck. We are demanding an end to the reckless prescribing of opiates. We are demanding that prescribers be educated, and not by the pharmaceutical companies. We are demanding that the population of the United States have knowledge of opiate addiction, have facilities for treatment, which should be paid for by pharmaceutical companies. It is time to let the FDA know “enough is enough”. Everyone in this country should join us. With 56% of children over 12 using opiates, you know your kids could be one of them. Protect your family; the FDA will not do that for you. I am mad as hell and I will not take this anymore.


On October 29 (Monday) Save the Michaels is planning a protest in Washington at the FDA building. This is an opportunity to let the Federal agency that is suppose to protect us know what a lousy job they are doing. We need your help.

FDA White Oak Campus
Building 31
The Great Room (Rm. 1503)
White Oak Conference Center
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, Maryland
Go to the Facebook page - Save the Michaels of the World.

So yes my mind has been changed. Picket in front of the FDA. Show pictures of your loved ones lost to this opioid epidemic. Demand the removal of Margaret Hamburg, MD, Commissioner and Bob Rappaport, MD, Director of the Division of Anesthesia and Analgesia Products of the FDA. They are not and have not been protecting the American people against this Holocaust that has been fed by profits made by the pharmaceutical industry.

And if the big money of pharma shows up at this demonstration on October 29 spewing their under-treatment of pain in America, ask them to show a picture of their loved one who has become addicted or died because of the most creative public relations campaign in the history of medicine -- pain is a "disease" and not a "symptom." Enough is enough -- hold the FDA accountable for this prescription drug epidemic before it shows its ugly face in your home.

LP - "Gestures, in love, are incomparably more attractive, effective and valuable than words." Francois Rabelais. If we ever forget this, we become void of the peace, joy, faith, laughter, encouragement and love that is ours and become the "them" instead of the "us".

_______________________________________ Investigative Reporter Marianne Skolek, is an Activist for Victims of OxyContin and Purdue Pharma throughout the United States and Canada. In July 2007, she testified against Purdue Pharma in Federal Court in Virginia at the sentencing of their three CEO's - Michael Friedman, Howard Udell and Paul Goldenheim - who pleaded guilty to charges of marketing OxyContin as less likely to be addictive or abused to physicians and patients. She also testified against Purdue Pharma at a Judiciary Hearing of the U.S. Senate in July 2007. Marianne works with government agencies and private attorneys in having a voice for her daughter Jill, who died in 2002 after being prescribed OxyContin, as well as the voice for scores of victims of OxyContin. She has been involved in her work for the past 8-1/2 years and is currently working on a book that exposes Purdue Pharma for their continued criminal marketing of OxyContin.

Marianne is a nurse having graduated in 1991 as president of her graduating class. She also has a Paralegal certification. Marianne served on a Community Service Board for the Courier News, a Gannet newspaper in NJ writing articles predominantly regarding AIDS patients and their emotional issues. She was awarded a Community Service Award in 1993 by the Hunterdon County, NJ HIV/AIDS Task Force in recognition of and appreciation for the donated time, energy and love in facilitating a Support Group for persons with HIV/AIDS.




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James Twilley September 19, 2012 9:22 pm (Pacific time)

As I had mentioned in the comments on another story written by you on this site, I'm a chronic pain suffer. I never asked to be this way. Tell me, if you're successful and all the pain management drugs that help me have what little quality of life will you be happy then? Will my suffering bring back the dead? Will your mission to save addicts from themselves by taking away my medicines justify my pain? When I can't take it anymore and take my own life will you be happy?

Tim King: You are such a baby about it James, what kind of questions are those?  See what that stuff did to you?  It made you into a sad sorry little person.  Tell you what, if another thousand families bury their kids will that make you happy?  If more suffering takes place so you can get your fix, are you good with that?  I suspect a lot of people who use this banner to describe themselves are simply addicts playing the game.  I know many are in real pain, but your questions are all jaded and wrong.  Have you ever had to bury a child?  Have you?

Toni Samanie September 18, 2012 2:15 pm (Pacific time)

Marianne Skolek - After reading Paul's comments I had to shake my head. In my own campaign to enlighten folks about psychotropic drugs ( my son-in-law died due to poly pharmacy and Cymbalta ). You can not be dissuaded by anyone who doesn't get what you are saying. Keep on getting the message out!

M. Dennis Paul, Ph.D. September 17, 2012 5:41 pm (Pacific time)

To the individuals who have addressed me: I would suggest that you actually read what I have stated here as well in my articles and comments to other articles on this subject. Essentially, you prove my point that emotionality puts blinders on and does nothing to honestly seek resolution to this problem.

You consistently fail to recognize that I agree there exists a problem. You fail, despite my having repeatedly talked about my personal experience as a human and as a counselor who has worked with hundreds , if not thousands of "dual diagnosed" clients (addiction plus mental health issues), taught addiction theory, have had more hours training in psychopharmacology than the average doctor and have developed specific and highly specialized programs for addressing addiction, to recognize any of this and so still attack claiming I have no experience, no knowledge and no position or suggestions. BTW..people without genuine argument, who feel somehow inferior, and feel threatened by the education and knowledge that others possess will typically attack credentials. It is all they have.

I will add to this that I have done over 20 years of research on the subjects at hand and I do know how to interpret a study without need to bend facts in order to make that study fit the picture I want the world to believe. I am fully capable in recognizing the difference between biased "research" and valid studies.

I have also offered numerous suggestions to rationally address the problems at of which, mentioned numerous times... is better education and training.

As I have previously stated, I can rattle off more statistics than you can imagine but this will not solve anything. Here is one, however, you might want to consider... Out of the top 20 health concerns, globally, drug abuse/addiction is #18. Alcohol is #3 and Tobacco is #6.

No foul was intended toward the Israel family. I clearly stated that not everything is known in the case of Michael. What is known, coming directly from the family, is that Michael was using medications which have as a defined effect, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. To ignore these facts and attack only opioids is simply not rational. Further, we learned that Michael suffered Crohn's Disease which often is accompanied by mental health (anxiety, depression, etc) issues and a higher incidence of completed suicide. Whether or not any confounders were present and/or diagnosed, Michael's counselor should have informed the parents of such possibility.

I am not going to continue back and forth with this any longer. You can choose to read what I have actually said, without distorting it, and know all you really need to know about my background and my position, as well recommendations, for addressing this issue. Otherwise, continue distorting what I offer and continue to live with the cognitive distortions rampant in emotionalizing a supposed response to the problem.

tricia mcdonald September 17, 2012 6:57 am (Pacific time)

m.dennis paul - i know plenty of ph.d.'s without an iota of common sense, nor compassion. you've proven yourself to be one of them; in fact your comments are completely idiotic. if you haven't lost a child you have no idea what it's like: that the tragedy will always linger with us; of course we will always be emotionally reactive; and we do face that reality every single day. also, what the hell are you talking about when you say "there is always an underlying addiction present long before a drug is introduced"? WE are rational thinkers dennis - apparently all of your education didn't provide the same for you. you owe all of us an apology, but your "rational" thinking i believe won't let you understand that. (oh, by the way, i'm educated as well.)

Joan Ketchen September 17, 2012 5:45 am (Pacific time)

Sir, I can't even imagine how you could get any positive benefit out of your attempt to argue and discredit the warning message in this article. The warning message is that prescription drugs are over prescribed, too loosely prescribed, cause unsuspected addictions because the patient trusted their doctor to prescribed them but often with little reason to do so, and that young people are dying from their lack of fear to use them and they are dying in large numbers and the numbers are growing.

But the truth is your comment is pretty much what I thought also until my daughter died and I started to learn the real truth. I was sure that this couldn't happen to our family and certainly not to my successful young attorney daughter who accomplished everything she set out to do. But now I realize I sit on church pews next to those who are taking the same type of prescription drugs that killed my daughter. They just haven't hit on the right, or should I say, wrong mix yet. I wonder how many comments like yours arguing with concerned parents my daughter, who researched everything, read prior to concluding that hers and other parents were unrealistic, "overreacting" and therefore concluding that indeed prescription drugs are really safe. The problem is not our denial. We all know the truth about our child's death. The problem is your denial that prescription drug use in our country is an epidemic and that the reason behind their frequent and unnecessary use is lack of physician training and big money to pharmaceutical companies.

I won't try to change your thinking. You are not alone. However, have you considered that your post could have been the last post that a young person needed to read before deciding that his parents were overreacting with their warnings about the dangers of prescription drugs? Comments like yours are the very assurance that young people seek out and then feed on in order to feel safe and go along with their friends who are pressuring them to be part of the crowd. It is their misguided thinking that these pills must be safe as they are not illegal, doctors prescribe them, and highly educated people like you argue in support of their use. Have you ever met an addict who thought they were an addict until one day they were convinced. Do they look for people like you to enable their thinking? It appears to me unless good can be done by ones comments they are better off to remain silent or the writer should stand ready to accept the consequence to our young people while being part of the problem. If one of us is wrong, I would suggest the one promoting fear of the casual use of prescription drugs would be the most beneficial to our young people. Shame on you, sir!

Avi Israel September 17, 2012 5:04 am (Pacific time)

Dennis Paul,

After my first comment, I thought about what you wrote, there is one thing I have to agree with you on and that is some people do need opioid pain medication. Other than that comment, I don't know what your PhD. is for, your obviously not a Medical Doctor, you do not have a complete knowledge of the subject matter and are not in touch with reality. In today's world every one in the medical community, law enforcment community, politicians and parents know that opioids are addicting except for you. Statistics show that the death rate from opiods has been rising by thousands every year for the past 20 years and you still "refuse to face reality". To me it sounds like your either a person who suffers from addiction or you are getting paid by Big Pharma to be their spoksperson. You are obviously not a parent when you lose a child that tragedy linger,and that reality hits us every day. No one has said that we have to take Opioids off the market what we are saying we need control, we need education,so anything our movement can to to educate you we'll be more than happy to do this. The more informed people are, the better the world will be for all of us. i feel sorry for people like you.

Leslie Bardak September 16, 2012 8:49 pm (Pacific time)

M Dennis Paul, Ph.D-
I assume that you use the Ph.D part to distinguish how educated you are, yet in fact you are indeed uneducated regarding this topic. Unless you have omitted your own credentials to back up your "opinion" rather than fact. What exactly is your "considerable experience". Please explain. To not do so gives you a less than credible argument. Your portrayal of "delusional thinking" is based on no fact only your own opinion. If you did actual research you would find plenty of facts and studies and surveys conducted over the last 10 plus years that have proven these facts that are described in this article, yet you either have not researched these facts, or possibly choose to ignore them for your own gain? Mr Israel's son was prescribed these opioids and psychotropic drugs by a PHYSICIAN in order to stem the symptoms of Crohn's Disease. He did not choose to take any of these drugs on his own, and for you to suggest otherwise is overtly presumptuous at the very least. It is quite possible that you should know all of your facts before making your presumptions.

As far as the medical professionals at large left in charge to prescribe the opioids that we are referring to, it is their responsibility to dispense every drug for which they write a prescription "while doing no harm"......I believe that is the Hippocratic Oath?

Yes, It is true that there are many in need of these drugs for severe debilitating pain and end of life care, which is what they were created for in the first place, but Big Pharma got out of hand and saw their profits soar at the expense of thousands of lives for unneeded prescribed opiods. Do your homework Ph.D, get all of your facts in order.

Avi Israel September 16, 2012 8:14 pm (Pacific time)

M.Dennis Paul

what is it you are trying to say?

are you trying to say my son's death was a mistake?

that other drugs combined with opioids caused him to take his life?

are you trying to say that over 40.000 death a year are a mistake?

are you saying that the providers/doctors should keep prescribing with out training?

what is it you are saying? that i am over reacting to my son's death?

are you for real?

you want to adress the problem rationally o.k.why don't you come up with the answer that you think can help save life,but don't you ever tell a parent to be rationall after losing a have no right to say anything.go back to whatever hole you came out of and let us take care of the problem.take a look around are dying everywhere and you want to keep everthing as is. go away Paul

M. Dennis Paul, Ph.D. September 16, 2012 10:16 am (Pacific time)

It is tragic to lose a child. That tragedy lingers when one refuses to face reality. In his own words, Avi states his son was on other psychotropic drugs. A brief study on these meds will awaken one to a well known side effect which is . anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. I continue to point out that the emotional reaction to a problem is not an answer. It is another problem. We are not a party to all that went on in the live of Michael Israel but we are now aware that opioids were not the only medication involved. In the case for and against opioids, mistakes are made. Rational thinking will address those mistakes and do so without the over reaction of denying valid medications to those in need. One of the irrational arguments that persists is that merely giving a drug to someone will make them addicted. In my considerable experience, this simply is not true. There is always an underlying addiction present long before a drug is introduced. It is time to get beyond the hysterical "it's an epidemic" rallying cry for irrational thinkers. Punish the pushers but do not tie the hands of trained providers and do not force individuals to live with excruciating pain out of delusional thinking. The figures for drug abuse and the figures for addiction have remained at a constant for a great many years. If one excludes population growth and other factors, one can make a case for "epidemic". It is not a provable case, however. Still, the problems that do exist can be rationally addressed and should be rationally addressed.

Philip Luzio September 16, 2012 10:08 am (Pacific time)

Dear Marianne, Thank you for writing this article. I have known Avi and Julie Israel for forty years. We saw first hand the devistation this tragidity brought to this family. We are part of the Save the Michaels of the World and work closely with Avi and Julie to educate the public on the dangers of opioids We will continue the fight.

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