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DEA agent speaks at CU about  nation's tragic addiction to opioids

It doesn't care about a person's socioeconomic status, occupation, race, age or hometown. It pays no attention to whose life it destroys or steals. It affects everyone.

The United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world's population, yet Americans consume 80 percent of the oxycodone and 99 percent of the hydrocodone in the world.

This is the opioid epidemic  an American crisis, according to Lawton native and Cameron University alumnus Fritz Diehm.

Diehm, who works as a supervisory special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Dallas Field Division, spoke to students and public about the opioid plight during a free presentation Tuesday evening as part of the university's Festival X Academic Festival "American Identities in the 21st Century." In opening, Diehm said his purpose was not to be a Democrat or Republican; his goal was to discuss the history, progression and current state of opioids, as well as the DEA's plan to combat opioid abuse.

The birth of the crisis

Diehm said prior to the 1970s, specialty clinics provided treatment options for Americans with chronic pain, but because of financial reasons, those clinics closed, leaving the responsibility of prescribing opioids in the hands of doctors. 

That responsibilty remains great, considering the number of Americans experiencing chronic pain.

"Chronic pain affects millions of adults in the United States," Diehm said, "and treatment costs are estimated to range between $560 billion and $635 billion per year."

In the late 1970s and 1980s, opioids began being promoted as a "way to improve quality at end of life," such as for cancer patients, Diehm said.

In 2001, direct oversight of physicians who prescribed a high volume of opioids reduced as the DEA agreed to a "balanced policy."

Over time, Diehm said, "the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain became a new and growing indication" for an opioid prescription.

The birth of the crisis

Today, the DEA must protect the public from "pill mills," a term for operations with doctors who prescribe opioids for profit, rather than for the actual treatment of their patients. These doctors take advantage of a person's addiction for their own personal gain. 

Patients who actually need opioids may become addicted to them if they use the opioids for extended periods of time, Diehm said. 

Diehm cited an article by Dr. Angela Rake in The Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, in which Rake discusses her brother's addiction to heroin.

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