Episode 65: Restoring Trust in Doctors Amidst The Overdose Crisis with Dr. Ben Cocchiaro and Dr. Ashish Thakrar

Over the past two decades, as fatal drug overdoses have risen precipitously, few professions have been hit harder by the crisis than the medical community. Physicians in particular have found themselves in the no-win position of being both blamed for the overdose crisis, which claimed more than 100,000 American lives in the past 12 months, while being tasked with containing it.

According to one dominant narrative, it was cavalier doctors who sparked the crisis in the first place, by overprescribing habit forming narcotic painkillers to millions of Americans after being softened up at lavish dinners and then duped by nefarious pharmaceutical reps using fudged data.

But that’s overly simplistic. For starters, it ignores the fact that the greatest spike in drug deaths came when doctors reigned in opioid prescribing after authorities started targeting so-called pill mills. This left tens of thousands of pain patients stranded and paved the way for the introduction of illicitly made fentanyl into the U.S. to fill unmet demands.

Narcotica co-host Christopher Moraff delves into this topic, asking how the medical community can work to restore trust from their patients who are justifiably suspicious of the U.S. healthcare system, speaking with doctors Ashish Thakrar and Ben Cocchiario, who both work for the University of Pennsylvania medical system in Philadelphia, a focal point of the overdose crisis. They cover everything from methadone prescribing to overfunding the DEA, all of it underlining the importance of patient autonomy.

Follow Ben Cocchiaro at UPenn
Follow Ashish Thakrar on Twitter @especially_APT

If you liked this episode, here are others you might enjoy:
Episode 46: Behind The Pharmacists’ Counter with Jessica Moreno
Episode 36: Moral Hazards and Naloxone, A Toxicologist’s Perspective
Episode 30: Getting Wrecked with Dr. Kim Sue

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Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Aaron Ferguson
Music: Glass Boy / Nomad1
Intro voice: Jenny Schaye
Image: Stockvault // edit: Troy Farah

Episode 42: Supervised Consumption is an Essential Service

The covid-19 crisis has exposed many weak spots in our culture and the need for radical change. It has revealed which workers are really essential—hint: it’s not executives keeping this late-stage capitalist economy afloat—and that we need to pay these workers a living wage. It has revealed that yes, healthcare is a human right and that contributing to public health is, shockingly, essential to keep everyone healthy. 

And perhaps most relevant to this show, the covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the utmost importance of supervised consumption sites, or places where people can use drugs under medical supervision. We have numerous episodes in the past on this issue, so check out our archives if you aren’t already familiar: Episode 31, Episode 26 and way back on Episode number 4. 

We have two guests today: Sterling Johnson, a housing lawyer, who is well known among Philly harm reductionists and has been fighting for a supervised consumption site for years, and Matthew Sheppeck, an organizer with the Philadelphia Tenants Union, a harm reductionist, and addiction outreach specialist that works with homeless drug users in the Kensington region of Philadelphia. 

We discuss everything from housing as a human right, whether cops should carry naloxone, representation in harm reduction institutions and the importance of supervised consumption spaces, but why they need to reflect the needs of people who use drugs. We also discuss the coronavirus pandemic that is overshadowing everything and how that is changing so much about harm reduction.

Follow Sterling Johnson on Twitter @LB_Sterling and Matthew Sheppeck on Instagram @Sheppecksees.

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Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Garrett Farah
Music: Glass Boy / Pictures of the Floating World
Image: Wikimedia / edit: Troy Farah
One correction: At the 21:30 mark, Zach incorrectly quoted Gov. Andrew Cuoma. There were 263 positive infections at Rikers, not deaths. We regret the error.