Addiction Thrives Under HIPAA Privacy Laws
Open Letter to the United States Surgeon General:
Dear Dr. Murthy:
While I appreciate that you are taking steps to end the prescription opioid epidemic, you overlook one of the biggest issues in the fight against addiction: Current privacy laws that prevent friends and family from alerting healthcare providers that the patient is abusing his/her medication.
My (now) ex husband devastated our family with his drug addiction. How this addiction was allowed to begin, I will never understand. He was first diagnosed, about 6 years ago, with a serious mental disorder; he has never told me what that disorder is, but he was prescribed anti-psychotics to combat it. He then told them that he "didn't like" them, after which the army inexplicably began prescribing him ever-increasing amounts of oxycodone, despite him having been ordered into rehab by the army at least two times.
I didn't find out until the divorce that he had been in rehab for alcohol abuse before we were married; he became addicted to oxy about 10 years later, when he was stationed away from us at what was essentially a "hardship post."
But, see .... because of privacy laws, that information regarding rehab wasn't in his medical file. And he was under no legal obligation to tell me or anyone else; I guess I thought he would have told me something important like that before we got married, since we had already been best friends for 11 years. Right after we got married, he made it clear through his actions that he had an addictive personality. At the beginning, it wasn't drugs or alcohol, but he smoked like a chimney and couldn't stop buying collectible toys, among many other disagreeable and abusive personality traits.
Everything came to a head in 2013 when he got a DUI on Dugway Proving Ground. And I quote: "Thank God they only did a Breathalizer because otherwise I would have gone to jail." He nearly hit an MP car while driving on the wrong side of the road at 11 o'clock on the morning.
I am assuming, as Surgeon General of the United States, that you know exactly what kind of experiments are conducted on Dugway. And guess what his job in the army was? Microbiologist. High as a kite and drawing blood and preparing lab tests. And no one in that lab did a thing to stop him.
He miraculously received an honorable discharge after a medical retirement and returned home to his family in Colorado. And that was when our Hell began.
He came home two months early, and as is common with soldiers returning home from deployment, completely disrupted the flow of our family. But he was also acting funny. This was someone who had been my best friend for more than 20 years, and I couldn't stand him. He said fantastical and horrible things; he often "joked" about wanting to kill a prostitute. We went to visit my uncle for Christmas, and it was then that I knew that Karl was addicted to painkillers. We would be having a conversation and in the middle of a sentence, while he was speaking, he would pass out. Just be talking, then trail off and .... out cold.
The next few months were a series of epic lies: He was being recruited to work for the FBI; he was being recruited to work for the International Space Station in Belgium; he was being deployed to Africa to build ebola clinics; and he was being deployed to the Mexico/Texas border to fight ISIS.
And all the while, averaging at least 125 mg of oxycodone per day. On some days, he was exceeding 140 mg. I tried hiding his pills; he always found them. I tried keeping them with me all the time; he switched them out for lookalike Tylenols. He admitted that when he had been living on Dugway, he and a friend often snorted them, which gave him a "better high."
I began demanding he see a therapist; he lied and said he did.
We had been living off a severance package he received when he retired from the army, so his sitting in a recliner day in and day out wasn't a huge deal to us financially, until it was. We had been living like more money would be coming in, but of course that had been one of his lies. He pretended to go to work for about two months, but by the time the third pay period had rolled around with no paycheck in sight, I cornered him and demanded he tell me the truth. He broke down, crying. I kicked him out.
I spoke with him on the phone a couple times, and he gave the impression that he thought everything was going to go back to "normal," and still lied about seeing a therapist. Shortly thereafter, he became increasingly delusional and unpredictable to the point I feared for my family's safety.
And that is when the system failed me.
I tried calling the VA to try to talk to his doctor and get him (and us) some help. No one would help me. No one would even take a message from me regarding his drug abuse. They wouldn't tell me who his doctor was. I went over to the VA in Colorado Springs and sat outside the mental health clinic; the person they said would come out and talk to me never came out to talk to me. The police told me he had to commit a crime against me before they could do anything; when I tried to get a restraining order, I was told he hadn't said anything scary enough and hadn't made any concrete threats against my family, so the judge, although sympathetic, was forced to deny my request for a protective order.
He left us utterly broke and broken. And when he finally flipped out before Thanksgiving, I didn't have the wherewithal to say, "I told you so!" to all those people who ignored every one of my many pleas that my husband was a mentally ill drug addict who was becoming increasingly dangerous.
Finally, he did some bad things - thankfully not the violence I'm sure he was planning - that put him in jail. He was convicted of domestic violence against me on 2 counts and spent 6 months in jail.
And now? He is still addicted to those prescription painkillers and I can't tell anyone about it! Because his addiction is more important than the safety of me or my son. That's what it boils down to with these ridiculous HIPAA laws. HIPAA makes sure to coddle the addiction. And really, HIPAA is all about protecting that addiction because it certainly is not about protecting patients or their families. It is most definitely not about stopping the death spirals because if it were, family and friends would be able to communicate with those doctors that are literally killing these addicts.
So if you want to take a step to combat addiction, you need to understand that privacy laws are the worst possible thing for addicts and their families. Friends and families should have the right to alert physicians when patients are abusing their medication, PERIOD.