Homelessness Is Elizabeth Betancourt’s First Priority, Cold Turkey Off Opioids and the Shasta County BOS Vape Panic

If elected to Assembly District 1, tackling homelessness will be Elizabeth Betancourt’s first priority.

What’s California’s biggest problem, the one shared by big cities and small towns alike? Homelessness. From Los Angeles to Redding, the number of people living on the streets is on the rise, and a large percentage of them are either mentally ill, drug-addicted or both.

These are the addicts defecating and discarding syringes on the streets of Hollywood, San Francisco and Redding, the mentally ill men and women mumbling to themselves as they block business doorways, the sketchy thugs who prey on the weak and defenseless, all of them the legacy of decades of societal neglect.

How many homeless people fall into those categories, the mentally ill and the drug-addicted? All of them, or at least most of the 59,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, according to a recent three-part series in Forbes by Michael Shellenberger.

That percentage sounds a little high to me, but I agree with Shellenberger’s conclusion that Gov. Gavin Newsom should declare a state of emergency to address the homelessness crisis.

Doing so would permit the state to circumvent regulations in order to provide affordable housing units as well as expand existing mental health services and drug rehabilitation programs, the latter of which are in high demand due to the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic.

I don’t know how many of Shasta County’s estimated 1200 homeless are mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs, but there’s only one candidate running in the Assembly District 1 special election Nov. 5 who’s made tackling the homelessness crisis her number one priority: Elizabeth Betancourt.

Speaking at the League of Women Voter’s candidate forum in Redding earlier this month, Betancourt said she made the issue her priority because it was one of the main concerns expressed by her potential constituents in the district.

“I’ve already been talking to people who know a lot about housing provisions, homelessness issues in general, drug addiction issues specifically, affordability—how do we get to place where we can provide these things for people who need them, but also ensure our streets and communities are safe.”

One thing’s for certain: That place is a very, very long way from where we are today. Good thing Betancourt’s got a head start. Don’t forget to vote Tuesday, Nov. 5.

One harbinger of the opioid crisis, the fentanyl transdermal patch.

When In Crisis … Panic!

It goes without saying that the opiate abuse epidemic is a crisis all on its own, in addition to its contribution to homelessness. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 130 people die every day after overdosing on an opioid, including heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and oxycontin, and other prescription pain killers.

One response to the opioid crisis has been to sue the literal pants off the opioid manufacturers and the pharmacy conglomerates such as CVS and Walgreens that distribute their highly addictive products. More than 2500 cities, counties, tribal authorities and individuals across the U.S. have joined a federal consolidated class action lawsuit known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.

Defendants include the nation’s biggest opioid manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt, the latter of which donated $1500 to Megan Dahle’s AD-1 campaign. They’re joined by three of Big Pharma’s largest opioid distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource.

The first of what is expected to be several cases in the consolidated litigation was settled last month just before trial when the opioid manufacturers and distributors agreed to pay plaintiffs in two Ohio counties $260 million for the harm caused by their products.

That money, presuming it all trickles down to those who need it, will come in handy repairing the damage caused by opioids in the Midwest. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical distributors such as Walgreens and CVC are panicking lest more communities and individuals join in on the opioid litigation bandwagon.

One undesired result? Your friendly neighborhood Walgreens or CVC may deny your doctor-prescribed opioid, even if you suffer from cancer or chronic pain or are just taking a long time to get over an injury, even if your doctor writes a lengthy note to the pharmacist declaring you’re a legitimate patient and not a drug addict.

That’s exactly what happened to a friend of mine recently. My friend has severe chronic pain from four failed back surgeries and has been on the same dosage fentanyl patch for five years.

The trouble began in July when Owens Healthcare, the last locally owned pharmacy chain in Shasta County, sold out to CVS and Rite Aid. After filling the prescription at Owens for years with no problem, my friend was rejected first by Rite Aid and then CVC.

Pharmacies that might fill my friend’s prescription aren’t on the insurance, so that leaves one option: going cold turkey off the fentanyl patch, which is basically the same thing as kicking heroin.

It’s no way to run a health care system, but that’s what happens when people, in this case the opioid manufacturers and their distributors, freak out. Panic is never pretty.

My vape rig with the juice.

The Great Vape Panic

Speaking of freaking out about addictive substances, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors is apparently considering banning the sale of all flavored nicotine vape juice in the county, even within incorporated city limits, to consenting adults, a move that can only be described as panic-stricken.

Full disclosure: I used to smoke cigarettes, but for the past 2 years I’ve been vaping flavored nicotine vape juice of the sort the county wants to ban. This involves filling the tank of my battery-powered vape rig with flavored nicotine vape juice, hitting the ignition, and inhaling the cloud of steam when it hits the atomizer.

True, it’s not really steam, it’s whatever you get when you mix propylene glycol and glycerin over a Bunsen burner, plus nicotine, which I enjoy. I also enjoy the billowing, perfumed clouds one produces on exhalation.

I know vaping is bad for me, but it’s a hell of a lot healthier than smoking cigarettes. Eventually, I’ll taper down the nicotine to zero and quit. There’s a lot of people just like me here in Shasta County.

Flavored nicotine vape juice is currently available at dozens of local smoke shops. I frequent Smoker’s Paradise on Hilltop because it’s convenient and they have my favorite brand, Vapetasia’s Killer Kustard in regular, strawberry or blueberry flavor, with 6 mg of nicotine. This regulated product is not for everyone, especially those under 21, who are prohibited from buying it.

The supervisors say they’re considering the ban for the kids, that is, those under 21, who are apparently vaping more than they’re smoking these days, especially those rebellious high-schoolers.

A more likely explanation is the Supes are riding the wave of hysteria surrounding recently reported deaths that may have been caused by vaping black market marijuana vape juice, not the products sold over the counter in smoke shops and retail marijuana outlets.

Obviously, I’m biased—quitting nicotine cold turkey is worse than kicking heroin—but I’m not the only one calling the vape crisis a hysteria, fake news.

Politico, Bloomberg and The National Review all agree: Outright banning the sale of flavored nicotine vape juice to consenting adults is a bad idea, based on what we know about the relative harm between vaping nicotine and smoking cigarettes.

Chill-out Board of Supervisors. The only thing a ban on the sale of flavored nicotine vape juice to consenting adults in Shasta County will do is drive more people, including kids, to smoke cigarettes.

Me personally? I’ll just switch to unflavored nicotine vape juice, which apparently would still be legal, while menthol cigarettes would be banned.

Go figure.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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