Don't Die: Glenn Talks With Former Addict and Founder of National Addiction Foundation

UPDATE: Aaron Brower followed up to correct a misstated fact. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, not opiate addiction. Drugs abuse is one and a half times more likely to be the cause of death than any other accidental or unnatural cause.

Aaron Brower, former addict and founder of the National Addiction Foundation joined Glenn on radio this week to talk about the staggering opioid epidemic in America. In 1980, there were 6,000 deaths attributed to drug overdose. Fast forward 35 years, and more than 52,000 people died from drug overdose in 2015. An estimated two million Americans are dependent on opioids, with an additional 95 million using prescription painkillers within the past year.

"This is an epidemic. Where do we go from here? How can we help? Stop looking to the government," Glenn said.

The importance of help and information cannot be overstated. That may seem simple, but many people, including family members of addicts, don't know where to turn or how to navigate the complex health care system. That's where the National Addiction Foundation comes in.

"There is help available. It's just that people don't know how to access it or know that it's available to them," Brower explained.

The most important thing, Brower emphasized, is getting connected to the right care, as well as exploring treatment and insurance options.

To learn more, visit the National Addiction Foundation online.

GLENN: I will tell you that at one point in my life, I was addicted to opioids and -- just through medical use. And it is horrendous. It is -- you know, there's something to say about drug users who are going out and storing drugs and everything else. Another about being addicted to opioids because of pain. And you -- you want to get off them. You can't get off them because of pain. And you can't get off them because you're addicted to them. And it is horrendous. It is horrendous.

I have been addicted to alcohol. And I've been addicted to opioids. I think I would take alcohol any day of the week over opioids. Aaron Brower is here. He runs the Southern California Addiction Center. And knows a little bit about it. He sounds very much like me, growing up. Began using alcohol and marijuana as a copying mechanism to deal with a traumatic event. And then in his mid-20s, he became somebody who was jumping in and out of court.

Welcome to the program, Aaron, how are you?

AARON: I'm doing great. Thanks for asking. Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

GLENN: You bet. Give us some stats. Because this is something that is going around on TV. But I don't think people know how bad this really is.

AARON: Yeah, I agree with you, Glenn. I mean, it is absolutely the number one medical issue in America. You know, when looking at just the statistics you rattled off, which is just staggering when you really think about it, is you're looking at, you know, in opioid overdoses, not counting all the other alcohol and drugs and cocaine and all that. In 2015, you know, it was four people an hour overdosed on opioids alone. You know, overdoses on opioids alone. When you're looking at 2016, when you're looking at the overdose deaths just like you talked about, it jumped almost 20 percent. I mean, when you go all the way back from 1980 to 2015, in 1980, there was 6,000 total drug overdose deaths, and now you fast forward to 2015, and there was 52,404 deaths.

GLENN: Jeez.

AARON: I mean, it's 1.5 times greater than any other killer of Americans.

GLENN: Than any other killer of Americans?

AARON: Any other killer of Americans.

PAT: Heart disease and all that?

GLENN: That doesn't include heart disease.

AARON: It includes accidents, cancer, heart disease. Everything. The number one killer of Americans.

GLENN: Wow.

PAT: Wow.

AARON: Five times greater than the second place killer.

GLENN: You know, in looking at this, you see in places like Ohio, where heroin has really -- the heroin overdoses has gone almost to zero. That fentanyl is now the -- the killer, not heroin, says something.

AARON: Yes, it does. And fentanyl is basically just a -- it's a thin -- a synthetic painkiller. And most of the fentanyl that's coming in is produced by Chinese companies. And then, you know, the Mexican cartels or whatever are mixing it in everything. When you're looking in 2016, there have been over 35,000 drug possession charges -- you know, where they've actually seized drugs and then tested it. In 35,000 different cases, they're finding fentanyl and cocaine, heroin, everything. But what it is, is it takes very little heroin mixed with a little fentanyl. And then you get a drug that's super potent. And the reason why it's killing so many people is because it's so hard to gauge. I mean, these guys are mixing it up in some warehouse or some back alley somewhere. They're mixing it up. It is absolutely not an exact science. That's why you get some doses that are extremely strong and some doses that aren't.

GLENN: I will tell you, that fentanyl -- I had surgery. This is years ago. And I had never even heard of fentanyl. And I -- I have a system of a horse. You just can't put me out. I've actually woken up on the operating table. I mean, they almost have to kill me to take me out of pain.

And I woke up and I was on a cocktail that included the fentanyl patch.

AARON: Right.

GLENN: And that patch scared the hell out of me, especially after my wife read that it said for end-of-life use only. But that is now being prescribed -- my niece, who was in her 20s, at one point, was prescribed fentanyl patches.

AARON: Yeah, absolutely.

GLENN: It's not something you hand out.

AARON: It's staggering. Glenn, one of the scariest reasons you're seeing this switch is I was in New Jersey at the New Jersey Hospital Association Summit. And I was there with my friend, Dr. Drew and Bob Forest. And then Governor Christie was there and Patrick Kennedy. All just absolute champions for this cause. And what's interesting is Dr. Drew gave a talk and talked about the big lobbying. The Big Pharma and all that kind of stuff. And one of the biggest things that made this pandemic grow so rapidly is when Big Pharma was able to lobby and get pain as the fifth vital sign. I mean, think about that. You know, and so what happened is, back in the '80s, doctors were being sued for underprescribing. Can you imagine ignoring a vital sign? You know, and so they got the fifth vital sign to be pain. And so with that, doctors that were underprescribing. You know, they were getting sued for underprescribing. And that sort of thing. Some of them in California actually lost their licenses.

GLENN: For underprescribing?

AARON: Underprescribing.

GLENN: Now we -- do you believe we have a problem of overprescribing?

AARON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

I mean, it is just staggering. When you are looking at some of the communities that are just ripped, like Ohio. You're looking at -- in certain cities in Ohio and other places across America, certain counties, there are almost three prescriptions for Oxycodone per one citizen or, you know, per one resident. It's just absolutely staggering. The overprescribing is just absurd. And it reminds me of a kid that -- for example, this kid, Riley, here in Southern California, he was just a beautiful, beautiful 20-year-old boy. You know, went to Aliso Niguel High School. He was a football star. Had an injury in high school. Was prescribed Oxycotin. And then came across -- and then obviously that turned into an addiction. And he was struggling with it and couldn't quite kick it like you were talking about in your intro here. And what happened is he came across a doctor. Her name was -- Dr. Lisa is what she went by on the streets. And, you know, this one doctor prescribed over a five-year period, prescribed over 27,000 prescriptions for Oxycodone and made over $5 million, killing 12 kids.

GLENN: Wow.

AARON: And you might have read about her or heard about her. She was the doctor that was sentenced just recently to 30 years to life in prison. And, you know what, we need to see more of this.

GLENN: So, Aaron, which -- what's really happening? Is it people trying to get high? Or is the -- is the epidemic also include high numbers of people who are in pain, have had problems, maybe still have problems, but they just can't get off of it?

AARON: Yeah, well, it -- mainly, the more common story that we see in all of our addiction centers and that sort of thing and also at the National Addiction Foundation is you see just the story like I just said. You know, you see more so the cases of people having surgery, getting -- you know, having an injury. And what happens is people have what you and I talk about or what you talk about, as far as core issues, whether it's sexual trauma or whatever that is as a young adult. You have the unresolved issues.

GLENN: Right.

AARON: What happens is, there -- it's way more likely to have an addiction issue, you know, let alone just national statistics say one in four people that are prescribed Oxycotin, for example, one in four with will struggle with addiction issues.

GLENN: The -- the problem is I think the stigma that nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to admit that they are addicted to it. And then nobody knows what to do about it. So let me tell you --

AARON: That's right. Yeah, absolutely. And that's why I appreciate you, Glenn. Like, you wear your story of recovery like a badge of honor on your arm. I do the same. I've been sober now 15 years, coming up on 16 here. You know, recovering intravenous heroin addict and that sort of thing. And prescription pills and been there and done that. And we do. It's the stigma. The stigma that comes about this is a moral choice. This is something that they're just acting bad. No, it's a disease. You know, it's been diagnosed as a disease. And it is a disease. And so, you know, crushing that stigma. Guys like you and I and that sort of thing is one of the most important things we can do.

GLENN: So, Aaron, I'm going to ask you for -- if somebody is listening and they are addicted or they have somebody who is addicted, what can they do? You know, yesterday, with the national health care garbage, you know, we're not going to find an answer in Washington. We need to find it ourselves. So what can people do? I'll come back to you with that in just a second.

[break]

GLENN: Welcome back to the program. I'm so glad that you have tuned in today.

All right. So -- so, Aaron -- Aaron Brower from the Southern California Addiction Center. So what does somebody that is listening do if they are addicted through a prescription or if they know somebody that is addicted? What do they do?

AARON: Well, you know, Glenn, thanks for asking that question. Finding the right kind of care for somebody, if you're addicted and you're trying to find the right kind of care, to see what kind of options are out there for you. It's just -- it is a web. And insurance companies make it very, very difficult. You know, as difficult as they can in order to get -- to allow people to access their benefits.

I founded this National Addiction Foundation. This nationaladdictionfoundation.org. It's a nonprofit. And what's interesting is, there is help available. It's just that people don't know how to access it.

Or know that it's available to them. And so what happens is, for example -- I mean, the most important thing, Glenn, is to get connected to the right care. You want to make sure that if somebody is struggling, that they get connected to the appropriate kind of care. Like, for example, if somebody has a sexual trauma from an early age or something, they need to get connected to a place that has trauma therapy. You know, if they are -- if they can't -- if they have recently had what's called a triggering event, there's lots of different options for them.

When I'm talking about that, a lot of people don't know a lot of the things we know in the industry and have learned over the years. Like, for example, you know, people don't know that, let's say your son or your daughter gets arrested. They end up going to jail for a drug possession. Then they're released from jail. Well, that's a qualifying event to get insurance year around. Okay?

So you no longer to have wait for the open enrollment period for insurance. Like, for example, other triggering events. A divorce. Going to jail. Moving from state to state. Those are all qualifying events that get insurance year around. And most these kids -- what's amazing is you have these families call in to our foundation, and we just guide people through that process.

And you see such a high percentage of them. Let's say, you know, little Cindy gets arrested. And then all of a sudden you tell the mom, hey, without release paperwork from jail, you put it together with an application for an insurance company, you submit it. And then within 30 days, you know, your insurance is available to help them.

There are also a lot of free resources available to people, okay? So what we've done is we've created a large database, a nationwide database, if somebody is calling from San Francisco. You know, we can help guide them through that process in getting connected to the indigent facilities around, if they haven't had a qualifying event --

GLENN: Yeah, I don't think we have any of those in San Francisco. So don't worry about that one.

(laughter)

AARON: Yeah. So there are ways to get help. It's just a matter of having the knowledge to be able to access it. There are grants. There are all sorts of stuff out there that can help people obtain coverage in order to get -- to get care.

GLENN: You know, this is what killed my mother. She was addicted to prescription drugs. And she needed to move away from the doctor. Because she knew the doctor, you know, would continue to prescribe. This is in the '70s.

And so we moved away. And then she switched her drug of choice. And within a year was -- was dead because, you know, there was no help. She tried to do it by herself. And, you know, depending on where you are, you can't do it by yourself.

AARON: No, you can't. And that's why help is so important. And things like the National Addiction Foundation and other great resources out there -- I mean, there is help available for people -- you know, passionate people like ourselves that will hold their hand, walk them through the process.

And a lot of times, what's kind of interesting is a lot of times, you know, the addict is not ready or the alcoholic is not ready. And so one thing that we love to do through our foundation is we -- you know, we'll call -- if they call in and they're not ready, we'll talk to them for another 20, 30 minutes. And then we'll call them back in three days and just shower love upon them. Because what happens is the families and everyone around them, it's a painful thing, addiction is. Okay?

They steal. They lie. They -- you know, when you're in active addiction, those sort of things happen. Are they thieves? No. They're in active addiction. Are they liars? No. They're in active addiction. And so what happens is the addictive process just isolates these people. As you know and I know, it just isolates these people and puts them on an island alone. And that's why it's so difficult. Because half the time they're on an island alone.

GLENN: All right. Nationaladdictionfoundation.org. Nationaladdictionfoundation.org. Aaron, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

AARON: Thank you so much, Glenn. I really appreciate it.

GLENN: You bet. God bless.

As somebody who has gone through addiction, I want you to know I understand how hard it is. And I know what you probably feel about yourself today. And I want you to know that there is help. There are ways to stop this because I know you want to stop it. You just don't see a way around it. Please, reach out and get help because what's waiting for you on the other side is unbelievably great and warm.

Stop trying to be right and think of the children

Mario Tama/Getty Images

All the outrage this week has mainly focused on one thing: the evil Trump administration and its minions who delight in taking children from their illegal immigrant parents and throwing them all in dungeons. Separate dungeons, mind you.

That makes for a nice, easy storyline, but the reality is less convenient. Most Americans seem to agree that separating children from their parents — even if their parents entered the US illegally — is a bad thing. But what if that mom and dad you're trying to keep the kids with aren't really the kids' parents? Believe it or not, fraud happens.

RELATED: Where were Rachel Maddow's tears for immigrant children in 2014?

While there are plenty of heartbreaking stories of parents simply seeking a chance for a better life for their children in the US, there are also corrupt, abusive human traffickers who profit from the illegal immigration trade. And sorting all of this out is no easy task.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security said that since October 2017, more than 300 children have arrived at the border with adults claiming to be their parents who turned out not to be relatives. 90 of these fraud cases came from the Rio Grande Valley sector alone.

In 2017, DHS reported 46 causes of fraudulent family claims. But there have already been 191 fraud cases in 2018.

Shouldn't we be concerned about any child that is smuggled by a human trafficker?

When Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pointed out this 315 percent increase, the New York Times was quick to give these family fraud cases "context" by noting they make up less than one percent of the total number of illegal immigrant families apprehended at the southern border. Their implication was that Nielsen was exaggerating the numbers. Even if the number of fraud cases at the border was only 0.001 percent, shouldn't we be concerned about any child that is smuggled by a human trafficker?

This is the most infuriating part of this whole conversation this week (if you can call it a "conversation") — that both sides have an angle to defend. And while everyone's busy yelling and making their case, children are being abused.

What if we just tried, for two seconds, to love having mercy more than we love having to be right all the time?

Remember when cartoons were happy things? Each panel took you on a tiny journey, carrying you to an unexplored place. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud writes:

The comics creator asks us to join in a silent dance of the seen and the unseen. The visible and the invisible. This dance is unique to comics. No other artform gives so much to its audience while asking so much from them as well. This is why I think it's a mistake to see comics as a mere hybrid of the graphic arts and prose fiction. What happens between . . . panels is a kind of magic only comics can create.

When that magic is manipulated or politicized, it often devolves the artform into a baseless thing. Yesterday, Occupy Wall Street published the perfect example of low-brow deviation of the artform: A six-panel approach at satire, which imitates the instructions-panel found in the netted cubbyhole behind seats on airplanes. The cartoon is a critique of the recent news about immigrant children being separated from their parents after crossing the border. It is a step-by-step guide to murdering US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.

RELATED: Cultural appropriation has jumped the shark, and everyone is noticing

The first panel shows a man shoving an infant into a cage meant for Pomeranians. The following five panels feature instructions, and include pictures of a cartoonish murder.

The panels read as follows:

  1. If an ICE agent tries to take your child at the border, don't panic.
  2. Pull your child away as quickly as possibly by force.
  3. Gently tell your child to close his/her eyes and ears so they won't witness what you are about to do.
  4. Grab the ICE agent from behind and push your knife into his chest with an upward thrust, causing the agent's sternum to break.
  5. Reach into his chest and pull out his still beating heart.
  6. Hold his bloody heart out for all other agents to see, and tell them that the same fate awaits them if they f--- with your child again.

Violent comics are nothing new. But most of the time, they remain in the realms of invented worlds — in other words, not in our own, with reference to actual people, let alone federal agents.

The mainstream media made a game of crying racism with every cartoon depiction of Obama during his presidency, as well as during his tenure as Senator, when the New Yorker, of all things, faced scrutiny for depicting him in "Muslim clothing." Life was a minefield for political cartoonists during the Obama era.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

This year, we saw the leftist outrage regarding The Simpsons character Apu — a cartoon representation of a highly-respected, though cartoonishly-depicted, character on a cartoon show composed of cartoonishly-depicted characters.

We all remember Charlie Hebdo, which, like many outlets that have used cartoon satire to criticize Islam, faced the wrath and ire of people unable to see even the tamest representation of the prophet, Muhammad.

Interesting, isn't it? Occupy Wall Street publishes a cartoon that advocates murdering federal agents, and critics are told to lighten up. Meanwhile, the merest depiction of Muhammad has resulted in riots throughout the world, murder and terror on an unprecedented scale.

The intersection of Islam and comics is complex enough to have its own three-hour show, so we'll leave it at that, for now. Although, it is worth mentioning the commentary by satirical website The Onion, which featured a highly offensive cartoon of all the major religious figures except Muhammad. It noted:

Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened.

Of course, Occupy Wall Street is free to publish any cartoon they like. Freedom of speech, and so on—although there have been several instances in which violent cartoons were ruled to have violated the "yelling fire in a crowded theater" limitation of the First Amendment.

Posting it to Twitter is another issue — this is surely in violation of Twitter's violent content policy, but something tells me nothing will come of it. It's a funny world, isn't it? A screenshot of a receipt from Chick-fil-A causes outrage but a cartoon advocating murder gets crickets.

RELATED: Twitter mob goes ballistic over Father's Day photo of Caitlyn Jenner. Who cares?

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud concludes that, "Today the possibilities for comics are — as they've always been — endless. Comics offers . . . range and versatility, with all the potential imagery of film and painting plus the intimacy of the written word. And all that's needed is the desire to be heard, the will to learn, and the ability to see."

Smile, and keep moving forward.

Crude and awful as the Occupy Wall Street comic is, the best thing we can do is nod and look elsewhere for the art that will open our eyes. Let the lunatics draw what they want, let them stew in their own flawed double standards. Otherwise, we're as shallow and empty as they are, and nothing good comes of that. Smile, and keep moving forward.

Things are getting better. Show the world how to hear, how to learn, how to see.

People should start listening to Nikki Haley

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

Okay. Let's take a vote. You know, an objective, quantifiable count. How many resolutions has the UN Human Rights Council adopted condemning dictatorships? Easy. Well. How do you define "dictatorship"?

Well, one metric is the UN Human Rights Council Condemnation. How many have the United Nations issued to China, with a body count higher than a professional Call of Duty player?

Zero.

How about Venezuela, where socialism is devouring its own in the cruelest, most unsettling ways imaginable?

Zero.

And Russia, home of unsettling cruelty and rampant censorship, murder and (actual) homophobia?

Zero.

Iraq? Zero. Turkey? Iraq? Zero. Cuba? Zero. Pakistan? Zero.

RELATED: Nikki Haley just dropped some serious verbal bombs on Russia at the UN

According to UN Human Rights Council Condemnations, 2006-2016, none of these nations is as dangerous as we'd imagined. Or, rather, none of them faced a single condemnation. Meanwhile, one country in particular has faced unbelievable scrutiny and fury — you'll never guess which country.

No, it's not Somalia. It's Israel. With 68 UN Human Rights Council Condemnations! In fact, the number of total United Nations condemnations against Israel outnumbers the total of condemnations against all other countries combined. The only country that comes close is Syria, with 15.

The Trump administration withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday in protest of what it perceives as an entrenched bias against Israel and a willingness to allow notorious human rights abusers as members.

In an address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Nikki Haley said:

Let's remember that the Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy. This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday... No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.

Maybe people should start listening to Haley. Hopefully, they will. Not likely, but there's no crime in remaining hopeful.

Here's a question unique to our times: "Should I tell my father 'Happy Father's Day,' even though he (she?) is now one of my mothers?"

Father's Day was four days ago, yes, but this story is just weird enough to report on. One enjoyable line to read was this gem from Hollywood Gossip: "Cait is a woman and a transgender icon, but she is also and will always be the father of her six children."

RELATED: If Bruce was never a he and always a she, who won the men's Olympic gold in 1976?

Imagine reading that to someone ten — even five — years ago. And, honestly, there's something nice about it. But the strangeness of its having ever been written overpowers any emotional impact it might bring.

"So lucky to have you," wrote Kylie Jenner, in the Instagram caption under pre-transition pictures of Bruce Jenner.

Look. I risk sounding like a tabloid by mere dint of having even mentioned this story, but the important element is the cultural sway that's occurring. The original story was that a band of disgruntled Twitter users got outraged about the supposed "transphobic" remarks by Jenner's daughter.

But, what we should be saying is, "who the hell cares?" Who cares what one Jenner says to another — and more importantly and on a far deeper level — who cares what some anonymous Twitter user has to say?

When are we going to stop playing into the hands of the Twitter mob?

When are we going to stop playing into the hands of the Twitter mob? Because, at the moment, they've got it pretty good. They have a nifty relationship with the mainstream media: One or two Twitter users get outraged by any given thing — in this case Jenner and supposed transphobia. In return, the mainstream media use the Twitter comment as a source.

Then, a larger Twitter audience points to the article itself as proof that there's some kind of systemic justice at play. It's a closed-market currency, where the negative feedback loop of proof and evidence is composed of faulty accusations. Isn't it a hell of a time to be alive?