Charleston, Virginia — Dr. Rahul Gupta, the first doctor appointed by a U.S. drug lord, has silently counted how many Americans are expected to die in the 30 minutes he spent answering journalists’ questions. two. four. Six.
He knows that, on average, two victims die every ten minutes as the deadliest drug epidemic in the country’s history continues to worsen.
“I always count my time spent anywhere in any meeting by people killed during that time,” Gupta said.
“It’s the bone-chilling aspect that keeps me awake in the middle of the night. It keeps me focused and focused on what we have to do, what I need to accomplish.”
The enormity of the challenge he now faces as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy hit him in his first week in office.
Gupta considers that most of the illegal drugs that killed more than 108,000 Americans in 2021 come from two global forces: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, known as CJNG. and made it a priority to meet with officials in Mexico City.
In October, the U.S. Senate named Gupta a U.S. drug lord. He oversees his $449 million annual budget and directs a national task force that links special agents from various federal agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, with local and state police.
The Biden administration, which includes Mr. Gupta, has developed a two-pronged approach with a goal of saving 165,000 lives by 2025. Another is about harm reduction. These include: Increased availability to the opioid antidote naloxone. prevention programs for adolescents; expanding access to addiction treatment;
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Pioneer of “Social Anatomy”
A Courier Journal reporter and photographer accompanied Gupta on an August visit to his home state of West Virginia, the epicenter of the overdose. He met people in recovery, including his mother Cece Brown, who lost his son Ryan, 27, to an overdose in 2014, as well as parents who lost their children to an overdose. .
“He was very willing to listen,” Brown said after Gupta and health officials and law enforcement officials exchanged views at a roundtable discussion at the State Cultural Center inside Charleston’s Capitol. “I respect that,” she said.
When her son died, he was on two waiting lists to get addiction treatment.
“Hearing them speak has put a dagger through my heart,” Gupta said.
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According to Gupta, fewer than 1 in 10 drug users seek treatment for their addiction.
“This is a sad situation and we have to build that infrastructure,” he said.
Brown has known Gupta for years, having served on the state health commissioner from 2015 to 2018 under two governors, one Democrat and one Republican. He began a “social autopsy” of all his overdose victims in 2016, looking at the causes of death, marital status and work history, life in prison and hospital, and his year before the fatal overdose. No overdose was investigated.
“I wanted to learn from the dead to save the lives of the living,” Gupta said.
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“We found that four out of five people had contact with the health system in the year before they died,” Gupta said. “We failed them.”
The findings led to statewide policy changes, including expanded access to naloxone, telemedicine, and addiction treatment. The program was then replicated across the country.
“He’s innovative and involved,” says Dr. Angie Settle, director of West Virginia Health Light, the state’s oldest and largest free clinic, from medical, dental and vision care to mental health and addiction treatment. , said it provides everything for underinsured and uninsured residents.
She has known Gupta for years, a longtime volunteer at the clinic.
“He has always been sincere and dedicated to his mission,” Settle said.
During a recent visit, Gupta stopped by and put on a doctor’s white coat and treated a patient for several hours.
In a private clinic room, he used a soothing tone to urge 33-year-old Jeremiah Holstein to use his resources to quit smoking and focus on his recovery.
“It’s okay to slip,” Gupta told Holstein, who has been sober for a year and eight months. Please call.”
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Three-quarters of overdose deaths now involve opioids, mostly illicit fentanyl, Gupta said. And the amount is so small that it can kill the tip of a pencil.
Gupta said he recently created a fentanyl task force targeting superlabs in Mexico and will continue to work with Chinese authorities to limit the amount of illegal precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl. explained the country’s attack plans, including Mexico.
During the past few national drug threat assessments, the DEA has warned of an increase in fentanyl precursors from India. Gupta is set to visit officials in New Delhi in November, launching the first partnership with his home country of India.
Gupta said he is helping the United States train the Mexican Navy SEMAR to detect illegal drug shipments on the Mexican side of the border.
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And he pledged to provide more resources and technology to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents so they can detect fentanyl that may have liquefied and been hidden in gas tanks and windshield wiper fluid. stood side by side with agents at the El Paso immigration point last fall and saw the challenge of intercepting drugs hidden on pedestrians and in vehicles.
With no law enforcement experience, Gupta has traveled the country and has seen first-hand the challenges of preventing drugs from entering the United States and stopping them if they do enter U.S. communities. . He traveled across the country in a car ride, meeting with officials overseeing a task force for a high-intensity drug-trafficking area called the HIDTA Zone.
Appalachian HIDTA Director Vic Brown traveled from his office in London, Kentucky, to Charleston to meet with Gupta and share his region’s challenges.
“He engages with law enforcement and works with law enforcement to understand our point of view,” said Brown, who oversees the $10 million annual budget of 48 drug enforcement units in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. I have made an effort to
Brown said he was impressed with Gupta traveling around the country with the HITDA task force to learn what they were doing and what resources they needed.
“In the past, I haven’t had that level of involvement from previous directors,” Brown said.
More than half of Gupta’s budget, $296 million, has been allocated by Congress to fund 33 regional HIDTAs across the United States, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In 2021, HIDTA seized his $26.1 billion worth of drugs and across the country he arrested members of more than 3,100 drug trafficking and money laundering rings, Gupta said.
“Dr. Gupta brings a very unique perspective to the opioid epidemic because he was a doctor who was treating patients suffering from addiction in the Charleston epicenter,” said Brown, a law enforcement veteran. rice field.
“Historically, law enforcement agencies have not always understood that perspective.”
During his trip to West Virginia, Gupta also traveled to Huntington to join the state’s first Quick Response team. This is an outreach program that pairs medical professionals, police and social workers to conduct drop-in home visits and connect recovering patients to hospitals. means. They see most of their clients within 72 hours of a near-fatal overdose and have helped guide 350 people to addiction treatment since 2017, according to nurse Connie Priddy, the team’s coordinator. rice field.
“There are absolutely no easy solutions,” said team member Jason Smith, a 17-year veteran of the Huntington Police Department. “But from the law enforcement side, I think this is a better solution for us.
“We knew what we were doing, trying to arrest our way out of this, was not going to work.”
While stopping by to check on a few recovering clients, Gupta chatted privately with Smith to ask about law enforcement’s views and needs.
“He’s trying to figure it out here,” said the police corporal. “It’s better than someone sitting behind a desk dictating policy.”
Reporter Beth Warren: firstname.lastname@example.org; 502-582-7164; Twitter @BethWarrenCJ.
For more information about the dangers of counterfeit prescription drugs, visit the DEA’s website at www.dea.gov/onepill.
For more information on fentanyl, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Drug Facts page.