Editorial Note: The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman featured heavily in early news bulletins this week. It seems highly likely that Hoffman’s death originated from a prescription drug problem. As it happens Johanna Ryan from RxISK’s Community Board had been liaising with the parents of Steve Rummler and others concerned about the licensing of yet another opiate pain-killer – Zohydro. The combination has produced this post.
Steve Rummler’s story comes to us by way of his parents, Judy and Bill Rummler. Their son was one of over 16,000 Americans to die from an overdose of opioid painkillers in 2011. Overdoses have now surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Sixty percent involve pharmaceuticals, rather than illegal drugs – and three-fourths of those are due to opioids.
Many who die are like Steve Rummler. They have chronic pain and become addicted to the pills prescribed by their doctors. In the past twenty years, sales of synthetic opioids like Vicoden, OxyContin and Fentanyl have more than quadrupled, thanks to aggressive efforts to promote these drugs as safe and effective tools for long-term pain management. Industry-sponsored educational programs led doctors to believe that addiction is a problem only among those who “abuse” these pills to get high – patients with real pain conditions are supposedly immune. The result has been an epidemic of opioid addiction among chronic pain patients as well as a rising number of recreational users, many in their teens.
The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation is campaigning to put a stop to this epidemic, and make safe humane treatment available for addiction and chronic pain. That’s a tall order – but there’s one step we can take right now to help.
In October, the FDA approved yet another powerful opioid narcotic for the U.S. market: Zohydro ER, to be sold by Zogenix and manufactured by Alkermes Inc. of Ireland. It’s a long-acting pill containing a higher dose of pure hydrocodone than previous drugs. And to make matters worse, it does not even contain tamper-proof features to prevent it from being crushed and snorted or injected. This is like pouring gasoline on a fire.
The Rummler foundation and the Fed-UP Coalition are petitioning the FDA to withdraw its approval for Zohydro. You can sign the Zohydro petition on Change.org by clicking here.
You can learn about the bigger picture from the Rummlers’ foundation, or from ARPO – Advocates for Prescription Opioid Reform, a U.S./Canadian group. Health care professionals should check out Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). And if you have a story of your own to tell about prescription opioids, get in touch with us at RxISK.org to tell your story and to report any difficulties.
Steve Rummler was born in 1968 in Evanston, Illinois. e was a happy, fun-loving child who grew up surrounded by the love of family and friends. He loved his fiancée Lexi Reed Holtum, her beautiful daughter Isabella, his parents Judy and Bill Rummler, his brother Jeff, his sister-in-law Kim, his nephew Zack, his nieces Chloe and Sophie, and his large extended family. He was loved in return and had a wide circle of friends.
Steve graduated from Edina High School in Edina, Minnesota in 1986. He loved sports and was an all-conference soccer player. A bright, creative student, Steve took Advanced Placement courses and was very musically-gifted. In fact, music became his passion. After his graduation, he decided to put off college to follow his dream.
Steve became part of a band called The GooneyBirds. He was a drummer, vocalist and sometimes a guitarist or keyboardist. He wrote many of the songs which the band performed. From 1986 until the mid-1990’s, the band played regularly at the Cabooze in Minneapolis and performed throughout the country. They released a CD and were often heard on the radio.
The GooneyBirds earned enough money from their music to support themselves for many years, but eventually some of the band members got married and settled down. At this time, Steve decided to complete his education at the University of Minnesota. He excelled in his studies of Economics and received his B.S. degree in 1996. He then went to work as a financial advisor in Minneapolis and in 2009 was named by Mpls St. Paul Magazine as a FIVE STAR: Best in Client Satisfaction Wealth Manager.
In December 1996 Steve suffered a life-changing injury to his back. Although never diagnosed as a condition that could be successfully treated, he was told he had a “spinal contusion” which caused him to continually have electric-shock-like symptoms going up and down his spine. This was the chronic pain he dealt with for the remainder of his life.
Steve’s condition caused him to seek help from many medical professionals. The constant pain and the lack of a treatable diagnosis led Steve to become depressed. He was prescribed anti-depressants which helped, but did not eliminate his symptoms. Eventually, in about 2005, he was prescribed narcotic painkillers which provided the first real relief from his symptoms, he said. At the same time he was taking clonazepam, a benzodiazepine.
Steve later wrote about the painkillers: “At first they were a lifeline. Now they are a noose around my neck.”
When Steve first became an addict is unknown, but by 2009 it was clear that he was getting prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from more than one source. His primary-care physician then insisted that he get help, so Steve chose to go the Pain Rehabilitation Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in January 2010. There he learned techniques for dealing with his pain, was weaned off of the painkillers, and sent home with instructions for tapering off of the clonazepam. The doctors at the Mayo Clinic also recommended that he go to the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Center City, Minnesota. He was encouraged to go by his family and his therapist, but Steve believed that he could handle his addiction without further treatment.
Steve’s situation seemed hopeful after this, especially since he had re-connected with Lexi, his high school and college sweetheart and the love of his life. They became engaged in August 2010, and planned to marry.
Eventually Steve became unable to manage his pain with the techniques he had learned at the Mayo Clinic. He sought out a doctor who would prescribe narcotic painkillers and benzodiazepines in the quantities Steve felt he needed. Lexi realized that these amounts were excessive and that Steve was addicted to the painkillers. She made the difficult decision to tell him that he needed to stop taking the pills and/or go for chemical dependency treatment by April 15, 2011 … or she would have to leave him. He agreed to go to Hazelden.
Steve went to Hazelden on April 15th and completed 28 days of treatment. Toward the end of his stay, Hazelden tried unsuccessfully to get Steve’s insurance company to approve some additional days of treatment. In spite of this, Steve seemed to be in good spirits when he first returned home.
While Steve was at Hazelden, the doctor who had been prescribing Steve’s narcotic painkillers and diazepam (Valium) was under investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. On May 14, 2011, the Board took disciplinary action against this doctor’s license for “unprofessional and unethical conduct” and for “prescribing a drug for other than medically accepted purposes.” The doctor surrendered his medical license and the Board agreed to “close its files in this matter.”
Steve relapsed shortly after returning home from Hazelden. By this time, the disease of addiction had “hijacked” his brain. He was sure that the only way he could handle his pain was to treat it with narcotic painkillers. When his supply of these ran out in late June, Steve said that he was going to detox on his own before going to get additional help for his addiction. His fiancée and family were following the advice of Al Anon to “Let Go, Let God” and “Detach with Love” in hopes that Steve would hit bottom and seek help. This was not to be.
His pain must have seemed unbearable and he became desperate. In his desperation he sought out illegal drugs. These killed him on July 1, 2011. Steve’s friends, fiancée and family know that Steve had never, until the night of his death, taken a narcotic drug that had not been prescribed for him. A terrible tragedy.
Steve was a loving, kind, sensitive and generous young man who took care of others at the expense of himself. He suffered with chronic pain for 15 years. He tried hard to get well and did not want to die. But Steve did die, of a drug overdose, and his death certificate shows that the “immediate” cause of his death was “mixed drug toxicity (opiates and benzodiazepines)”. The real cause of his death, however, was the disease of addiction.
After his death we established The Steve Rummler Memorial Foundation with the goal of helping others who suffer from chronic pain and the disease of addiction.