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Mom`s Battle for Son`s Sperm

Aired November 14, 2012 - 21:00   ET



DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, a grieving mother who went to court after her teenage son was declared brain dead from an auto accident. She wanted to harvest his sperm so she could someday find a woman to give her grandchildren. Was she acting out of grief and shock, or did she take the law too far? We`ll hear directly from her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Possible drug overdose.

PINSKY: Also, the prescription pill epidemic. Accidental overdoses are the number one cause of accidental deaths in this country. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will take your calls about this killer. Are you or someone you know in danger?

Let`s find out.


PINSKY: We`re starting with this tragic story. Just two weeks ago, 19-year-old Rufus "Sonny" McGill was critically injured in a car crash. He lingered on life support until he passed away last week.

There`s a twist to this story. While Sunny was in a coma, his parents went to court for the right to harvest Sonny`s sperm so that one day they could be grandparents.

Joining me by phone is Sonny`s mom Jerri and also therapist Mike Dow, who works at a bereavement camp, or works at the bereavement camp.

Jerri, first, I want to go out to you. How are you doing?

JERRI MCGILL, SON DIES BEFORE HARVESTING SPERM (via telephone): I`m hanging in there. I`ve been surrounded by friends and family, so I`ve had great support.

PINSKY: It`s just a horrible, horrible story. Let`s first say our hearts just go out to you and your husband and your family.

Now, we`re talking about your son tonight because of your desire to keep his genetics moving forward. Take us through how you decided you wanted to do that.

MCGILL: Well, first, Sonny was in a car wreck on October 14th. And he was put in ICU, and he was on a ventilator. A week later, he took a turn for the worst. They had to put him on an ECMO machine, which is the heart lung bypass machine. They also opened his skull because his brain was swelling.

At that time we knew things weren`t looking good, and my mom was sitting in the waiting room with his father and had mentioned to him, have you ever thought about harvesting his sperm? I was totally in another room when she asked that question, and I came out and asked if I could talk to him privately. He said, yes, and we went into another room.

I said, you know, do you think I`m crazy? What would you think about us seeing if we could harvest his sperm? And he said, I don`t think you`re crazy at all. Your mom just asked me the same exact question.

That`s how it got started. And then we -- from that point on, we went on and talked to the doctors about it.

PINSKY: Jerri, I`m going to ask you some tougher questions as we go on, like, do you think that was an attempt to hang on to a piece of him? Was it your unwillingness to grieve, the fact he was going?

MCGILL: I don`t think it was at that time. I really -- I love children. I worked in the school system for seven years, and I just wanted to make sure that I had a piece of him and to be able to carry on his legacy.

His name is Rufus McGill II for a reason. And there will be no Rufus McGill III.

PINSKY: Now a big part of this, and I`m sure you`re surprised at the sort of -- a lot of energy this created, was the legal issues around this.

So, let`s kind of get into that. Did he want to have children? Did he leave some sort of direction that would let you know that this was his wish?

MCGILL: He`s never had it in writing. That was the problem. We didn`t have it in writing because of his age, being 19.

But he`s always loved children. He`s always -- go into a room and all the kids would want to play with him. He just had this -- he just had this aura about him with children.

So I think definitely he would with want children. I know he would want children.

But his father and I had raised him to say -- or to do, you know, you go to school, you get married, you start your career, and then you have children. You know, it was never you`re in high school and you have children.

PINSKY: Right.

MCGILL: We just never did that.

PINSKY: Where did the fight come in, Jerri?

MCGILL: Where did the fight come in?


MCGILL: The fight came in when we went to the doctors and asked, you know, if we could harvest the sperm. It seemed like it would be such an easy process through the doctor`s eyes. But when we came down to it, it was the legalities, because of his age, being 19, we weren`t his guardians anymore. So, we had to try to go to court to get guardianship over sunny because he was going to be declared brain dead.

PINSKY: Dr. Dow, this is something that -- it smacks of disorder bereavement, does it not?


PINSKIY: Tell our viewers about that.

DOW: There`s a new diagnosis that may come out in the bible of mental health next year. It`s complicated grief.

You know, Jerri, first of all, you know, my heart goes out to you. I can`t imagine what it must be like to sit by your dying son`s bedside. You know, we go through those stages of grief. We go through that anger. We go through that bargaining.

But I have to say, you know, Jerri, I really feel like there may be part of your bereavement that is actually part of this sort of complicated grief. There`s that bargaining. There`s that -- well, what if I could get him back in this way.

I have to say that I don`t know, Dr. Drew and Jerri, I don`t know for you if this is the best way to really remember your son.

PINSKY: What do you say to that, Jerri?

MCGILL: I`d say until you walked in my shoes, you`ll never know. I mean, I`m not going to have grandchildren. And that`s something I know he would want was children, and I would want grandchildren. And that`s we could never have.

If we could have just got the sperm in the state of Virginia, they freeze it for a year. You`re not allowed to touch it for a year. We could have made millions of decisions by then and may not have used it. But --

PINKSY: Jerri, you have another son, right?

MCGILL: I do. He`s younger. He has no children. He`s always said he wasn`t having children.

PINSKY: How old is he?

MCGILL: He`s 17.

PINSKY: So he has plenty of time to change his mind.

MCGILL: Yes, he could change his mind, but there`s always a possibility that, you know, he`s not fertile or he meets a woman that`s not fertile.

DOW: I do hope you become a grandmother.

MCGILL: Thank you.

DOW: But what`s also interesting to me is you said, you know, your son would have wanted children. I also don`t know, and I think you need to sit with yourself and ask, would your son have wanted children in the way that you would have to do it this way? You know, if he would have had a beautiful wife and a beautiful family and three beautiful children and a white picket fence, I`m sure that`s what he would have wanted.

PINSKY: Right.

DOW: I think this is a little bit different.

PINSKY: This is different when he`s not there.

Jerri, I`m going to have to have you sit with that for just a second.


PINSKY: We`re going to get to the legal issues in just a second.

We`ve got attorney Areva Martin who`s going to take on the debate whether a parent has a right to take over a part of their child`s body and wishes.

And, later on, Dr. Sanjay Gupta with me. We will talk about the hot topic prescription drugs and death. He has a special on that coming out.

I want to take your calls. Call us at 855-DRDREW5.


PINSKY: Nineteen-year-old Sonny McGill lay in a coma after a car crash for two weeks while his parents sat at his side, essentially watching him die and then ultimately finding the emotional resources to wage a legal battle, trying to allow them to harvest his sperm so they could some day have grandchildren and keep their son`s, at least genetic, legacy alive.

Areva Martin is an attorney. She joins us as well in the studio.

All right. Now, Areva, the parents have a right to act as medical power of attorney and actually pull the plug, right?


PINSKY: Particularly if that`s been specified somewhere. But they don`t have the right to specify his reproductive wishes in any way. Is that accurate?

MARTIN: Without guardianship. We`ve talk about this a lot, Dr. Drew. You know, he`s incapacitated.

PINSKY: Let`s stop. Let`s stop.

So, if he were 17, because an adolescent has a guardian -- a parent as a guardian, they could have done it.

MARTIN: He is 19 years old. This young man.

PINSKY: Yes, 19 years old.

MARTIN: He`s incapacitated. So, when you`re incapacitated, we`ve talked about this a lot. Parents can go into court and they can get control over the decisions that are made vis-a-vis that incapacitated adult.

Think about the legal issues in this case. And listening to this story, my heart goes out to this mom, but from what I`ve been -- I`ve read, the mom and dad are divorced. So, what are we doing to do with this sperm? What about a dispute between the mom and dad about what happens with the sperm?

We`re talking about a wildly complicated legal issue being created by freezing this sperm and giving these participants potentially the rights to it.

PINSKY: Is that why -- is that why they had trouble getting the guardianship, or was there some overriding issue?

MARTIN: Well, they had problems because they didn`t have guardianship over the son. They couldn`t make reproductive decisions about the son. We don`t have any evidence that there was a will or anything suggesting that this young man wanted to have children.

I hear this mom -- and again, my heart goes out to her this. This is a tragedy. I`m a mom. So, I feel her pain.

But as a lawyer, I just get real nervous when I hear parents saying they want to have a grandchild by a young man that`s deceased.

PINSKY: Well, Jerri, let`s go through that. What actually would you have done had you been able to harvest his sperm?

MCGILL: Well, again, the sperm would have to sit there for a year. And during that time, you know, we would make decisions. His father and I are on speaking terms. We have talked about raising the child together need be, if I have to move to North Carolina where his father is living, then that`s what we would do. We just wanted to have grandchildren.

PINSKY: And in terms of finding a surrogate, how would you find the egg?

MCGILL: That was something that we hadn`t discussed at that time. You know, we just were -- we were just wanting to get that sperm so that way we would at least have it and we could use it if we needed it, and if we didn`t -- you know, rather have it and be able to use it, and not have it and be able to use it.

PINSKY: And, Mike, how difficult must it be for them with the intensity of the loss and the emotional situation they`re in to have to muster the resources emotionally to make this fight and to try to make these decisions. I can barely get my head around it sitting here thinking about it.

DOW: Well, it would be a fight. We`re talking, you know, $50,000, $100,000 to get the sperm, to take a surrogate. And all the very dicey relationships that would have to be sort of manufactured, Jerri.

You know, Jerri, I have to ask you a question here. You lost your son. You also sound very calm. I want to know the answer to one question and that is -- how else are you remembering your son Rufus? Because I think that`s what the real question is here.

MCGILL: You know, I`m glad you asked that question because we have done a lot to remember my son. During his funeral, we did -- we let balloons off at the end of the ceremony. And we put tags on the end of those balloons. And everybody put their address on those balloons.

And if someone found that balloon, we asked that person contact whoever let that balloon off so they could remember Sonny, talk about Sonny and tell his story and actually a set of balloons have been found three hours away from Roanoke, Virginia. The woman that found the balloons, her nephew was in a car wreck three years ago.

That was just one small way that we would want to remember Sonny.

DOW: What I hear in your voice right now, Jerri, that`s what I want you to find more of. You know?

I hear that you are actually smiling. You`re remembering the good times, and you`re actually making meaning out of your son`s life.

MCGILL: Absolutely.

DOW: I think that`s what we`re really talking about. I don`t think it`s a matter of the sperm and finding a surrogate. You know, if you want to have more children, I think you should adopt, I think you should focus on want child that you have, you know? I think if you could really find the answer to that question, you`d be in great shape.

MARTIN: And I`d hate to se her be embroiled in a protracted legal battle over this sperm. So, when you`ve watched your son -- the last thing you need is a big lawsuit.

Again, we have a mother and dad who are not married, so it raises all kinds of questions about who`s going to be the legal guardian over this sperm. You know, the surrogate that`s selected. You know, we could imagine all kinds of fights about who`s selected, what happens to this child.

And she`s just assuming, the mom here, that she would be the guardian of this child. That`s not true at all.

PINSKY: Areva, just to clarify. I`m not sure I got the answer to this question. If he had been 17, would they have had the right to do this?

MARTIN: Well, it appears that in the state where this young man was injured and was dying, that if he had been a minor that the parents would have had rights over his body and making certain decisions.

Not clear, though, Dr. Drew, that they would have had the right to freeze his sperm as suggested in this case. Definitely as a rule, parents have rights over minor children.

PINSKY: They`re the guardian.

MARTIN: Yes, absolutely.

PINSKY: Let`s go to a call. Veronica in Texas -- Veronica.

VERONICA, CALLER FROM TEXAS: Yes, I haven`t been watching the whole thing, but I agree completely with the mother that lost her son and is brain dead. No matter what his age, you know -- I disagree with the therapist. They`re not trying to clone their son or whatever. It`s just a piece of them that I think they have a right to determine whether or not, you know --

PINSKY: Let me interrupt you. Let`s talk about this.

Jerri, my understanding is, if I read correctly, you`re actually, it`s not so much you`re any longer fighting for this particular circumstance, but you`re fighting for a law to cover this in the future. Is that right?

MCGILL: Yes, I think it`s the year 2012, and as I was in the hospital, the vice president of the hospital came to me and she said, you know, this is the third request we`ve had in two years. There are some policies and guidelines that need to be changed.

There are lots of single parents out there. There are a lot of grandparents out there raising children. I just don`t want to see someone else put in this position.

PINSKY: OK. Jerri, I`m going to interrupt you, I`m sorry because I`ve got to go to break. But I want to hear more about what those contingencies are, what you`re fighting for.

And more with Jerri and your calls after this.


PINSKY: OK. We were talking during the break.

And, Jill, you`re still there with me, correct? Jerri, that is. I`m sorry.

MCGILL: Yes, I`m here.

PINSKY: We were discussing something. Before we go on to the law you were advocating on behalf of, it seemed to us your assumption is you would have guardianship over this material and the child. But Areva, our attorney, was saying, you know, it gets so much more complicated.

MARTIN: Yes, we`re really just wading into complex family law issues, Dr. Drew, in terms of -- you know, the parent that`s selected the mom to carry this baby may very well assert her parental rights over the child and Jerri may not be involved the child`s life at all. So, we really have to think past what happens with the freezing of the sperm to the making of a baby to the raising of a child.

Jerri`s intention of being the guardian of her grandchild may not be what happens at all. She could then find herself in a complex legal battle with the surrogate mother.

PINSKY: So even if she could find a way to have the sperm --

MARTIN: Frozen.

PINSKY: And she`d be guardian over that, over that material. There are still laws that don`t protect her.

MARTIN: And there`s a dad. Let`s keep that in mind. There`s still an issue about her and the ex-husband in terms of who is the guardian over the sperm.

Then who selects the surrogate mom? What rights does the surrogate mom have over the child, the involvement?

And grandparents have very limited rights under family law as it relates to custody and guardianship of grandchildren.

PINSKY: That`s interesting.

Let`s talk to Anna in New Jersey -- Anna.



ANNA: (AUDIO GAP) for having me on.

I just have to say that I agree with Jerri. My son suddenly passed at 21 years old. And it was a shock. I wish I could have had his sperm because I only had twins, and his twin was a girl, is a girl. And I wish I could have had his sperm so I could have something of his to remember him.

And I also want to make a point that what young child thinks of having a will? Us adults don`t even think of having a will until something happens. My son was 21 and suddenly passed.

No 19-year-old, 21-year-old is going to think of a will. I think that we, as parents, that`s our child. He was my only son. I wish I could have had his sperm.

PINSKY: Jerri, do you want to say anything to Anna?

MCGILL: I thank you, and I feel your pain. I`m just so glad that there`s so many --

ANNA: I feel yours too.

MCGILL: And that`s the whole point of this. Everybody says I`m so calm, but I don`t want any other grandparents or parents to have to go through this again.

PINSKY: You know, I feel emotionally like I`m going down through the floor because the topic is so profoundly painful. But there`s a lot of practical realities in here that I want to be sure that our pain and our empathy with you don`t cause us to make choices that end up having more problems.

MARTIN: You have a lot of exploitation in cases like this, Dr. Drew.

PINSKY: And as usual -- and as usual, Areva is here to tug me back in.

Let me ask you, Jerri, when it came time to try to harvest the sperm, was there difficulty getting physicians to participate if this?

MCGILL: Actually, the hospital that my son was at was Roanoke Memorial Hospital. They had to find -- they had to have a credential urologist to harvest the sperm. And, unfortunately, there was not one over at Roanoke Memorial, so we had got on the phone and found a credentialed urologist that would be willing to harvest the sperm.

PINSKY: That`s a pretty -- that`s a pretty simple matter.

So, Jerri, I`ve got a few seconds left. Tell me what you`re looking for in the future and what people can do to support you.

MCGILL: What I`m looking for in the future is just guidelines to be written so when someone comes in to a situation, they`ll know what they`re looking at. I think the psychologist on there said we`re looking at $50,000, $60,000 for urologist to come in there and take the sperm. We weren`t aware of the cost of that. How much it costs to harvest the sperm.

You know, I think guidelines just need to be written so people are aware of what they`re up against when they have these questions and are wanting to proceed.

PINSKY: All right. Thank you, Jerri. Again, our hearts go out to you.

Mike and Areva, thank you for joining us and ringing in here.

Next up, prescription pill abuse, it is killing our friends, neighbors, loved ones. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here after the break to talk about it. He has a new special. And as well, he and I will answer your calls, 855-373-7395. Be right back.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Every 19 minutes in the United States, someone dies of an accidental overdose.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is crazy. Not a single, solitary, one of these people has to die.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He went to sleep, and he had no idea this was going to be his last night on Earth.

GUPTA (voice-over): From misusing perfectly legal prescription drugs, we`re used to think of it starting here, looking like this. But something happened in this country. And now, increasingly, it starts here, in your own home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we speak, someone died, right now.


PINSKY: That clip was from Dr. Sanjay Gupta`s new documentary "Deadly Dose." He takes on the controversy over a country`s prescription pill epidemic. It airs this Sunday, November 18th, on CNN.

Sanjay, now, this is something you and have talked about over the years. And, first of all, congratulations for tackling this. This -- to me, this is the headline health problem of our time.

What was the most shocking thing for you?

GUPTA: And let me preface by saying thank you for your help. I think you`re the guy that a lot of people certainly look to and talk to about these types of issues. It was eye opening for me as well.

I appreciated your help. I think the thing that surprised me the most just from a general perspective is that this is now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. More common than deaths from car crashes. You know, you and I trained in hospitals. Car crashes were the thing that, you know, caused the most accidental deaths, I think, probably throughout our training.

This is now surpassed that. The numbers of prescriptions of these types of medications is opioid-type pain medications. It`s gone up 600 percent over a 10-year period. So, they`re everywhere, Drew, as you know better than anybody.

PINSKY: Well, and as you said, it starts in the medicine cabinet at home. Really, what, I think, a lot of our parents out there don`t realize is the stuff along side of me here that`s -- oh, it`s on the other side -- it`s on this side of me -- is it`s the stuff that your kids are using. This is what they get into when they go out and party.

This is what they think is cool to use. It`s pills, prescription meds. And the first place, the most common place they`re going to get exposed to it is in your medicine cabinet. Tell me about that, Sanjay.

GUPTA: More than half the time that`s exactly where they`re getting it. You know, they certainly -- it`s becoming more recreational. People are getting it from friends. But more than half the time, you`re absolutely right. They`re getting it from their own home or the medicine cabinets of their friends` parents, you know? So, this is it.

And you know, I mean, there`s one thing that I was told, and I`ve talked to several different pain doctors over the last several months investigating this is that -- we`ve all heard this, but it really struck home for me is, you probably have, right now, anybody who`s watching, some of these pills in your medicine cabinet. You got them after a dental procedure.

You got them when you went to the E.R. for something. Maybe you had a broken bone in the past, some sort of pain. You may have this pain pill sitting in your medicine cabinet thinking, you know, I`ll just keep them around in case I need them, some time.


GUPTA: Yes. Throw them away.

PINSKY: Throw away because --


PINSKY: Well, not only that, your kids see how casually you manage these dangerous chemicals. You leave them sitting around your bathroom. Well, guess what? They`re going to -- and by the way, we have such a pill society where pills solve problems and feel good and make you feel better, you have to treat pills casually.

Your kids are going to treat it casually, too. Sanjay, I want to play a clip from your upcoming special. This is phone calls coming into the Washington Poison Center in Seattle. Take a listen to this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Poison center, this is Debra.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m a little concerned that I may have taken something that wasn`t good for me on accident.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took a few methadones from my grandpa.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they were 10 milligrams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And today, I took about 90 milligrams of Percocet. At six o`clock I wasn`t really thinking, and I did a bar of Xanax. And I`m reading all this stuff online about how that`s a very lethal combination. I have a lot of friends who died in their sleep, and I just wasn`t really thinking. Now, I`m wondering if I should stay up tonight.


PINSKY: That is a great clip. That is how this happens. The combination of the benzodiazepine medication with the opiate/opioids and people not waking up. Now, I have a question for you, Sanjay. This gets very complicated and we start really parsing out what`s going on in the medical system. And one of the areas where this is really out of control is in the treatment of chronic pain.

GUPTA: Right.

PINSKY: My understanding is the pain societies today are taking the position that for the most part, opiate/opioids not a treatment for chronic pain. Why is that still so common?

GUPTA: Well, yes. And the reason, you know, I think a lot of these organizations as a starting point have taken that stance is that if you look at the data -- and we looked at a lot of the best data, the longer- term data they had and what you find -- and again, Drew you know all this, but the studies were really done mainly on either end of life patients or patients with terminal cancer.

PINSKY: Right.

GUPTA: So, we didn`t have the longer term data to say months or years of this use, what would it sort of do to people. And I think when you talk to some of the leaders in the American Pain Association, that`s what they point to as well. That, you know, we don`t have some of that long-term data.

Now, why they still continue to use it is in part because, look, you know, from the provider`s perspective, the doctor`s perspective, it is easier to write a prescription. And from the patient`s perspective, it`s easier to fill that prescription than to do a lot of other things. And, you know, that`s not meant to be an indictment.

But Drew, you`ve worked in emergency rooms. I have, as well. These doctors barely have enough time. If they take the extra beat to, A, figure out what else might be causing this pain, could it be an associated depression, mood disorder, something else that`s going on and might there be other alternatives, an injection, for example, of something at the site of the pain as opposed to using a systemic narcotic. You might have other options.

But it`s just -- this is easier. Eighty percent of the world`s pain pills are used in the United States. Eighty percent.

PINSKY: Yes, it`s unbelievable. It`s a pandemic right now. Katherine in Minnesota, you want to say something to us here?

KATHERINE, MINNESOTA: Yes. Hello, Dr. Drew. Hello, Dr. Gupta. I am a chronic pain sufferer, and I read about these issues in the paper, and I hear about them on your show quite a bit. And I get frustrated because, Dr. Gupta, there are many of us who don`t take it flippantly and do manage our pain medication with no problems. I have been on pain medication for 15 years. I own my own business. I don`t smoke. I don`t drink.

PINSKY: You`re not the patients we`re talking about. You`re not going to die of pain medicine abuse. But here`s something for you to know, though --

KATHERINE: You`re clumping, it seems to me, again and again with this epidemic, you`re clumping --

PINSKY: No, we`re not.

KATHERINE: -- people who take pain medications as drug addicts, and it`s not fair.

PINSKY: No, we`re not. But what we are saying, though, and this is a fact, is that pain medicine used chronically can often intensify pain. And it`s actually the source of chronic pain. It`s something called hyperalgesia that develops.

GUPTA: That`s right.

PINSKY: And until you`ve had a try off opioids, you really don`t know the extent to which that`s contributing to what`s going on here. And, again, as Sanjay pointed out, it`s not recommended for chronic pain, because there`s so many other things that can be done and don`t have the same impact on people.

If it works for you, please work with your doctor. We are all for that. I`m sure, Dr. Gupta, you agree with me on that one. Let`s go to Brenda in Florida -- Brenda.

BRENDA, FLORIDA: Yes. Hi. Thank you for taking my call.


BRENDA: I`m the parent of a child and I`m living the nightmare of a child addiction. See (ph) the prescription opiates. And my question is, why, since the manufacturers, doctors, and government are aware of the addictive properties of these drugs and the cause by these drugs, why hasn`t the industry, the medical industry, the government, put into effect additional controls on the administration and quantities being prescribed?

PINSKY: That is the million-dollar question. I`ll let you tackle that one.

BRENDA: I know.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, it`s a great question. We were in Washington State, which is a state that is trying to put some of these regulations in, at least, at the state level. So, just to your point, what they`re suggesting is that that amount of pain medication be capped, that a person not be able to get over a certain amount.

And that, even -- what that amount should be is somewhat controversial, but they do it in what is known as morphine equivalents. It`s a type of way of measuring the activity of pain medication. So, look, it`s controversial even within the state of Washington. It`s not something that`s caught on at a national level yet.

But there are a lot of people who say that that`s, you know, something that we should be doing. We should, first of all, figure out who all these patients are, make sure that we`re able to track where and how much of these pain medications they`re getting and then also be able to cap it.

And Drew, let me just put an exclamation point on what you said earlier. The data has shown, and I`ve read these studies now carefully over the last several months that after a few months of taking these types of medications, the efficacy or the effectiveness goes down.

PINSKY: It reverses. It actually can reverse.

GUPTA: Right.


GUPTA: And then you can develop, as you pointed out, hyperalgesia. So, you know, everything hurts. And we see these patients. Everything literally hurts on them. And the cycle is very predictable. They think, I just need to take more pain medications. And, the hyperalgesia gets worse, then it`s even more pain medication. So --

PINSKY: And they can`t imagine being off of it, because the pain is so bad. They have to go through usually four days of pretty bad misery, let`s face it. It`s a hard thing to go through. And there`s nobody to do that tough work of getting them through that because as you said earlier, that`s not reimbursed.

The system doesn`t support that. The patients don`t want it. They`ll send in dissatisfaction surveys to their insurance companies.

GUPTA: Right.

PINSKY: Really, the entire system is set up against that. I got to take a break.

Next up, watch as Sanjay rides along with the first responders as they struggle with a flurry of back-to-back pill overdoses.



GUPTA (voice-over): I rode along with Lieutenant Craig Amon (ph). He`s been on the job for 30 years. He will tell you, when he takes an overdose call, the usual suspect is a pain-killer. Amon`s unit responds to 45 calls a month about overdoses involving these types of medications.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Possible drug overdose.

GUPTA: When we arrive, another medic is on the scene.

(on-camera) Somewhere in that parking garage, there was a call about someone having a drug overdose.

(voice-over) The overdose victim came to and walked away, but while we`re there, another call, and it`s been just a few minutes.


PINSKY: That is from Dr. Sanjay Gupta`s new documentary "Deadly Dose," which airs this Sunday 8:00 p.m. on CNN. It details this nation`s prescription drug pill crisis. Dr. Gupta, two things. One is, today, when I`m treating drug addiction and someone dies, virtually 100 percent of the time, very nearly 100 percent, it`s pills.

And it`s pills given by my peers. That`s when my patients die these days. It`s really wild. And it`s got to the point where it`s disturbing to me. Now --

GUPTA (on-camera): It`s more common, as you know -- not to interrupt you -- but more common than cocaine, heroine, and meth combine.

PINSKY: They don`t die on those things. And they don`t die on those things even when they`re illicitly using illicit drugs, they trundle along and have horrible addiction, and that`s that. But when they die, they`re dying because they`re getting the pill combinations, and it just feels OK. They go to sleep. They don`t wake up. It`s not as harsh as people think of with illicit drug use.

But, here`s the other problem. This is the more subtle issue. So, I went over to my Twitter while we were at commercial break. And twitter is lit up with people furious, defensive, angry that their pain is not going to get treated or that their pain medications are going to be in jeopardy. It`s a controversial and complicated issue.

How do you reassure people that we`re going to manage medicine properly and practice good medicine and not allow this tsunami to continue killing people?

GUPTA: Well, you know, what I was saying is that, you know, there are people who have legitimate pain. There`s no question about that. And I treat a lot of those patients, certainly as a neurosurgeon, as do you.

What we know is that this reliance on long-term, high-dose opioid use -- opioid, by the way, the term comes from opium, which is the same thing that`s present in a lot of different things, including heroin.

That`s what these opioid pills are, these narcotics. But the long- term use of that just isn`t a viable option. So, it`s not that -- I mean, they should not confuse the fact that they have pain with the fact that, you know, talking about these medications the way that we are is somehow denying them their legitimate pain. But there are other alternatives to trying to treat this pain. And part of that`s on us.

Part of that`s on the medical system, hospitals, doctors, to take the extra time. Right now, there`s a 21,000 doctor primary -- doctor shortage in this country. And those numbers are just going to amplify, I think, over the next several years as our demographics of our country changes.

But that doesn`t mean that the pills are the right answer still. We have to come up with better answers than that, because every 19 minutes, someone is dying in this fashion.

PINSKY: Three people are going to die during this program of pill overdose. That`s the way it goes. Go ahead,

GUPTA: We -- eventually (ph), 80 percent number -- and again, you probably know this, but we prescribe enough pain pills in this country to give every man, woman, and child a dose every four hours for three weeks. That just gives you an idea of how much of these pills are around.

So, yes, it`s -- I feel for these patients, and I know that -- you know, I`ve gotten a lot of e-mails and messages from patients as well, but we have to come up with a better alternative, because, sometimes, it just leads to a consequence that they, themselves, can not imagine.

PINSKY: That`s right. Let`s quickly take a call. Lisa in Canada -- Lisa.

LISA, CANADA: Hi. I`m a chronic pain sufferer. And I`ve been suffering for 47 years. I really don`t understand why people would take something and they can`t read a bottle that says don`t take it like with alcohol or anything else. And, it just frustrates me. We -- our nation says we`re the worst in the world with OxyContin and stuff.

So, I just -- it frustrates me because people like me, we do reach a point where we get suicidal because we just can`t handle the pain anymore.

PINSKY: Yes. Listen, chronic pain is a very, very serious illness. The question is how do we do it in more sophisticated way without creating more problems or worsening the pain? It`s all we`re talking about here tonight.

Keep taking your calls, 855-373-7395. Prescription drug abuse and the epidemic of deaths being caused by these substances. More with Sanjay Gupta after this.


GUPTA (voice-over): Every 19 minutes in the United States, someone dies of an accidental overdose.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is crazy. Not a single solitary one of these people has to die.



PINSKY: I`m here with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and we`re going to ride out your calls. Jamie in Pennsylvania -- Jamie.

JAMIE, PENNSYLVANIA: Hi, Dr. Drew. My name is Jamie. I`m 26. I`m addicted to OxyContin. I have been for about ten years. I just got out of rehab. I was clean for a day and relapsed.

PINSKY: Let me ask you, Jamie, did a doctor prescribe that OxyContin for you a day after you got out of rehab?

JAMIE: Oh, no, no. No. But I`ve been prescribed numerous times, you know, throughout -- you know, better half a decade long battle with this.

PINSKY: All right. So, you got to go back to treatment. Here`s the horrible thing, Jamie, about OxyContin and opioid addiction is the treatment takes six to 12 months. You can`t go to three weeks, withdrawal, and get a little (INAUDIBLE) and expect that to be much help. You have to be in a structured environment for a sustained period of time.

And Dr. Gupta, that`s really the conundrum here is that there aren`t resources for that kind of treatment. And so, people end up on replacement therapies like suboxone or methadone.

GUPTA: Yes, it`s -- the problem is sort of two-fold. It`s at the beginning stages, again, where doctors are just much more likely to write the prescription for, you know, a lot of reasons that probably if you look back on it and reflected, you probably wouldn`t have written those prescriptions in the first place. And then, as you point out, when someone`s in trouble, there`s really not enough resources to get them the treatment they need.

In the state of Washington, again, I point that out because we spent a lot of time there, Drew, as part of the special, they recommend that everybody see a pain doctor before getting these prescriptions for narcotics.

PINSKY: I`m not sure that`s --

GUPTA: You know how hard it is to get a pain doctor.

PINSKY: Yes. And I`m not sure that`s going to -- let me tell you a pain story. This will be shocking, I think, to our viewers, and you might be shocked by this. California required for our license to keep up these pain management continuing medical education programs. And I went to one once. And I was sitting, a guy got up and said, well, funny thing, about 97 percent of chronic pain patients have physical or sexual abuse in their childhood.

Funny thing. Anyway, here`s the opioids you should be prescribing. Nothing done to treat the underlying potential. And again, it would take a lot of resources to treat trauma. But no even attempt to do it.

GUPTA: I know. And you know, this is a point that I wish we could talk about more because, you know, so much of the physical manifestations that people have in terms of physical pain often do have an underlying cause. You know, there are clinics out there that are very good. Some that are very effective, where they can spend that time with patients, learn about a patient`s entire life experience, as one doctor put it to me.

And oftentimes, really get at some of the surprising, perhaps, non- intuitive causes of that physical pain. We don`t have time to do it.

PINSKY: That`s right. The way I tell people to understand it is when you`ve been traumatized, your body tells the tale. Your body is expressing itself the only way it can, which is through incredible misery and pain. Tina, quickly, in Oklahoma. Tina, you got something for us.

TINA, OKLAHOMA: I do. Thank you, Dr. Drew. My name is Tina. My best friend died July 4th morning, went to bed and did not wake up. It was because her doctor, at 27, for three years, gave her very powerful pain medication that was for someone who was very much older and probably had cancer.

PINSKY: Right.

TINA: And she was 30 years old.

PINSKY: It`s very sad.

TINA: Went to bed and did not wake up.

PINSKY: I`m so sorry.

TINA: And I blame it all on the doctor.

PINSKY: Well, it`s -- Sanjay, let`s close me out here. What`s the hope for the future?

GUPTA: I think there is some hope, first of all. You know, there are a lot of people who are now focused on this issue. And I think it`s been a silent thing for so long despite the fact that this epidemic as people are -- can call it, I think, safely call it, has been growing.

In the case of this tragic story that was just described, you know, this is where the area of the brain that sort of responds to the drive to breathe is sort of deadened, if you will, by these pain medications. And it sounds like maybe in high doses, but oftentimes, the naive user, Drew, and this is -- you educated me to this, but the naive user, someone who hasn`t had a lot of these medications before can be more vulnerable. And that may have been what happened here.

PINSKY: Right.

GUPTA: I think one thing I saw that could work, and it was a positive model, are these telepain sort of meetings now where you have a few pain specialists, not enough for the country, but they can start taking care of lots of patients across broad swaths of the country by doing these conferences.

And I saw, you know, these pain doctors be able to manage 50 patients, for example, in a day through that type of technology. It`s not perfect, but it`s going to --

PINSKY: It`s a start.

GUPTA: -- I think, at least, help.

PINSKY: What I appreciate is that you`re doing this story and people are going to be increased in their awareness about this. Dr. Gupta`s special "Deadly Dose" airs this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Dr. Gupta, thank you for joining me. Again, it`s on CNN.

GUPTA: Thanks for your help, Drew.

PINSKY: I`ll be right back.


PINSKY: Just want to say thank you to Dr. Sanjay Gupta for doing this special, elevating this conversation, talking about this stuff, raising awareness. It`s going to create change and improve the health for everyone and safety for everyone. His special "Deadly Dose" airs this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. It is on CNN.

I also want to send a thanks out to Dr. Mike Dow (ph), Areva Martin, and Jerri McGill (ph) for sharing that very interesting story.

I`ll tell you what, this pain medication issue is something that doesn`t go away. Please, if you know somebody who is struggling with this, get them help, realize that the system is not set up to deal with this. It`s a long-term problem, requires very intensive treatment. Somebody you know or you love has this problem, please take care of it. Thanks for watching. Thanks for calling. See you next time. Nancy Grace now.