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Day 426 – Are You Going to Get Tough With the Pharmaceutical Companies, Mr. President, the Biggest Drug Dealers of All?

Day 426 – Are You Going to Get Tough With the Pharmaceutical Companies, Mr. President, the Biggest Drug Dealers of All?

Image from Pop Sugar

Mr. President,

I felt slightly nostalgic this week when I heard your announcement to begin prioritizing the fight against the opioid epidemic. I am certainly not making light of the situation, as statistics will show that we genuinely have a problem with opioid use and abuse in our country. However, your declaration reminded me of our previously failed war on drugs. Your plan had some of the same aspects (such as your call for education through really, really great advertising), but there is one point of your plan that is drawing the most attention. You stated,

This isn’t about being nice anymore. These are terrible people, and we have to get tough on those people. We can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want. But if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time — just remember that, we’re wasting our time — and that toughness includes the death penalty……..So if we’re not going to get tough on the drug dealers who kill thousands of people and destroy so many people’s lives, we are just doing the wrong thing……Whether you are a dealer or doctor or trafficker or a manufacturer, if you break the law and illegally peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable.”

In short, you called for the death penalty for drug dealers. While you briefly mentioned doctors and manufacturers who illegally produce and/or distribute opioids, you forgot to mention one of the largest potential villains in your new war against drugs. Will there be a “death penalty” instituted for pharmaceutical companies?

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, it was relatively easy to obtain some drugs. Alcohol was easiest, of course; there was almost always a party story that sold to teenagers, or an older sibling that was of age. Marijuana and cocaine were relatively easy to come by. The “war on drugs” was supposedly in full-swing, but that was just a joke that was literally laughed at. Teenagers weren’t stupid, and even without social media, word-of-mouth on “where to get it” spread quickly. The harder street drugs were difficult to get, but once an individual found out that their mom or dad’s back pills were a lot of fun, there was no need to even try heroin. The “good stuff” was right in the medicine cabinet, and fully legal.

Although there has been some minor progress made with accountability for pharmaceutical companies creating, marketing, and profiting from highly addictive painkillers, these efforts haven’t put a dent in the damage done by these COMPLETELY LEGAL, FDA approved, drugs. Not only are they legal, but their use is incredibly widespread. Due to the structure of most insurances and our health care system as a whole, it is much cheaper to pay for Vicodin than it is to pay for more natural ways of treating pain, such as physical therapy and massage. Before the user knows what has happened, their body has adjusted to a certain dosage, and they take more to be able to combat the same level of pain. Addiction follows; and so does the addiction of their children, if they start to take a few here and there from the medicine cabinet.

What will the accountability be for these drug dealers, Mr. President? I am not denying that there are people in this country that need prescription pain medication. However, it is also very well known that drug companies mitigate or completely fail to mention the addictive properties of many of these medications when they hit the markets. It doesn’t take anyone with an average IQ very long to understand why, as the pharmaceutical companies are set on making a profit. Negative side effects aren’t very good for business.

In your plan, you mentioned expanding addiction treatment (another industry that is currently for-profit in our nation). In order to save the lives of people with addiction issues, we must keep them from overdosing as well. There is a very promising drug, naloxone, that can save people from life-threatening overdoses. It has been in use, successfully, since 1996.  There are other drugs that are used to treat addiction as well. Can you guess what the common factor is for the lack of their widespread distribution and use? As a businessman, you should know that the answer is the price. When demand goes up in a free market, prices can be increased as well.

In short, it is pharmaceutical companies that have profited from addiction, and continue to do so, as they profit from both the dependence and the recovery. Unless you are willing to address this aspect of our opioid crisis, it will continue. After all, the doctor’s office and the medicine cabinet will always be the most accessible place for a child to get a drug. And if the average American cannot afford treatment, one-third of your plan will have failed before it has even begun.



Day 283 – It’s About More Than Just Saying No, Mr. President.

Day 283 – It’s About More Than Just Saying No, Mr. President.

Photograph by Dennis Yip

Mr. President,

I never know where to start with these letters. I try to pick one topic and focus on it. But how can I pick which is the most alarming?

As usual, you are giving us plenty of softball distractions that I could write about:

  • Yet another tweeting war – this time with the widow of one of the green berets, Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who mysteriously died in an ambush in a Niger mission. You claim though, you have an “excellent memory” and you know that you, in fact, did not insult her and her husband by telling her that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.”
  • Then yesterday I watched, yet again, with dismay, you make an ass out of yourself. This time, you aimed insults through children at their parents, who are the press corp. We watched, cringing, as you not only joked (???) that the kids have no weight problems, but that they are also surprisingly good looking, despite their parents – you know, the “fake news” producers.
  • And speaking of your “fake news” catch-all for any reporting you don’t care for – this time in response to the at least 16 women who have accused you of sexual harassment? The White House official position: Fake News.

Meanwhile, there is truly so much SCARY SHIT happening.

I think my biggest concern – truly, at the end of the day – is your complete and utter disregard for the seriousness of your position. I don’t know what world you are living in. But you are literally killing people.

My brother died of a heroin overdose three years ago. He was a good, kind, gentle person. He also had layers upon layers of medical and mental problems that we were never able to untangle. We loved him. We tried so hard to help him. And while we weren’t able to save him, thanks to Medicaid, we were able to at least help him live a decent quality of life. He lived with my parents, and we got some supplemental support that helped him pay for food and medications so that my parents didn’t go completely broke.

Last week, you did declare a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act, which directs federal agencies to provide more grant money to combat the epidemic. And maybe that’s something. I hope it is.

But just a friendly reminder: The War on Drugs doesn’t work. I wish it did, but sadly, it’s about more than “just saying no,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions would like to have us believe. And it’s more than just good advertising, as you claimed. My brother tried to say no. Many times. But like so many of the problems you hate, there was no quick fix.

I don’t need to spout statistics, but we all know people are dying of opioid overdoses at an increasingly alarming rate. It is truly an epidemic.

You brush off true and real concerns. You choose easy, quick, and thoughtless opposed to complex and thoughtful. You choose to stand behind half-baked healthcare policies that would dump the most vulnerable Americans into an even bigger and unescapable financial ditch.

Thanks to your irresponsible actions, premiums for the most popular Affordable Care Act plan have risen 34%. The market is unstable – thanks to your decision to end subsidy payments to insurers, the continued debate over repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act, and an executive order allowing for lower cost plans outside of the Obama-era law, according to a report by Avalere Health.

You dismiss truths you find inconvenient or simply don’t like. You abuse your power, toying with laws and regulations that save people’s lives.

Good people are dying. They are the sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends of good people. Your presidency isn’t about you, Donald. The U.S. presidency is about protecting our citizens, keeping our world as safe as you can, and making the most thoughtful decisions possible. You might not take your position seriously, Mr. President. But I do. And so do all of those people whose lives are hanging by a thread…and are about to be cut off by your administration.



Day 147 – The War On Drugs Failed, Mr. President. Please Tell Attorney General Sessions.

Day 147 – The War On Drugs Failed, Mr. President. Please Tell Attorney General Sessions.

Photograph by Carlos Gracia

Dear Mr. President,

As far as your Cabinet picks go, there are few that have been more controversial than Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has made numerous questionable statements, especially in regards to race and civil rights, over his 30 plus years working in government. Most of our country, especially your critics, are currently fixated on his testimony (including his inability to “recall” the answers to many straightforward questions) during his turn in the hot seat in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearings regarding Russian collusion before, and perhaps during, the 2016 presidential election. However, I am going to address another concern with Mr. Sessions, and I hope you will as well: his stance on the legalization and use of medical marijuana.

Attorney General Sessions has not hid his feelings about the use of marijuana (for recreational or medicinal purposes). Allegedly, he drafted a letter to congressional leaders, which requested their assistance in allowing federal prosecution against entities in states where the medicinal use of marijuana and its components has been legalized. I would assume you are already aware that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, just like every other controlled substance. This puts cannabis and most of its derivatives in the same category as heroin and cocaine, and indicates there is a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value (which is incorrect, but we will get to that shortly). However, in 2014, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was signed into law. This amendment disallows the Justice Department from spending funds to hinder the enactment of state medical cannabis laws. So, in theory, the 29 states that have broad laws allowing some form of cannabis or its derivatives to be used for medicinal purposes, and the 15 states that have more narrow laws, should be allowed to proceed unencumbered.

In case you weren’t aware, Sessions would like to change all of that. In 1986, Thomas Figures, a black Assistant U.S. Attorney, attested that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was, “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” Sessions later said that the comment was a joke (because the KKK is such a laughing matter), but did apologize for it, saying that he considered the Klan to be “a force for hatred and bigotry.” But, he didn’t do any backtracking on the “smoking pot” part, which shows how far back his pre-conceived notions go. In 2016, in response to then-President Obama’s assertion that cannabis is not as dangerous as alcohol, Sessions said he was “heartbroken” and that “…good people don’t smoke marijuana.” In his most recent letter, our current Attorney General cited “a historic drug epidemic” in our country as a justification to crack down on medical marijuana. To anyone with some actual knowledge on the subject, his comments are judgmental at best, and scientifically unsound and disproven at the worst.

Let’s start with the “historic drug epidemic” piece. Yes, there is a drug issue in our country, specifically with highly addictive opiates. In 2016, over 50,000 of our citizens died from opiate misuse/ overdoses.  This total is comprised of people who died from street-drugs considered to be opiates, such as heroin (12,989 deaths); but it also includes deaths from legal prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin (17,536 deaths). As for alcohol, around 88,000 people die from alcohol related deaths annually. This includes alcohol-related driving accidents, as well as personal use.  Mr. President, do you know how many people died from marijuana use…? Zero…which is the same number as the year before, and every year previous. So while Sessions may have been “heartbroken” by former President Obama’s comments regarding alcohol and marijuana, it turns out that Obama was correct. In addition, there is a growing body of research that shows that states that have legalized medical marijuana actually have a drop in opiate overdoses and deaths. Cannabis has also been used successfully in opiate replacement therapy and as a much safer method than prescription drugs, as it is not physically addictive.

Let’s move on to Sessions’ comment about how “good people don’t smoke pot.” I am going to venture a guess that Mr. Sessions would feel the same way about any kind of cannabis derivatives, such as CBD (or cannabidiol), which can have little to no intoxicating effects. When Charlotte Figi was 5 years-old, her family starting using CBD to treat some of her symptoms stemming from Dravet Syndrome (which causes seizures and developmental delays).  Little Charlotte went from having over 300 seizures a week to only 1 or 2.  In fact, medical marijuana has been used to successfully treat seizures in many children and adults. Then there is 42 year-old Leo Bridgewater, a veteran who suffered from PTSD, who has had success treating insomnia and severe anxiety, allowing him to return to a normal life. There is also Debbie Moreira, a woman in her 60s who has Autonomic Nerve Disorder. Her symptoms included shaking, weakness, and digestive issues. After treatment with medical cannabis, Debbie went from being bed-ridden to independent again, and now helps other seniors in her assisted living community. If Sessions would characterize any of these individuals as “bad,” I would be interested to see who he classifies as “good” (or even just “OK,” as he categorized the KKK). I could continue the list of ailments whose symptoms have been effectively lessened with medical marijuana, but then my letter would go on for a few more pages. The short-list includes multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer/chemotherapy, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

Aside from the medical implications of reversing the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, there are criminal elements to be discussed. According to the ACLU, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. If you are truly worried about drug abuse in our nation, our law enforcement has clearly been chasing after users (not even dealers, or growers) of a fairly benign drug. The arrest data also revealed a very concerning trend. Despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. To summarize, we are filling our jails and prisons with people who use a drug that has less negative impacts than legal drugs such as alcohol and prescription drugs. In fact, police make more arrests for marijuana possession alone than for all violent crimes combined.

So, if we are really looking to solve problems within our nation, especially connected to drug use, drug abuse, and a growing (and disproportionate) jail and prison population, I suggest you steer clear of your Attorney General’s suggestions. He appears to have very little actual knowledge on the topic and comes from a bygone era of the unsuccessful “War on Drugs.” From the statistics that I have shared, we can see how well that worked out.



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