Image from Pop Sugar
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.