Clete Wetli, Contributor
Since 2000, over 200,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses. Let that sink in. Yet, Big Pharma is still manufacturing opioids painkillers as fast as they can and doctors may as well be handing them out like bagged candy that goes into Pez dispensers. In the meantime, drug manufacturers have poured millions into lobbying Congress and have hired a slew of former DEA operatives to combat efforts to end the overprescribing of painkillers and their diversion to the street.
In the meantime, Americans are dying at unprecedented rate. If they’re not dying from the legally obtained prescription drugs in their medicine cabinet, they’re dying from cheap heroin obtained on the street often laced with fentanyl.
As Trump attempts to destroy Obamacare, he neglects to mention that one of the mandated, essential health benefits that he wants to abolish is the provision for adequate and affordable mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Prior to Obamacare, many health insurance policies did not cover behavioral health treatment or the coverage was demonstrably inadequate. It seems that the Trump administration’s answer is to levy harsher punishments on addicts rather than attacking the source of the problem- Big Pharma and doctors.
The legal system continues to stigmatize methadone treatment, and other forms of medical maintenance for addiction, in the face of all evidence that proves its effectiveness. Instead, a system has been created that penalizes people for trying to manage their addiction and, ultimately, become drug-free. The real culprits, the corporate pill pushers, are making billions off America’s pain. To them, addiction isn’t a disease, it’s a highly profitable industry.
As the Washington Post recently showed in the stunning article “The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over The DEA”, pharmaceutical giants have figured out how to beat the DEA and Congress at their own game by buying influence and offering high-paying jobs to the government employees who would expose them. The drug industry also looks at multi-million dollar fines as simply the cost of doing business because the fines are only a scant fraction of the enormous profits they make every single year. Obviously, they look at the death toll as just another cost of doing business.
In America, we are still fighting a failed War on Drugs by failing to address the root of the problem. We have resorted to mass incarceration for users, while continuing to allow drug manufacturers to get away with murder. We celebrate rich pharmaceutical company executives as winners and demonize addicts as losers with no chance for redemption. We fail to fund treatment. We spend more on interdiction than education. We impose harsh penalties for drugs like marijuana and equate it with heroin, while simultaneously creating more highly addictive prescription medication. We ignore evidence-based practices and worry more about assigning blame than finding solutions.
It’s clear that the problem will persist until America gets serious about changing the rules that allow drug companies to shower politicians with cash. Obviously, the death toll is something we’ve learned to live with, just like we’ve come to accept higher numbers of casualties in mass shootings. We’ve convinced ourselves that we’re somehow helpless and hopeless when it comes to solving these problems.
First, let’s stop the flow of pharmaceutical lobbying money to Congress. Second, let’s change the law so the DEA can stop drug manufacturers from flooding our streets with opioids. Third, let’s prosecute doctors who are overprescribing and making a fortune off addiction. Last, but most important, let’s demand that people have access to affordable mental health and drug treatment in their health insurance plans.
Not all drugs or drug addicts are the same and we’ve got to get smart about America’s drug use, abuse, and addictions. It’s time to go after those who are making the problem worse while laughing all the way to the bank.
Forget the “Just Say No” bullshit and try “Just Say Yes” to giving people an opportunity to recover.