Last week I wrote about the flooding of our communities with opiates, and later that day, I learned a friend had just lost her 25-year-old grandson the epidemic.
Yesterday, another friend almost lost her 30-year-old son to it.
That makes three people I know dead in the last year and countless others struggling to stay alive in spite of it.
And today, the person in the White House announced he would cave in to pressure from the drug companies and decline to regulate or even negotiate with the drug companies.
Let me tell you a little about what kind of pain that decision will cause.
Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend, who brought along the program for her grandson’s funeral service. Just seeing his photo made me cry as I thought about the lost potential. We talked about him, and about his father, who also is battling this same addiction.
This death has planted the seeds of radicalism in my 74-year-old friend, just as my son’s death did to me.
“You’ve been here,” she said. “Where do I start?”
I told her to learn everything she can about opiate addiction and its history. I told her how the British flooded China with opium in the 19th Century and that she should look at the parallels with the modern opiate epidemic here.
Big Pharma can claim innocence, but its executives have to know how many pills are out there, and that they’re not all being consumed legitimately. Of course we can’t prove it — these people have really effective ways of covering their tracks. They’re not leaving any smoking guns for us to find.
But they put immense pressure on legislators and others to turn a blind eye to their abuses and to blame the victims.
They knew when they were promoting these pills in the 1990s just how addictive they are, but they convinced us people don’t become addicted if they just take the pills for pain.
Turns out that’s not true. I had a friend who got addicted while taking them for severe back pain. He stopped after he had surgery, but he had to go through withdrawal, and it was miserable, and he felt their pull on him for the rest of his life.
My son continued to take them after severe burns over 40 percent of his body. He did need them for the pain, but after the pain was gone, the pleasure the pills offered was too strong a pull for him and he abused the pills for years before he was able to get off. I still won’t say it’s for good because addiction is a chronic and progressive illness; it has a way of pulling its victims back in.
We as a society are very good at blaming victims for their circumstances. Yes, my son continued to use the pills. But his insurance company paid for the prescriptions for a long time. Then they tried to worm out of paying for in-patient rehab for him.
I’m certain his case is not unique.
Addiction is an illness that causes you to lie to yourself, as well as to others. You tell yourself that you are in control. See, you’re just taking six pills a day. But then you’re taking eight and you tell yourself that’s OK because you’re still going to work and functioning. In fact, you’re functioning better than ever, thank you.
When my son’s doctor refused to prescribe any more pills, he went to a pain clinic an hour from home, across the Florida state line, and a “doctor” there gave him what he wanted.
The son of my sister’s friend turned to heroin, which is cheaper. That’s what my friend’s grandson did, too. Now they’re both dead.
These lives don’t matter to Big Pharma, because like the tobacco companies, they’ll just recruit more addicts as their victims die or go into recovery.
Policy makers obviously don’t care about the lives lost because they’re not moving to make any changes based on the deaths.
Here are a few facts from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.
- From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.
- In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.
- Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.
- 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were far more expensive and harder to obtain.
If that doesn’t convince you there’s a problem, and that it is not the fault of the people who fall prey to Big Pharma, I don’t suppose anything will.