The modern scourge on our communities

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.

 

 

The new opium war

In the 19th century, the British sent tons and tons of opium into China knowing full well its addictive properties and the health problems and deaths that would follow.

The British wanted to trade with the Chinese, but the insular nation wanted little to do with the outside world. China’s ruler insisted that instead of trading for British goods, it would only sell the porcelain and tea the British people wanted for silver. The British didn’t want to deplete their silver reserves, so they developed a work-around — they sent opium into China illegally, demanding payment in silver, which they then used to buy Chinese goods.

In other words, the British sabotaged an entire nation with opium. People who are addicted are not interested in fighting for their rights; all they care about is getting more opium. And even though the sale of opium to China was illegal, the British could always find a corrupt official who would deal with them.

The mess finally led to two wars, known as the Opium Wars, which the British and their allies (France and the United States) won.

So, what does this have to do with today?

In the 1990s, drug companies, particularly Purdue Pharmaceuticals, came out with a new pain killer called Ocycontin, and almost immediately, it began to be abused.

But Purdue and the others kept insisting it wasn’t addictive if taken properly, and doctors continued to prescribe it, even where it wasn’t necessary, when something else could control the patient’s pain. The experts, after all, insisted it was safe.

Over the last 20 years, millions of people have become addicted. I know a number of them, and in the last year or so, three have died of overdoses. One died of a pain pill overdose and the other two died from heroin overdoses. People who are addicted to pain pills often turn to heroin because it’s less expensive.

Pain clinics began to spring up, especially in Florida. These weren’t legitimate pain clinics, but places where people who were addicted could go get an easy prescription.

Patients go in by the droves and are called back to see the doctor a dozen at a time. The doctor asks whether they’re still in pain and they say they are. The doctor writes each of them a prescription.

Now, are these addicts paying attention to their rights being taken away by the 1 percent, bit by bit?

Not so much.

Are they watching while our so-called leaders march us toward a police state?

Nope, they’re looking for more pain pills.

And, if they’re caught, they’re thrown into a justice system that makes them pay their own costs, which for many means there is no escape. People tend not to hire ex-convicts, so paying the tens of thousands of dollars is impossible.

So the question becomes, was this mass addiction deliberate, or are the 1 percent just happy with the coincidence?

That’s not a question I can answer, but I suspect it’s deliberate now. It’s the perfect distraction because not only does addiction take the user’s mind off what the 1 percent is doing to rob us blind, it also distracts the family and friends of the addict, who tend to concentrate on trying to get help for the person.

I refuse to take opiates. I don’t care how much I hurt. If I’ve had surgery or an injury, it will heal and I can manage pain with ibuprofen, naproxen or Tylenol until it does.

If I had cancer or another painful and terminal condition, I probably would agree, but as it is now, I don’t fill prescriptions for opiates. I’m not going to chance it.

I’ve seen what opiate addiction can do. It disables, then kills.

We know this, but we continue to addict more and more people, then we conveniently blame those people for their illness and tell them we don’t have enough beds in rehab to help them kick the addiction.

It seems to me this is deliberate now. Perhaps it wasn’t in the beginning, but it is now.

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