America is sick. Infected by a problem that is killing its people, poisoning its communities, and fueling crime like gas on a fire. And of course, in the true American spirit of things, lots of people are getting really rich at the expense of innocent lives.
Heroin is back in America. Like retro sneakers, wayfarer sunglasses and PBR, the Horse is once again a hot commodity – no one saw it coming, but here it is. Since 2008 the national rate of heroin overdoses in the US has skyrocketed, to the point where, in some states, like Massachusetts, heroin takes more human lives than motor-vehicle accidents and guns combined.
But what is even more nerve-jangling than the out-of-control rise OD’s, is the number of stakeholders making gross amounts of money off of this addiction epidemic. The suffering of America’s addicted directly funds medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and illegal drug distributors – when it comes to profiting from drug addiction, legal or illegal is irrelevant. Health and legality come second to capital gain.
To truly understand this heavy topic, one must understand where it stems from. So how did heroin, a Schedule 1 drug known for its dangerous potency and addiction rate, make such a virulent resurgence in America? Strangely, the substantial increase in heroin use and overdoses in the US coincides remarkably well with an increase in opioid prescription drug use throughout our nation; “Drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies” are listed by drugabuse.gov as the main contributors to America’s growing opioid dependency. Drugs like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Xanax aren’t a whole lot better than a syringe full of black tar… they are just FDA-approved. They are also incredibly expensive. Which is why so many people who get addicted to them, switch to heroin when their prescription runs out. They simply can’t get the government sanctioned opioids they’re used to, so they switch over to the easier-to-obtain, less expensive black market opioid, and enter even more dangerous territory.
So the money shifts then, from the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs and the doctors who prescribe them, to the pockets of local drug dealers. This is where the game goes from disappointing to diabolical – because the heroin that addicts are buying to substitute their prescription painkillers is not pure, it doesn’t come in weighed and measured capsules, and it isn’t regulated on any level. Dealers often cut their supply with something, and what exactly that something is can widely vary, and is anyone’s guess. Sometimes it’s other drugs, sometimes it’s baking soda; sometimes it’s talcum powder. The exact ingredients and composition tend to be unknown, so when a heroin user shoots up, they may be using a familiar dosage from a familiar hook-up, but the purity and composition might be unlike anything they’ve ever tried before. At least when they were addicted to painkillers the drugs came from reputable, regulated sources that measured dosages and purity very carefully. On the street, that level of safety goes out the window. That’s when OD’s start taking lives.
Thankfully, there is a drug for heroin overdoses. It’s called Narcan and it is an antidote EMT’s and paramedics depend on to save lives. They are using Narcan more frequently across the country because of the resurgence of America’s heroin epidemic. It is a vital drug in any ambulance’s arsenal, and the Big Pharma Company that produces the antidote understands this, and they adjusted the price of their life saving drug to match the necessity. What used to cost $575 for two auto-inject doses, now costs $3,750… In other words: the makers of this miracle antidote know it is saving lives, and know there’s no alternative, so they’ve hiked the price (much like Martin Shkreli did with Daraprim last year). So whether Americans use their opiates, or opt for street-level heroin, Big Pharma will there to reap the profits, quite literally at the expense of human life.
There is a clear sequence of profit here, and a clear group of benefactors. The money starts with Big Pharma companies and our doctors. Then the profit is passed along to our criminal drug dealers, before finally being re-gifted to the pharmaceutical manufacturers that make the antidote for heroin OD’s.
Here’s the worst part: no one is losing money from America’s heroin addiction. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, criminals, and even news-hungry journalists like myself, are all profiting from this illness. We all get something out of it. Which makes the problem even harder to solve – it’s like trying to get clean from a drug that pays you take it.
If our government cared more about the health of its people there would be a clear plan of action here – limit opioid prescriptions, and punish Big Pharma price gougers. But in a devoutly capitalist country like the United States of America, business like that won’t falter. In fact, my intuition says our government would prop that industry up, and keep the people addicted and subdued at all costs.
Sources: https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/31/heroin-overdose-antidote-now-costs-double.html