Addiction nation: Uncle Sam America
The Obama administration is making it easier for doctors to use anti-addiction drugs in the fight against an exploding epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse.
USA dominated by addiction; illicit street drugs, pharmaceuticals exert a damning influence and craving for a daily ‘fix’
It is no surprise that underworld drug lords like Mexico’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, are multi-billionaire drug addict pacifiers. He has some pretty big clients, too. Uncle Sam America, for one, aka “USA,” is strung out on a candy bag of drugs, both illicit and legal, that burdens like a ball and chain to create the biggest druggie in the world.
On one extreme, Guzmán and competing global black marketers have perfected Business 101— supply and demand — reaping an estimated $321.6 billion U.S. dollars, according to a 2003 UN report. With a world GDP of $36 trillion in the same year, the illegal drug trade is estimated at nearly 1 percent of total global trade.
On the other extreme, the pharmaceutical pacifier is an even bigger enabler. According to The Statistics Portal, which gathers and maintains facts on the global pharmaceutical market from more than 18,000 sources, the total pharmaceutical revenue worldwide has reached nearly $1 trillion U.S. dollars. The North American continent is responsible for the largest portion, generating more than 40 percent of these revenues. This is mostly due to the leading role of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. Credit USA.
Personalities like El Chapo and the asylum of global underworld black marketers and legitimate “Big Pharma” represent the symbolic “Candy Man” to an addicted global culture.
People of all walks of life — race, gender, economic, class — have fallen into the pitfall of drugged escapism. The reasons are many. “Trips” to “la la” land in suspended animation, numbed to the harsh realities of life is an insanely popular retreat. The excursions may also be for medical reasons to find relief from debilitating pain due to sickness and disease — but they are nonetheless entrapment! Not just illicit uppers and downers like heroin, cocaine, “crack,” crystal meth, and marijuana, either. The candy bag includes a mixture of legally prescribed opiates and opioids, too. The consequences are dire. Fatal overdoses from these drugs are in a steep ascent
Healers and killers
Start with the opiates. These drugs are alkaloids derived from the opium poppy. Opium is a strong pain relieving drug, and a number of drugs are also made from this source, including morphine, heroin, and codeine. Opiates can be attained on the black market nearly universally.
Then there are the legally prescribed opioids, the synthetic or partly synthetic pain medications manufactured to work in a similar way to opiates. Their active ingredients are made via chemical synthesis, and may act like opiates when taken for pain because they have similar molecules.
Types of opioids are methadone, Percocet, Percodan, oxycontin, Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab, Demerol, Dilaudid, and Duragesic. Many have probably heard of them and know someone on these medications — even addicted to them.
But prescription opiates and opioids are not the only drugs whose use has exploded in the past 15 years. Using the same Centers for Disease Control database that tracks the growth in fatal opioid and heroin overdoses, data is also available on cocaine, benzodiazepines (sedatives like Valium and Xanax) and stimulants like crystal meth. All three categories have risen dramatically since the year 2000, according to the CDC.
Egregious double standard
African-Americans have been beneath the boot of the war on drugs ever since President Richard M. Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one” in the 1970s. That war focused on Black use and addiction of marijuana, “angel dust” (phencyclidine), barbituates, amphetamines, and later “crack” cocaine, a cheap version of the powder and epidemic in poor neighborhoods. Crack use is not solely relegated to the urban core, it is used and abused in suburbia, too, but the preference for upper-class White Americans has been the more expensive pure “coke” powder which is primarily snorted.
And though cocaine is cocaine no matter what form it is, the tougher sentences for its possession have been increasingly meted out for crack possession. For years, this was not considered a miscarriage of injustice by the mainstream. But now that the drug problem in suburbia is bursting at the seams due mainly to an insatiable yearn for heroin, suddenly drug abuse is a disease, not a crime.
For the White mainstream — which was generally ambivalent to the harsh zero-tolerance policy directed against urban drug use and addiction — now, the war on drugs has to come to an end. The New York Times reported the following in a recent story on the heroin epidemic:
“When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly Black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among Whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were White.
“And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language with respect to addiction to prodding the government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.”
Law enforcement’s and the judicial system’s scalding zero-tolerance policy is suddenly too harsh. Persons of means and political power want to ease punitive counter-measures and treat addiction with clinical gloves.
President Obama addressed the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin summit in Atlanta on April 5, 2016, calling further attention to the drug epidemic in America just two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control issued new recommendations on limiting the use of narcotic painkillers. Data clearly shows that opioid and heroin addiction have become an epidemic in the past 15 years.
The Obama administration is making it easier for doctors to use anti-addiction drugs in the fight against an exploding epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse. It’s part of a package of new initiatives announced April 5, that includes other efforts to expand addiction treatment and increase coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. These initiatives are in addition to the $1.1 billion he proposed last month.
Overdose deaths from opioids — drugs that include heroin as well as prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone — continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14 percent from 2013 to 2014. Every 19 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose.
According to Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders has been a top priority for this administration. Research clearly shows that this approach, when combined with behavioral therapies, is more effective at sustaining recovery and preventing overdose.”
In addition to upping the patient limit, the White House also announced an additional $11 million to go toward state efforts to expand medication-assisted treatment programs, as well as another $94 million in new funding for treatment services to 271 community health centers across the country; and a $7 million initiative by the Department of Justice toward policing and investigating heroin distribution; and guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services for federally funded needle exchange programs.
Public health experts said they were pleased to see the White House attention to community health centers and needle exchange programs.
“We’ve seen these programs at the front lines of overdose death, bringing people to drug treatment, and addressing the risk of hepatitis C and HIV,” said Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group working to mitigate the effects of illegal drug use on people and communities.
What may have the most lasting effort, Raymond said, is the president’s address at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. “That sends a powerful signal,” he said. “Coming to the summit, he’s coming to an audience of over 1,000 people who are not going to be patting him on the back or paying lip service at all.
“They are anxious for actions and solutions. I think his willingness to come is more than symbolic. We should expect a lot more to see in [the] final year of his administration, and some of it is long overdue,” Raymond noted.
Many hope that President Obama addressing these issues can help change the stigma attached to addiction and treatment
Strange message to urbia
The president’s thrust may send the most confusing message of all. Whether the addiction is to legally-prescribed painkilling drugs or to ill-gotten street drugs, the end result is the same — loss of lives, White, Black, and Brown.
Hailing from Chicago, Ill., where street drugs are exacting a huge death toll on the Southside where Black Americans predominate, it would have been heartening to see America’s first Black president lead a crusade against heroin and crack cocaine addiction across urbia — for a disease-oriented solution and not a criminally-oriented zero-tolerance solution.
Had that been President Obama’s approach over two terms in office, it would have changed the stigma attached to addiction and treatment as it relates to urbia.
After all, Black and Brown Lives Matter, too!