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The Evils of Big Pharma – Drug Addiction
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The Evils of Big Pharma – Drug Addiction

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CALIFORNIA - January 22, 2019

The war on drugs in the United States is purely political in nature. It is not a fight against the evil of harming one’s health. Despite decades of prohibition, drug production and consumption are increasing worldwide.

One has only to think about the funding to fight drug addiction: more than $100 billion a year, rivaling the size of the global aid budget (about $146 billion). If redirected, that money could help provide healthcare, education, and clean water to people across the world.

Drug policies make our world a more dangerous place, not a safer one, whether by handing immense wealth and power to organized criminals, causing the violent policing of poor communities, or ensuring consumers have little idea what they are taking.

In addition, there are huge pharmaceutical companies for whom it is not profitable to allocate any funds for a fight that will reap huge losses for them.

Addicted to the opioid drugs that pharmacies prescribe to patients, people often switch to cheaper "street" drugs, including heroin and its synthetic analogs. According to experts, this situation has become possible due to a systemic failure in the American health system.

US authorities have announced a large-scale campaign to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction, which has taken over the country in recent years. Most often, it's a question of dependence on heroin and synthetic opiates, such as Chinese fentanyl. There are also synthetic opioids whose effects on the human body are similar to those of opium.

Vast plantations of opium poppy are far from the United States -- mainly in Afghanistan and the countries of the so-called Golden Triangle: Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Therefore, for a long time heroin and other opiates were not widespread in the States, behind crack as a cheap kind of cocaine.

cdc.gov

However, since the 2000s, the number of Americans addicted to heroin and synthetic opioids has steadily increased. Thus, from 2007 to 2013, the use of these drugs increased by 63%, and the death rate from heroin overdoses tripled. According to official statistics, in 2013, 8,200 people died as a result of heroin use in the United States.

kff.org

Already in 2015, heroin claimed more lives per year than road traffic accidents. At the same time, most of the victims were "hooked" on it not by drug dealers, but respectable pharmaceutical companies: People started taking drugs on doctors' recommendation and only later switched to heroin. According to experts, about 80% of heroin addicts have developed their addiction in this way.

The Example of the Philippines

In recent years, the epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States has become a national disaster. In 2016, according to rough estimates, 64 million people died from drug overdoses, the majority from opioid drugs.

vox.com

According to the New York Times, drugs have become the leading cause of death among Americans under 50 years of age.

According to the publication, today there is a tendency to reduce heroin use in favor of illegally produced fentanyl and similar substances. Drug traffickers often pass off fentanyl as heroin or cocaine, resulting in even more victims.

Last year, Donald Trump called the epidemic of opium addiction the largest problem in the United States. According to the National Institute for Drug Addiction, the number of Americans who use opioids has reached two million -- doctors often prescribe drugs such as fentanyl as an analgesic for various diagnoses.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health

According to statistics of the American Association of Addiction, more than 250 million such prescriptions are issued annually in the United States.

In October 2018, Trump declared a health emergency due to the opioid epidemic, urging to intensify the fight against both illegal imports of drugs and abuse by pharmaceutical manufacturers and the medical community. In January 2018, the head of state signed a law aimed at countering drug trafficking.

In particular, under the new law, the US border service will receive additional funds for the purchase of portable devices for drug detection in cargo and other equipment.

Then, speaking on March 10 in Pennsylvania, Trump called for tougher punishments for drug dealers up to the death penalty.

The Evils of Big Pharma – Drug Addiction

However, according to some experts, the main reason for such a sharp spike in drug addiction in the country was the policy of pharmaceutical companies and doctors.

As it turned out during the parliamentary investigation, about 20 million tablets of oxycodone and hydrocodone were sold over the past 10 years just in a small town in West Virginia whose population doesn't exceed 3,000. In this case, oxycodone, for example, is used as a replacement for morphine in oncology. As a result of the investigation, the local doctor, who prescribed such strong painkillers in such large quantities, had his license revoked.

This Tuesday, Health Poverty Action launched a report exposing human stories from the streets of Brazil and the fields of India. Punishing Poverty provides a platform for the voices on the ground behind the overwhelming evidence that the current drug policy is felt most sharply by poor communities. It traps people in a cycle of poverty and inequality for generations.

Testimonies gathered in Brazil show those orchestrating and profiting from the trade at higher levels are largely ignored, while the poorest face threat of arrest, imprisonment and even death. Similarly in India, forced eradication, fines, imprisonment and violence are not deterring small-scale farmers from cultivating illicit opium poppies to keep their children from starving when they feel they have no other choice. They will take risks in the absence of options.

To break the cycle, we need to reverse this oppressive trap. People must campaign for a complete reform of drug policies, and look at a legal regulation of the drug trade to make it safer and lives more stable, from producer to seller to consumer.

And what about Europe?

Portugal has seen dramatic drops in problematic drug use and HIV infection rates by decriminalizing all drugs. If people were to go further and legally regulate drugs they could make them safer still, removing the power from criminal gangs and controlling who can buy drugs, where, and in what quantities.

tppahanshilhorst.com

It would also mean they would have the option to tax them and raise vital revenue for development and public services.

This shift is happening. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to fully legally regulate cannabis, followed by Canada last year. Ten US states and D.C. have done the same. California’s approach to cannabis legalization safeguards small-scale farmers and pardons those with previous cannabis-related offenses. And this is important, because how policy is done matters to all involved.

Getty

In the shift to legal, regulated models, the development sector must protect the most vulnerable. Those who have been most at risk of poverty and exploitation under prohibition will still be at risk in a post-prohibition world if multinational corporations take over from where the cartels and criminal gangs leave off. The whole market needs regulating to protect health and reduce poverty.

People have the opportunity to ensure reforms are implemented within a social justice model in collaboration with affected communities. At the same time, they can tackle those social and economic problems that drive people into the trade in the first place.

Legalizing drugs isn’t radical, it’s responsible. Drugs are too dangerous not to be regulated, and too profitable not to be taxed.

Billions in damage

As Deputy Mayor of New York, Hermine Palacio stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that city authorities intend to achieve compensation from manufacturers of analgesics in the amount of half a billion dollars. The mayor's office believes that this is only a very modest assessment of the damage that was caused to the city as a result of a surge in drug addiction. Only $355 million was taken for the treatment of citizens suffering from dependence in recent years. This does not include the cost of rehabilitation of each individual patient.

hrw.org

Pharmaceutical companies have already been the focus of Prosecutor's office: In June 2017, the Attorneys General of several US States announced the beginning of a joint investigation against drug manufacturers: First of all, law enforcement agencies were interested in methods of marketing promotion of unsafe analgesics.

"We're studying what role, if any, the marketing and related practices could play in the growth of the number of appointments and the use of these potent and addictive drugs," said the Prosecutor General of D.C. Karl Racine.

Companies are mainly accused of positioning opioid drugs as a cure for chronic rather than short-term pain. It is long-term use of such painkillers that has led many patients to addiction, experts say.

It's worth noting that about 20 million people suffer from chronic pain, especially veterans. The annual cost of US health care for patients with chronic pain reaches $95 billion.

Doctors define chronic pain as pain that lasts more than three months. At the same time, according to Russian experts, psychological factors often play an important role in the development of such a syndrome.

One of the drugs most commonly prescribed in the United States for pain syndrome is, for example, oxycontin, which belongs to the prescription opioids category, as well as other drugs of this class.

Opiates and their synthetic analogs are widely used in medical practice around the world, but it’s only in the US and New Zealand that the law doesn't prohibit the advertising of prescription drugs on television. And even the American Medical Association’s calls to ban the television advertising of such drugs have not led to anything.

In addition to active marketing promotion, pharmaceutical companies are actually engaged in bribing doctors so that they prescribe the "necessary" drugs, experts say. Corruption, in this case, is not monetary, but more indirect -- drug manufacturers pay doctors in trips, dinner parties, and assuming the costs of conferences.

That is, there is a collision between the pharmaceutical and medical communities. Pharmaceutical companies try to corrupt doctors, and this is happening not only in the US but also around the world, and the money in this area is comparable, for example, to the arms trade.

The client is always right

According to the experts, although in a number of cases there is really no alternative to morphine drugs, today they are often prescribed without the necessary indications.

It's reasonable when opioids are prescribed in an extreme situation, in acute pain or for oncology pain relief. It's not right that opiates are being used systematically in situations where they can be replaced, as is often the case in the United States. Sometimes it turns out that patients simply drown out their psychological and social problems with the help of these drugs, becoming addicts.

postandcourier.com

That is, many of these drugs cause euphoria, and patients beg for them from doctors. At the same time, in the US there is a system of assessing customer satisfaction with treatment. Accordingly, doctors are interested in quickly solving patients' problems. One of these solutions is the prescribing of potent drugs. In fact, this is part of the consumption economy, an unexpected failure in the overall system, tuned to customer focus.

In addition, this option is in some sense beneficial to insurance companies -- the need for long and expensive procedures and research eliminates.

It's difficult to predict whether the US authorities will be able to reverse this situation. Of course, this campaign against drug addiction should have some effect. It is possible that a broad information campaign will lead to patients themselves beginning to abandon such drugs--people are aware of all the consequences of such therapy. But it's too early to say.

Author: USA Really