The Thin White Line

In the early-mid-19th century the British East India Trading Company maintained large poppy farms and opium factories in India to supply their growing market in China. When the Chinese defended themselves by seizing and destroying opium cargoes, the British Navy enforced what they called their “right to a free-market” – consigning a third of the Chinese population to addiction.

Between the Civil War and into World War I, opiate addiction grew in this country, as doctors liberally prescribed laudanum for various ills and malaises. Laudanum is opium.

After her death, I found the “baby book” my mother kept for me, in which was a note from her pediatrician suggesting “two drops of morphia in warm milk should I become fussy or colicy.”

American pharmaceutical companies have been over-marketing, and rewarding doctors for over-prescribing, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet for 25 years, flooding the drug market legally, while we spend $15B annually to deter the competitive tide selling street heroin.

In 2007, the president of Purdue Pharmaceuticals pled guilty to marketing Oxycontin for unapproved uses and personally paid a few million dollars in fines to avoid jail time. Yet in 2013, U.S. pharmacies filled 207 million opiate prescriptions. That same year, death from opiate overdoses exceeded 16,000 – half of which were from domestically manufactured drugs. This exceeds the annual murder rate by 2000. Opiate deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2013. Today, 45 people a day die from prescribed opiates. When addicts can’t afford “legal meds” at $20-$50 a pill on the street, they turn to heroin at $5-10 a bag. So we spend billions fighting imported heroin, while prescription opiates develop new markets.

Meanwhile pharma’s advancing a whole new addictive market – meth. Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are all meth-based drugs, opening new markets for both pharma and meth-lab operators. Until recently, the focus was on children but last year the burgeoning adult market overtook the children’s market for ADHD drugs. Ritalin is supplanting cocaine among young adults and steroids among athletes.

Flemming Ornskov, CEO of Shire, says his company’s “shifting into the adult ADHD market,” using TV ads with pop star Adam Levine and tennis great Monica Seles. In January, Shire won FDA approval to use Vyvanse, as a treatment for “binge eating,” When I was a young, the “Dexedrine Diet” became for many, including my mother, an intractable addiction.

Meanwhile, we jail the user and street dealer and turn a blind eye to the industrial manufacturer-dealer. When all’s said and done, what’s the difference?

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One Response to The Thin White Line

  1. Kim Fortune says:

    Nice post, thank you.
    After reading your recent article in the vtdigger.org pertaining to self sufficient encouragement and some of the behaviors associated by those independently “off the system” yet too- recognizing the efforts taken daily by some “living under the bridge” or “out of the dumpster”; I congratulate you for your further perspective and vision of humanizing this “liberty”. Vermont has been very accommodating to my brother who chooses to collect cans and redeem them for a mere bit of small income (for the last 13 yrs. in VT) whereby, he is up during the day all year, has a little “route” that enables him to socialize, eat from others throw outs in these dumpsters, share his intelligence and sustain his very independence. There are many in the community that refer to him as the “can man” and are amazed to find that his exotic car mechanic talents that abound. I share this story being as what seems to be your efforts (please, correct me if I am wrong)to showcase our now epidemic of pharmaceutical and current “medical model” implementation have served none other than many economically driven service providers whose paycheck’s rely upon a flawed medical model that seem to me only exacerbate the pain in our society vs. one’s free will and soul’s destiny. As Dr. Gabor Mate’ reminds us in a very informative TED Talk (available on youtube)one too must look at what is “right with addiction”! Imagine.
    I too, would like to offer a very informative, highly educated group of researchers, Dr.’s and international educators- working fervently to disseminate fact based, publicized information and material in regards to the mental health industry (of which there seems to be a VT presence), easily accessed here: http://www.madinamerica.com.
    Again thank you, for the opportunity to share and hear your voice as well as, the constant efforts you have put forth in your career to forward humanity.
    I leave you thinking of one of Vt.’s practical, common sense physician’s in mind; Dr. Beach Conger, MD. whose words in “Bag Balm & Duct Tape” and his practice itself, for many years seemed to have served his community in an affordable, sustainable and whole health outcome.

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