The Centers For Disease Control issued dollar short warning about prescriptions opiates, America’s most deadly family of drugs. If nothing else, it has become obvious that our country’s most dangerous drug dealers are neither Mexican nor Columbian; America’s real Narcos are Big Pharma’s CEOs. Not only do their prescription pills kill more people each year than all illegal drugs combined, they are responsible for a heroin epidemic that has swept the nation. Those responsible for turning the United States into the most drug-addled nation on Earth deserve to pay a heavy price.
President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs in 1973 and like the equally unsuccessful War on Terror, it was fraught with contradictions and crippled by unrealistic policy objectives. Forty plus years and a trillion dollars later, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and a racist two-tiered judicial system under which teen-aged blacks caught with crack rocks do hard time in state prisons while the bankers who launder the Mexican cocaine cartel’s blood-stained billions simply pay a fine. This double standard became clear for all to see in 2006 when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was caught with 2000 synthetic opiate pills, prescribed by four different doctors. Limbaugh did no prison time and was treated by many as a brave victim who overcame addiction.
Anti-drug crusaders once argued that marijuana was a gateway drug that led a user down a slippery slope that ended with heroin addiction. Today’s gateway drugs are some of the American Narcos best sellers: Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Concerta. Cleverly repackaged as “ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medication,” these highly addictive amphetamines are little more than legal speed. However, today’s speed freaks look nothing like the tweakers of yore, many are over-achieving adults and their children who believe that if a drug is prescribed by a doctor and comes from a pharmacy, it is safe.
Responsible for 61% of the 40,055 drug overdose deaths in 2014, the American Narcos most dangerous drugs are synthetic opiates like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Oxycodone–drugs that affect the brain like heroin. According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, four out of five people who started using heroin were abusing prescription opiates first. Last month the Obama administration asked for a billion more dollars to deal with this recent epidemic and acknowledged that prescription drug and heroin abuse have “taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans.”
The revolution has begun
While our hopelessly corrupt Food and Drug Administration will never rein in the American Narcos, local law enforcement and public health officials, the people tasked with cleaning up the drugs related messes, are beginning to turn on their corporate masters. After Gloucester Massachusetts was hit by a heroin epidemic that was driven by the high cost of the American Narcos’ opiates, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello announced that instead of arresting his town’s sons and daughters, any addict who walked into his police station and surrendered their drugs would not be charged.
Instead, Gloucester police offered to walk them “through the system toward detox and recovery.” Next, Campanello posted the names, email addresses and phone numbers of the five highest paid pharmaceutical CEOs whose salaries range from $14,000,000-$25,000,000 per year. “Just politely ask them what they are doing to address the opioid epidemic in the United States and if they realize that the latest data shows almost 80% of addicted persons start with a legally prescribed drug that they make.”
The United States has lost the War on Drugs and now must deal with its toxic progeny: a prison industrial complex, a two-tiered judicial system and an out of control pharmaceutical industry whose top CEOs earn15-25 million dollars per year. When will Americans stand up to these merchants of misery who regularly force people to choose between bankruptcy and death (as of July 2015, the average annual cost of the last ten cancer drugs approved by the FDA: $190, 000). History will judge the American War on Drugs harshly. If it was the war its proponents once bragged it was, it will be counted as one of the great pyrrhic victories in military history. One would think that the architects of these disastrous policies would be in political purgatory, but instead they are now attempting to dictate the terms of what should be an unconditional surrender if not a Carthaginian Peace. Since when do the vanquished dictate the terms of their surrender?
Professor Peter Maguire teaches history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is the author of Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers and the Untold History of the Marijuana Trade, Law and War: International Law and American History, and Facing Death in Cambodia.