Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Prescription Drugs and the New Drug Wars

Prescription Drugs are the latest thing to abuse.
  And the drug companies don't seem to mind!

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the US, and it is not hard to see why.  Such drugs are easily obtainable from a friendly doctor (and there is no shortage of friendly doctors, just ask Michael Jackson's family) and from there, they can enter the illegal marketplace very easily.

As I recounted in an earlier posting, Mark went to a "pain specialist" for a compressed disc in his back.  By the way, if you do not have a ruptured or compressed disc in your back or neck, it only means you haven't lived long enough.  Back and neck problems seem to be very common, what I call the 50-something growing pains.  These sort of things manifest themselves in the late 40's or early 50's, and if you are not careful, you'll end up like Rush Limbaugh or any number of folks who take prescription pain killers and end up addicted to them.

Anyway, we went to this doctor, and before the examining room door is closed, he has out his prescription pad, writing a 'script for pain killers.  "What's your pleasure?  Oxycontin?  Oxycodine?  Percoset?"

We were, to say the least, a little appalled.  And while I was in the waiting room, I noticed that a lot of the patients were quite young and chipper to be on major pain meds.  But that is the nature of the beast.  If you complain about pain, no one can contradict your complaint.  So a Doctor can legitimately write prescriptions for major narcotic pain relievers, without fear of prosecution.

The doctor gets paid by the insurance company.  He also gets to go on a paid-for junket, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry.  And the patient goes and gets the pain meds from the pharmacy, which in turn bills the insurance company.  And our insurance costs skyrocket.

Now some folks, addicted to these meds, take them and become addicts.  And this is, of course, a dangerous and unhealthy thing.  And oftentimes, it ends up killing them, like that Hockey Dude recently.

Others use this as a business.   The street price for oxycontin can range from $10 to $50 a pill, depending on the size of the pill.  That is a pretty lucrative mark-up for the seller, particularly if they paid a $10 co-pay to get the pills, through their insurance plan.  A bottle of 30 pills could be worth $1500, easily.  A nice supplement to your income!  That is, if you are trailer trash and think $1500 is "a lot of money."

Of course, selling such drugs is a major felony, and some young folks are shocked to discover that they are facing pretty stiff mandatory minimum sentences, for selling just a few pills.  It is a really bad idea, so just don't do it.

Now granted, there are people who need severe pain medications like this.  A friend of mine, for example, dying of cancer, used Oxycontin.  Well, she tried to, anyway, until her son figured out what the pills were worth and stole them from her deathbed leaving his Mother to die in agonizing pain.  Nice kid. If I see him crossing the street, you can bet I'll be stepping on the gas.  Probably not worth denting a fender over, though.  Worthless sack of excrement!

But that is the nature of the beast - these pills are so addictive and so valuable that people will do odious things to get them - or to sell them.  And a lot of people who are using them are not dying of cancer, but are in mild pain.  And, unfortunately, Doctors - or at least certain doctors - are willing to write prescriptions for them at the drop of a hat.

And what are these pills?  Opiates, basically.   Yea, the same drug war that we have been fighting since the 1800's, when legions of Americans became addicted to "laudnum" and went to the "sanitarium" for the cure.   Today it is called "re-hab" but the actors and the actions are the same.   Not much has changed in over 100 years, has it?

And sales of the drugs - legitimately or illegitimately - are sales.  So the pharmaceutical companies that sell these drugs aren't too concerned about them appearing on the "secondary market" - that is, until maybe some lawyer sues them.  But on what grounds?  They would point to some half-hearted public service announcements they've made to "just say no" to prescription drug use, and also to the security techniques used in the industry to make sure the drugs are not stolen off trucks or from pharmacies.

So where does that leave us?  Well, demand for drugs would not exist if people didn't take them.  And while we might want to pass harsher laws and try for harder enforcement (both techniques which have limited effects and sometimes bad side-effects) the real answer is on the demand side.

Prescription pain medication is some pretty serious shit, and yet I know of people who take it very lightly, looking at drug use as a recreational activity.  They figure that since they can handle a cocktail now and then, and maybe a little weed, why not try some of this Oxycontin stuff they've heard about?  Or maybe some Methamphetamine?  And a little coke?

The problem is, not all drugs are equivalent in terms of strength, their effects on your body, and their propensity to addition.  And perhaps the illegality of marijuana has lead some folks to think, "Hey, they told me Marijuana was bad for me, but I can handle it!  Maybe they are lying about other drugs as well!"

Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating marijuana use - or any drug for that matter.   From a financial standpoint, marijuana is a dead-end drug.  Every person I have ever met who used the drug, ended up sliding down the economic scale, as I have written about before.   And yes, often they ended up "moving up" to harder drugs, with tragic consequences.

So in a way, I am curious to see how legalization or quasi-legalization works out in Colorado and Washington State.    Will it end up being a good thing, or just causing more trouble down the road?  And if the latter, well, what was legalized can be unlegalized in a hurry.

But the thing with pot is, at least when you smoke it, you know you are doing a drug.   With pills, people kid themselves that it is "medicine" as it was a "prescription" from a Doctor, and thus cannot be harmful - when actually the opposite is the case.   Prescriptions are available only from a doctor precisely because they can be very harmful to you, if taken inappropriately.

The problem, politically, is that the pharmaceutical manufacturers are a "legitimate" business, even if a huge percentage of their product ends up being used illegitimately.   As a legitimate business, they can lobby congress and make huge political donations to political campaigns.  The marijuana industry, in contrast, can barely get a few people to sign a petition for NORML.

So I doubt a lot is going to change very soon, with regard to prescription drug abuse.   So what does that leave?   Like so much else in our modern world, it leaves you, as an individual, to look out for yourself.  You have to make the choice not to go down this road.  End of story.