When anyone talks about a drug problem in America, the first thing that comes to mind is heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana. We might mentally picture people walking up to cars and passing them a small package in exchange for a wad of cash. When the term War On Drugs surfaces, that’s what people think we’re fighting. But illegal drugs are really just a distraction.
Certainly illegal drug sales reach into the billions of dollars every year and, without that, there wouldn’t be a series like Narcos on Netflix. Yet America’s real drug problem doesn’t involve smugglers or cartels. These days the most frequently abused and most deadly drugs come from a drug cartel made up of gangs with names like Pfizer, Abbott, Lilly, J&J and AstraZeneca. Their dealer network wears white coats with M.D. stenciled on them.
Scope Of The Problem
By some estimates seventy percent of painkillers prescribed in America are taken by someone other than the person to whom they were prescribed. Some fifty-two million people over the age of 12 have taken prescription drugs for a non-medical reason. It’s not like prescription drugs aren’t conveniently available. With just five percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes seventy-five percent of the world’s prescription drugs. Perhaps the most startling statistic is that in 2010 enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to dose every single American every four hours for a month. America is the world’s largest prescription drug addict.
The problem manifests in a variety of ways, with one of the more telling being an eighty-one percent increase in pharmacy robberies in just five years.
Cocaine is no longer America’s drug of choice, the second most abused drugs after pot are vicodin, oxycontin and valium edging out cocaine for the number two spot.
The Drug Gangs Own Congress
Big pharma spent $51 million in the 2012 races and $32 million in 2014. Overall Republicans get more money from big pharmaceuticals but in the 2016 presidential race America’s pill machines are betting on Hillary Clinton, with the Democratic frontrunner getting the lion’s share of big money from big pharma.
Political spending really pays off for pharma. Favorable patent laws let drug makers keep patents on drugs for up to twenty years, keeping lower cost generics out of the market. In countries like India, patent protections are looser, making sure that life saving drugs are available at reasonable costs. But the biggest lobbying win by big pharma was preventing Medicare from negotiating on drug prices, costing taxpayers billions every year. Life saving cancer drugs can cost as much as 600 percent more in the U.S. than other countries.
Doing More Research?
Drug companies claim the massive profits provide more money for research on drugs and diseases but that claim is not supported by the data. Research into industry claims of spending a billion dollars on every new drug just doesn’t stand up. It turns out the bulk of new drug research is done at subsidized university research labs and the National Institutes of Health. There’s also evidence that drug companies are counting advertising and marketing costs when counting “research” dollars. It turns out that taxpayers are already paying for new drug research and big pharma is using that research as an excuse to gouge you on drug prices.
If it were just a matter of getting ripped off, like Rick Scott’s abuse of Medicare billing, that would be one thing. But when it comes to prescription drug abuse, people are dying. According to the CDC, more than half of opioid drug deaths were from prescription opioids.
As the body count and tide of misery rises in America, don’t get sidetracked by the War On Drugs rhetoric. The real killers are using your doctor as a dealer.