Cycles of Abuse: America’s Concurrent Drug Epidemic

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PC: WP Paarz / flickr

Quashon Avent
Staff Writer 

Colorado is just one of many states currently struggling to curtail the opioid crisis. In their efforts to stop one drug epidemic, another one stands ready to take its place. Meth is back and is in full effect.

Admissions to treatment facilities for meth usage has doubled and officials believe that opioids and cocaine are being used simultaneously with meth. Charges of meth possession tripled from the years of 2013 to 2017. A lot of Coloradans don’t even know about the meth crisis. Local news has focused almost exclusively on marijuana and opioid usage, with little to no mention of the meth problem.

Colorado isn’t the only state struggling with a simultaneous increase in meth and opioid abuse. Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin have the same problem. Wisconsin has even seen a 250 percent increase in meth usage over the past 7 years. Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel said, “we are entering another full-blown epidemic with meth.”

These coinciding drug epidemics have many people wondering about the future of this country. People want to know why one drug epidemic leads to another, and whether there’s even a solution to America’s drug problem. Hopefully, I can explain many of the decisions that led to these drug epidemics and some possible solutions.

America’s problems with opioid abuse largely began in the 1970’s with the creation of Vicodin. Doctors rarely prescribed Vicodin because it was well known that it had highly addictive qualities. This changed completely in the 1990’s, with the new “pain is a vital sign” initiative. It pushed doctors to monitor pain with other vital signs.

It doesn’t sound too bad until you look at the people who financed it. There were 28 corporations who backed this initiative, one of them being Purdue Pharma. Doesn’t it seem awfully suspicious that a company that produces painkillers wants pain to be diagnosed more often? Don’t worry, it gets worse.

In 1996, Purdue rolled out their newest drug- Oxycontin. They began one of the most effective marketing campaigns in pharmaceutical history. It was so effective that over the next four years 44 million people were prescribed the drug. One of their marketing techniques was the “I got my life back” video.

In this video, they showed an actual doctor saying that opioids “do not have serious medical side effects” and “should be used more than they are.” Not only did they pay a doctor to blatantly lie to sell a highly addictive substance, they also handed out free oxycontin prescriptions as part of the promotion. In 2001, a nonprofit called the Joint Commission teamed up with Purdue to create the 0-10 pain scale. They used this scale to judge hospitals based on patient pain satisfaction. Doctors who undertreated pain were reprimanded.

In 2009, the Joint Commission had the bright idea to allow a patient access to painkillers without being assessed for pain. This opened up the floodgates and helped America become the number one consumer of pain pills. 99 percent of the world’s Hydrocodone and 81 percent of the world’s Oxycodone. The epidemic became even worse with the introduction of cheap Mexican heroin and Chinese-manufactured fentanyl. This ultimately culminated in the overdose deaths of over 64,000 people and millions of active opioid abusers.

Just like opioids, methamphetamine was created for medicinal purposes. However, it was consistently used by the U.S. during World War ll to help soldiers stay alert. Meth didn’t obtain mainstream popularity until the ‘70s when groups such as the Hells Angels began to manufacture it, and the epidemic grew even stronger during the ‘80s.

During the ‘90s the problem worsened, as meth production became more efficient from the use of “superlabs.” By 1989, 80 percent of U.S. consumed meth was produced in California’s Central Valley. In an attempt to crack down on meth production, the DEA attempted to pass legislation to increase regulation on ephedrine- the main ingredient in meth and an over-the-counter nasal medicine.

Although pharmaceutical companies lobbied against it, the law was still passed.

This did nothing, as drug cartels began using pseudoephedrine instead. It wasn’t until 2006 that Congress passed a similar regulation for pseudoephedrine. While this decreased the number of American meth labs, production increased in Mexico. Drug cartels eventually cornered the meth market and began producing some of the highest quality meth of all time. Some of the meth that hits the street is almost 100 percent pure.

There are possible solutions to combat these drug epidemics. We can start off by increasing regulation on pharmaceutical companies. It makes no sense that a corporation like Purdue Pharma can have that much control over the medical field. They should be held legally liable for the lies they told in their advertisements. Also, they should fund efforts to combat opioid abuse seeing as they helped create the problem in the first place.

I also believe that the 0-10 pain scale should be replaced and that there needs more screening to make sure patients are actually in pain. Although many do not like Obamacare, I think it needs to stay around to help with the epidemic. The Affordable Care Act actually gave many Americans a chance to have addiction treatment coverage. Without the Affordable Care Act over 3 million Americans would be without addiction treatment coverage, which could make the opioid epidemic even worse.

With the meth epidemic, I think a similar approach can work. First off, we need to outlaw Desoxyn, the prescription form of meth. Desoxyn has many dangerous side effects, like sudden death. We should also align ourselves with the Mexican government and find some way to destroy the supply pipeline for meth production. Finally, we just need to prosecute pharmaceutical companies that lie or mislead their customers. What’s the difference between them and the cartel when they sell the same drug? Not much, besides the fact that they have friends in high places.

Categories: Opinions, Uncategorized

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