Honestly I was in the middle of writing this story when Sen. Joe Manchin called for a new “war on drugs.” I had tentatively titled it “America’s Tragedy.” But Manchin titled it for me.
This isn’t about politics. I fully agree with the Democrat from West Virginia, because he’s absolutely right. The magnitude of the drug problem we have in America is typically buried in small town police reports and glorified in television shows like “Breaking Bad.” Opioid and heroin addiction in America is a national tragedy, and an outrage at how our government has failed to protect the people who elected it.
Manchin told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “The Lead” that we’ve got some places with good success, “and most of them are run by reformed addicts.”
We’re talking about prescription drug abuse here. This is a problem we can absolutely tackle at the state and federal level. This isn’t Mexican cartels bringing in cargo containers of heroin or cocaine. It’s drug companies shipping 780 million pills (opioids) to West Virginia, a state with 1.8 million residents. That’s 433 pain pills per person (man, woman and child), according to a story published Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“These numbers will shake even the most cynical observer,” said former Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, a retired pharmacist who finished his term earlier this month. “Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect. There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness.”
I read the story and reacted with utter contempt for the drug companies, and the authorities who should have known what was going on and stopped it. Drug wholesalers fought in court to keep the newspaper (and the public) from knowing their sales numbers. I hope prosecutors find something to charge them with.
To me, it’s tantamount to conspiracy to commit murder. The drug companies knew they were killing people. They had to know.
The state’s southern counties have been ravaged by a disproportionate number of pain pills and fatal drug overdoses, records show.
The region includes the top four counties — Wyoming, McDowell, Boone and Mingo — for fatal overdoses caused by pain pills in the U.S., according to CDC data analyzed by the Gazette-Mail.
Another two Southern West Virginia counties — Mercer and Raleigh — rank in the top 10. And Logan, Lincoln, Fayette and Monroe fall among the top 20 counties for fatal overdoses involving prescription opioids.
And all the while, the company executives lined their pockets.
As the fatalities mounted — hydrocodone and oxycodone overdose deaths increased 67 percent in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012 — the drug shippers’ CEOs collected salaries and bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars. Their companies made billions. McKesson has grown into the fifth-largest corporation in America. The drug distributor’s CEO was the nation’s highest-paid executive in 2012, according to Forbes.
Donald Trump was elected president by the people of West Virginia. Not that their votes put him in office, but the suffering, hurting, voiceless folks in rust belt states from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin did the job. Now that their votes were heard, will Trump (to borrow from Bill Clinton) feel their pain?
State officials in West Virginia trusted wholesale drug distributors to look after their duty to the public interest. They didn’t do their jobs because they outsourced it to the companies who make money selling the product. It didn’t work.
The rule about suspicious orders doesn’t dictate what the pharmacy board is supposed to do with the reports. So the board shelved them — every one.
The pharmacy board didn’t investigate. It never contacted the wholesalers or pharmacies. It didn’t pass the reports along to law enforcement authorities.
So pharmacies could order scores of powerful painkillers at will with no scrutiny — at least from state regulators.
The opioid epidemic isn’t just affecting West Virginia. Drug overdoses have now overtaken motor vehicle deaths as causes of fatalities.
In 1999, there were more than twice as many motor vehicle deaths as fatal drug overdoses. By 2014, those numbers had flipped, with almost 40 percent more deaths from overdoses than car crashes. In all, 29,230 people died in car accidents in 2014, while 47,055 died from a drug overdose.
It’s not cocaine anymore, it’s prescription opioids, which lead to heroin addiction in many cases.
By 2014, opioid deaths were up 369 percent, while deaths from heroin jumped 439 percent, according to CDC data. That same year, cocaine deaths dropped below those caused by benzodiazepines, a class of drugs often used in sleeping pills or to combat anxiety.
It’s not a white or black problem, or a racial problem (despite what cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs Maine Governor Paul LePage says).
Every racial demographic has seen more overdoses since 1999, with heroin spiking especially after 2010. Whites and Native Americans have experienced the largest rise in death rates, particularly when it comes to opioid-related fatalities. By 2014, whites and Native Americans were dying at double or triple the rates of African-Americans and Latinos, according to the CDC.
These 12 states have more opioid prescriptions than residents, according to a 2014 CDC study.
Alabama: 142.9 (per 100 people)
West Virginia: 137.6
South Carolina: 101.8
What else do these states have in common? They all voted for Trump. Every. Single. One. Trump owes them. Drug addiction is devastating the youth, the economy, and the future of these states, and eventually America as a whole. If Trump wants to be the “law and order” president, and live up to his rhetoric “I AM YOUR VOICE,” he needs to start here.
Sen. Manchin doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility in the issue, since his own daughter is the CEO of drug company Mylan, which manufactures opioids, and has bilked the public by selling $6 EpiPens for $608. It’s hard for him to muster outrage, since he’s part of the problem.
But Trump has shown that he can take on buried issues and make them front-and-center. If he truly wants to Make America Great Again™, he must face the issue of drug addition, drug company greed, and flaccid state enforcement of rules protecting the public.
Perhaps between meetings with Mexican billionaires and defending the Electoral College, Trump can take a few minutes to tweet that yes, America needs a new war on drugs. Then when he’s in office, he can actually do something about it. If we’re going to have a neo-Fascist president who strong-arms CEOs to save 800 jobs, let’s see what he can do with Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., and Masters Pharmaceuticals.