posted by Patrick H. Moore
Heroin used to be king — the horror drug, subject of literary masterworks, the bringer of pain and the killer of hopes and dreams. Then something funny happened on the way to the 1980’s — heroin went out of fashion. The HIV virus and the chronic Hepatitis C epidemic helped to sound its death knell. Heroin addicts all over America (and no doubt other parts of the world) came to the conclusion that “slamming dope” just wasn’t worth the risk. Instead, cocaine was anointed king with its dark, evil relative, crack cocaine, snapping at its heels. The Columbian and Mexican drug cartels discovered that there were huge profits to be made in the international cocaine trade. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Miami and L.A. defense lawyers were charging huge retainers to defend their cocaine clients. These were heady times (no pun intended) in the criminal defense world.
Street drugs go in and out of fashion. By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the scariest drug of them all — methamphetamine was busy ravaging rural America. Working men and women all over this great land discovered that crystal meth made it a whole lot easier to punch a time clock and get through the work day — at first. And then by the time you realized it was wreaking your health, rotting your teeth and basically destroying your mind, it was too late. You were hooked. And, of course, it didn’t take long for the Mexican cartels to realize there was big money to be made in the meth trade. They set up meth super labs just across the border, hired the local policia to keep an eye on things, and started cooking. (The acclaimed television series, “Breaking Bad”, does a decent job of portraying the wobbly world of crystal meth.)
But in keeping with the rapid pace of modern life, the meth epidemic also peaked and eventually began to subside. This was hastened by a determined fight on the part of law enforcement and legislation which took serious steps to eliminate the easy availability of pseudoephedrine (ordinary cold medicine), the indispensable building block of methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, at some point Big Pharma (and no doubt the spirit of heroin) stepped in to fill the void with Oxycontin, which is basically a “clean” variety of pharmaceutical heroin. Incredibly, the drug companies “pushed” it as a way to treat chronic to severe pain in a safe, less addictive manner than what was already available because Oxycontin is formulated with a built-in time release function which means that unlike Vicodin, which wears off quickly, Oxycontin will keep you floating and keep the pain away for up to 12 hours. All you need to do is take one little 80 mg. tablet or capsule and you’re set until it’s time to take the next little 80 mg. tablet or capsule. Yes, it was a nasty trick to play on rural America and many a reformed methamphetamine addict soon found himself or herself hooked on Oxycontin.
In Appalachia they call it Hillbilly Heroin and it is wreaking death and destruction in rural West Virginia and other parts of the country at an increasingly alarming rate, a spike that mirrors the sharp increase in the abuse of prescription pain pills and tranquilizers throughout much of America over the past 10 years. As this catastrophic rise in drug addiction overwhelms already hard-pressed communities, little is being done to protect these populations from this scourge, in part because major pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories are making huge profits on these drugs. Ellen Nieves at AlterNet brings us this fascinating and sobering story:
The Prescription Pill Epidemic Has Spiraled Out of Control — Sheriff’s Death Is an Alarm Bell
The death of a West. Va. sheriff should persuade the federal government to put the necessary resources into fighting this epidemic. April 7, 2013
In the small coal towns of southern West Virginia, the poorest patch of Appalachia, the police blotters these days read like big-city tabloid fodder. Last month, a 23-year-old man received up to 25 years in prison for wheeling a quadriplegic to a house against his will, carrying him inside, beating him and stealing his prescription painkillers. That same week, a 25-year-old man was charged with child neglect resulting in death for taking three prescription painkillers and passing out, suffocating his one-month-old son in his arms. The child’s 21-year-old mother was charged as an accomplice.
A couple of weeks ago, the manager of a pain clinic in the Mingo County seat of Williamson (nickname “Pilliamson”) pleaded guilty to “reluctantly selling drug prescriptions illegally”–abetting doctors in writing scripts for thousands of prescription pill addicts. “Patients” would line up at the clinic before it opened, like bargain shoppers at a Black Friday Christmas sale. And now, as the nation knows, the Mingo County sheriff is dead, shot at point-blank range as he sat in his car eating a sandwich.
Eugene Crum, a former small-town police chief and magistrate who’d been in office just three months, was gunned down at lunchtime last Wednesday in downtown Williamson, a city of 3,160 residents. Crum, who had pledged to crack down on Mingo County’s rampant prescription drug abuse, also happened to be staking out a parking lot, as he did most days at noon. The lot, attached to a pharmacy that was busted as a pill mill over two years ago, remains a notorious drug market, where pill pushers and addicts buy, sell and swap opioids.
The sales of prescription painkillers in the U.S. in 2011 totaled $9 billion. Felix Gillette of BloombergBusinessWeek brings us the following description of a couple of brothers operating a “pain pill mill” in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
Christopher George and his twin brother Jeffrey opened their first pain clinic in a strip mall on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale in 2008. There were a couple of rooms and a handful of doctors. No appointment was necessary.
It was a good year to be in the business of servicing people in pain. The economy was tanking. The real estate market was in free fall. People were losing their homes, businesses, savings, and jobs, and looking for an escape from their discomfort. The George brothers ran an ecumenical clinic. Their doctors didn’t discriminate among the causes of human suffering—be it back pain, fibromyalgia, toothaches, cancer, depression, divorce, boredom, mental illness, unemployment, hip replacement, or withdrawal symptoms.
Just about everyone who came through their doors walked away with the same remedy: a prescription for a month-long supply of powerful opioids. More often than not, the pills were small and blue—generic, immediate-release oxycodone-hydrochloride, which everyone called “roxies.” The customers often left satisfied and frequently returned.
It doesn’t take high pressure sales techniques to sell highly addictive narcotics to an eager public, particularly when they come “gift-wrapped” from your local pharmacy. This is a fact that both Big Pharma and independent “pill mill operators” like the George brothers have taken to heart. Although the indiscriminate proliferation of powerful painkillers may alleviate certain painful chronic medical conditions, in many cases, it triggers an addiction so severe that getting off the drug rivals the agonies of classic heroin withdrawals as depicted in books and movies.
In conclusion, one might ask: “Whatever happened to good old moonshine?” But then one is reminded: “Delirium tremens is no walk in the park.”
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