Afghanistan - The COVID-19 pandemic has been a death knell to so many industries in Afghanistan. Charities and aid agencies have even warned that the economic dislocation could spark widespread famine. But one sector is still booming: the illicit opium trade. Last year saw Afghan opium poppy cultivation grow by over a third while counter-narcotics operations dropped off a cliff. The country is said to be the source of over 90% of all the world’s illicit opium, from which heroin and other opioids are made. More land is under cultivation for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca production across all of Latin America, with the creation of the drug said to directly employ around half a million people.
In our new era of nearly unparalleled upheaval, as a pandemic ravages the bodies of some and the minds of nearly everyone, as the associated economic damage disposes of the livelihoods of many, and as even the promise of democracy fades, the people whose lives were already on a razor’s edge -- who were vulnerable and isolated before the advent of Covid-19 -- are in far greater danger than ever before. Against this backdrop, many of us are scanning the news for any sign of hope, any small flicker of light whose gleam could indicate that everything, somehow, is going to be okay.
Demonstrators inside New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum staged a “die in” and dropped thousands of paper slips designed to look like of OxyContin prescriptions Saturday night to protest the facility’s ties to the billionaire Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma and has been accused of deliberately fueling the opioid epidemic for profit. “Education facilities at the Guggenheim, including a theater and an exhibition gallery, are housed inside the 8,200-square-foot Sackler Center for Arts Education, identified by the museum as ‘a gift of the Mortimer D. Sackler Family,'” the New York Times reported.
The drumbeat for ketamine as a way to halt the rising suicide rate is upon us, as the New York Times has now joined the chorus. This is encouraging news unless of course you recall a couple of things: how recent enthusiasm from the medical-industrial complex for increased opioid use for pain resulted in the current opioid epidemic; and how the NYT has joined other notorious choruses such as Ahmed Chalabi’s one that sang about WMDs in Iraq. On November 30, 2018, the NYT published a lengthy op-ed “Can We Stop Suicides?” in which Moises Velasquez-Manoff offers this solution: “an old anesthetic called ketamine that, at low doses, can halt suicidal thoughts almost immediately.”
Philadelphia, PA - As a key federal official vowed to move against Philadelphia's plans to open a safe injection site for drug users, several legal experts countered Thursday that the site could be seen not as breaking the law, but as a lifesaving measure amid an opioid crisis that has resisted traditional measures. "It's not clear to me that when the city decides legitimately to fight the opioid crisis through medical means, that that violates federal law in any way," said David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney. "The city is not doing this for criminal purposes. They're doing this in good faith...
Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to Portland, Maine to meet with members of local law enforcement and promote “Operation Synthetic Opioid." During the meeting, he called for Maine Sheriffs to “prosecute every readily provable case” involving the distribution of opioids, regardless of drug quantity. Essentially, Sessions wants to solve the opioid crisis by locking more people up. Outside the conference, on Middle Street in Portland, about 150 people protested Sessions' appearance. One of those people was 39-year-old Jessica Stewart, a member of Moral Movement Maine, and Catholic Workers. We spoke with Stewart shortly after her release from Cumberland County Jail about the impact of civil disobedience.
San Diego, CA: The enactment of medical cannabis access laws is associated with significant reductions in prescription opioid use among Medicaid enrollees, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Addiction. Investigators with the University of California at San Diego assessed the relationship between medical cannabis legalization and opioid use among Medicaid enrollees over a period of 21 years (1993 to 2014). Authors reported, "For Schedule III opioid prescriptions, medical cannabis legalization was associated with a 29.6 percent reduction in number of prescriptions, 29.9 percent reduction in dosage, and 28.8 percent reduction in related Medicaid spending." This correlation remained after authors controlled for potential confounders, such as the establishment of prescription drug monitoring programs and variations in patients' income.
Connecticut - Art dealer Fernando Luis Alvarez installed a gigantic spoon-shaped sculpture by the artist Domenic Esposito in front of the headquarters of Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Connecticut, on Friday morning. Police soon arrived on the scene, told Alvarez that the sculpture needed to be removed, and issued him a ticket for “obstructing free passage.” When he refused to move the 700-pound work himself, he was arrested for “interfering with the police,” handcuffed, and briefly detained before going free. The work was then removed using a front loader.
At a recent rally in New Hampshire, Donald Trump called for the death penalty for drug traffickers as part of a plan to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States. At a Pennsylvania rally a few weeks earlier, he called for the same. Now his administration is taking steps toward making this proposal a reality. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on March 21 asking prosecutors to pursue capital punishment for drug traffickers — a power he has thanks to legislation passed under President Bill Clinton. Time and again, these punitive policies have proven ineffective at curbing drug deaths. That’s partly because amping up the risk factor for traffickers makes the trade all that more lucrative, encouraging more trafficking, not less. But it’s also because these policies don’t address the true criminals of the opioid crisis: Big Pharma.
If the devil wears Prada, what do America’s most destructive drug pushers wear? They wear smiles. The drug pushers we have in mind here have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, enough fatalities to decrease overall U.S. life expectancy at birth for the last two years running. Yet no police SWAT teams have pounded down any doors hunting these drug pushers down. These particular drug pushers have devastated millions of families across the United States. Yet some of America’s most honorable institutions, outfits ranging from Yale University to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have spent decades lauding their philanthropic generosity and benevolence. We’re obviously not talking El Chapo or any of his drug-running buddies here. We’re talking about the mega-billionaire family behind one of America’s most profitable drug-industry empires, the privately held Purdue Pharma.
The Standing Rock Sioux people of the United States have filed a federal lawsuit against the opioid industry, alleging they created a public health crisis in their reservation by concealing the addiction risks of drugs through misleading advertising and deceptive trade practices. The Indigenous nation, located in North and South Dakota, joins other Indigenous peoples of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas that have filed similar lawsuits accusing the opioid industry of violating federal racketeering laws, deceptive trade practices and fraudulent and negligent conduct.
By Staff of People's World - WASHINGTON (PAI) — In what is a big win for shareholder activism, and in particular for Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, stockholders in the nation’s largest opioid distributor, McKesson, voted down the firm’s compensation policies and ordered the board to split the positions of chairman and CEO. The twin moves punished current boss John Hammergren for his failure to halt the company’s role in the opioid scourge. “For the first time ever, shareholders voted to hold a company accountable for its role in the opioid epidemic,” said Hall, a West Virginian whose state has been hit notably hard by the plague. “The country’s largest drug distributor cannot get away with ballooning executive pay and failures in” its president’s “oversight as Americans die every day from opioid addiction.” Hall also said the vote “should serve as a warning” to the nation’s other big drug distributors that their shareholders, too, want to hold corporate conduct accountable. McKesson is the top drug distributor in the nation, but paid particular attention to flooding West Virginia with the pharmaceuticals. With McKesson leading the way, the three largest drug distributors shipped enough hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia from 2007-12 to provide 235 pills to every West Virginian. And even after Hammergren took over with promises of oversight, a corporate whitewash ensued, state investigators later found.
By Lynn Parramore for Institute for New Economic Thinking - Over a 40-year career, Philadelphia attorney Daniel Berger has obtained millions in settlements for investors and consumers hurt by a rogues’ gallery of corporate wrongdoers, from Exxon to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. But when it comes to what America’s prescription drug makers have done to drive one of the ghastliest addiction crises in the country’s history, he confesses amazement. “I used to think that there was nothing more reprehensible than what the tobacco industry did in suppressing what it knew about the adverse effects of an addictive and dangerous product,” says Berger. “But I was wrong. The drug makers are worse than Big Tobacco.” The U.S. prescription drug industry has opened a new frontier in public havoc, manipulating markets and deceptively marketing opioid drugs that are known to addict and even kill. It’s a national emergency that claims 90 lives per day. Berger lays much of the blame at the feet of companies that have played every dirty trick imaginable to convince doctors to overprescribe medication that can transform fresh-faced teens and mild-mannered adults into zombified junkies. So how have they gotten away with it?
By Katie Thomas for The New York Times and Charles Ornstein for ProPublica - At a time when the United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive. Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. That may be changing, however. The New York state attorney general’s office sent letters last week to the three largest pharmacy benefit managers — CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx — asking how they were addressing the crisis. ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people in the second quarter of this year. Only one-third of the people covered, for example, had any access to Butrans, a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid, buprenorphine.
By Chris Hedges for Truth Dig - The opioid crisis, the frequent mass shootings, the rising rates of suicide, especially among middle-aged white males, the morbid obesity, the obsession with gambling, the investment of our emotional and intellectual life in tawdry spectacles and the allure of magical thinking, from the absurd promises of the Christian right to the belief that reality is never an impediment to our desires, are the pathologies of a diseased culture. They have risen from a decayed world where opportunity, which confers status, self-esteem and dignity, has dried up for most Americans. They are expressions of acute desperation and morbidity. A loss of income causes more than financial distress. It severs, as the sociologist Émile Durkheim pointed out, the vital social bonds that give us meaning. A decline in status and power, an inability to advance, a lack of education and health care and a loss of hope are crippling forms of humiliation. This humiliation fuels loneliness, frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness. In short, when you are marginalized and rejected by society, life often has little meaning. “When life is not worth living, everything becomes a pretext for ridding ourselves of it … ,” Durkheim wrote. “There is a collective mood, as there is an individual mood, that inclines nations to sadness. … For individuals are too closely involved in the life of society for it to be sick without their being affected. Its suffering inevitably becomes theirs.”