Is Big Pharma to blame for the opiate epidemic?

This week the state of Ohio filed lawsuits against the five largest manufacturers of pain medications, blaming them for creating the opiate epidemic. The press is already comparing the approach and liability of Big Pharma to Big Tobacco. That’s reasonable. When the makers of substances market themselves through deception, they ought to be held accountable.

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to consider that the same industry that marketed: drugs like Oxycontin under the guise of physicians treating pain responsibly now markets Suboxone, Methadone, Vivitrol and others as the go-to “evidenced based” successful strategies for overcoming addiction. Nor should we be anything less than outraged that big pharma has driven the price of the lifesaving substance Narcan through the roof.

The same industry that created lethal problems provides solutions…at a high price.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Big Pharma made huge and self-serving contributions to our current mess but it’s far from being the sole source. Addiction has been with us for thousands of years and this is NOT our first opiate epidemic.

We’re a litigious society and we want someone to blame. This mindset will do very little to reduce the prevalence of addiction. If suing big pharma results in more detox, rehab, and treatment for my brothers and sisters living in addiction then hells, yes. I’m all for it.

But it’s not even in the same ballpark as enough.

There’s very little outside of grassroots and 12 step programs that seems to be working at all. All major indicators show the destruction of addiction increasing. What contributes to this? Who’s causing it?

I started thinking about who else we might want to point a finger at. Because my brain associates everything with music I heard Don Henley singing:

“Johnny can’t read
He never learned nothin’ that he’ll ever need
Well, is it teacher’s fault? Oh no!
Is it mommy’s fault? Oh no!
Is it society’s fault? Oh no!
Well is it Johnny’s fault? Oh, no!”

Henley was making the point that everyone is to blame and pointing the finger benefits no one. Holding them accountable helps, but it’s not enough. It’s time to get out of the problem and into the solution.

Old adages ring true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The degree to which we are investing in prevention and education in this country is pitiful. We live in a society that can’t get on the same page about addressing our most destructive social problems.

Even more on point: “”It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass. It is not the role of government to raise healthy children. It is a responsibility we all share. I hate that, “It takes a village” is little more than a cliché. It’s a self-evident truth.

The best way to combat addiction is to stop it before it starts. Anyone wanna talk about how we’re going to do that as a community? I’m in.

And what are we to do with those who are in the throes of addiction?

I’ll quote one of the leaders of our local addiction recovery community, Bob Fickett. When Bob was asked publicly what people in addiction need most, his brilliant, one word response cut to the chase:

“Empathy.”

Addiction is a disease. When we start collectively responding to it as such, we will become more human. Anyone wanna do a fund raiser for addiction recovery? That’s what my heroes at the Bangor Area Recovery Network do on a regular basis.

Finally, seeking ways to support those in addiction recovery is a responsibility we all share. As long as we favor incarceration for drug possession we dehumanize and throw money in the wrong direction. As long as we create boundaries to fulfillment of basic life needs for those in addiction recovery we contribute to relapse and recidivism.

It’s time for change. It’s time to get involved, as churches, as civic organizations, as neighborhoods. It’s time to educate and promote the wellbeing of children in every context. It’s time to stop watching the walls crumble and help to shore them up.

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Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.