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News » Private Eye

Pill Popping



I just had another nice surgery, this time on my spine, so I'm not really up on current events. Sometimes I read or see something and think I'm the first person ever to have seen it, including seeing it before it was written or created. Other times I have to read something over and over to get even the most basic salient points—like wondering recently, "Gary Herbert. Gary Herbert. Hmmm. Why does that name ring a bell?" Or, "I'm kinda hungry. Let's go down to the Auerbach's cafeteria for a hot cinnamon roll with butter." Such are the effects when the mind is clouded with a cocktail of anesthesia, oxycodone and muscle relaxers. It takes weeks to get that crap out of your system.

I love how you are given a choice of opioids after surgery these days—hydrocodone or oxycodone in my case. Basically, at my first-grade level understanding of medical basics, the choice is whether you want to fry your liver or your kidneys along with your brain. On the bright side, there are more potent and addictive painkillers out there, like Fentanyl, but I've never bothered taking painkillers a day or two after surgery anyway. A few years ago, my cupboards had a mess of orange vials filled with all manners of leftover painkillers from every sort of orthopedic surgery. I flushed them all away and didn't think twice about it until I found that what I did wasn't so friendly to the fish down in the Jordan River. I'm a catch and release guy, so that action was demoralizing.

Stop reading now if you're thinking I have a valuable stash of pills stashed away at my home. I don't. All I have now are blood pressure meds, baby aspirin, fish oil and a couple jars of vitamins D and B plus zinc—my anti-COVID regimen for the past year. So, don't bother with a grab-and-go robbery here because besides those pills, you're only going to make away with some dried mint and Greek oregano. If you insist, at least ring the door, and I'll let you in. Nothing worse than engaging in the crime of breaking and entering for little more than a vial of Flintstone multivitamins, you know.

On the other hand, I understand the motivation. While I've never experienced it, not even remotely, addiction to painkillers and opioids is a tremendous societal problem. How we've gotten to the point of creating pathways to addiction is beyond me. Even in my lucid moments, I've never understood that. It seems to have gotten better, as I think I was only prescribed maybe a week or two worth of pills after this surgery. In years past, however, I got the full collective. How else to gather hundreds of leftover pills? But I did have them. After I flushed them away, someone said—I think in jest—something like, "Hey if that happens again, I'll sell them for you." At that moment, I learned I'd literally flushed a few thousand dollars down the toilet.

I got them basically for free via a health insurance co-pay. Thus, given that every hospital, bone clinic and surgery center I've ever been to is full of pre- and post-surgery patients, there is no short supply of such drugs out on the streets. There are lots of us, persons prescribed painkillers and sent on our merry way. Our drugs ostensibly originated via fully legal and hopeful means. After all, no one likes pain of any kind and most are less willing to bear pain that we will admit. Given the sheer numbers of persons who come into the sphere of painkillers, that we don't have an even more serious problem is amazing to me. For every surgery, there are likely some factor more so of those who broke or tore something, plus others who are sick as hell, that add to the total number. All of them are taking pain meds for some period of time.

Our United States of America have long been known as the place where we can solve anything. But we can't solve our drug addictions. During the decades we fought the idiotic War on Drugs, we mostly filled our prisons with persons who used or sold street drugs. How many Americans remain behind bars for selling or possessing marijuana, a "drug" that is now, not ironically, considered a medicine in most wizened circles? And legal to boot? My wager is that for every person incarcerated for marijuana possession while our eye was off the ball, another person became addicted to more serious and deadly drugs via our own medical systems.

We are killing our own. The War on Drugs was a nice way of saying we were at war with the most vulnerable among us, at war with our poorest communities, our most colored. We were at war with them at the very time they weren't dying of "marijuana overdoses." But we will lose over 80,000 Americans to opioid overdoses in this calendar year—yet, there is no war. There is none because there remains a real problem in how America does business—we celebrate companies that succeed financially, and few succeed as well as Big Pharma does.

Pharma owns our governments and medical systems. Hell would have frozen if Pablo Escobar were allowed to walk the halls of Congress as do lobbyists for Big Pharma, hand in hand our senators and congressmen. When cartel leaders act similarly in Mexico or Colombia, we cry corruption. When it occurs here, we shrug and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. That's laughable. I'd laugh but it hurts to laugh. Pass me a pill.

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Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the spelling for Colombia, the South American republic mentioned in the final paragraph, was incorrect. Please pardon our error.