By David Heitz
Although First Lady Melania Trump may have stolen the show, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic “a public health emergency” on Thursday.
But will it really be enough to turn the tide and stop overdose deaths?
Here’s an even bigger question.
If resources weren’t an issue, what’s the single biggest thing we could do, as a country, and as individuals, to deal deadly opioids a decisive blow and liberate its victims once and for all?
The answer probably has less to do with financial resources and more to do with intestinal fortitude.
For starters, everyone needs to speak up.
“My son became addicted to opioids when prescribed pain pills for a football injury.”
“My mom overdosed while taking my little sister to soccer practice last week.”
“My uncle went to prison for prescribing pain pills to people who didn’t need them.”
Just ask Anita Devlin, author of S.O.B.E.R., the no-words-minced story of a proud Greek family’s journey from addiction (and stigma) to recovery.
Why the delay, President Trump?
On Thursday, in an exclusive interview with SobrietyResources.org, she stated “people are ignorant” and the president is “in complete denial” over the opioid epidemic.
Devlin echoed the same sentiment as the tens of thousands of others who have lost loved ones to opioids: Why did it take 76 days for President Trump to follow through on a promise to declare an emergency?
In that amount of time, Devlin noted, more than 10,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdose. That’s using a widely held statistic of about 175 deaths per day, a statistic President Trump quoted Thursday.
“These are not addicts who are dying,” she said. “These are our sons and daughters who are dying.
“Addiction is an octopus. Anyone who is in denial and ignorant about the situation tearing through our country, killing our children, all they do, with their ignorance and denial, is feed and nurture this ugly octopus.
“Fearing what they don’t understand.
“Denial equals death, and it’s our children who are dying.”
The pillar of that denial for many of us is that we live in a nation where powerful corporations are able to break laws in ways that hurt us.
And just as the Department of Justice boldly moved at long last in 1999 to hold Big Tobacco accountable for the deaths of millions of Americans, as well as staggering healthcare costs, it probably will need to do so again with Big Pharma.
And in his speech on Thursday, President Trump hinted that may be coming.
The DOJ largely failed in its pursuit of the makers of the deadly tobacco plant, but individual states and private attorneys saw great success.
Lawyer who took on Big Tobacco now aiming legal artillery at Big Pharma
Clearly, there is such a thing as divine justice.
The name Mark Moore may sound familiar to you. He scored a credit in the movie “The Insider,” a movie about – you guessed it – whistleblowers in the tobacco insider.
Moore played himself in the movie. Moore is the lawyer, Mississippi’s attorney general at the time, who negotiated “the largest corporate legal settlement in U.S. history: a 50-state, $246 billion agreement that funds smoking cessation and prevention programs to this day,” to quote Bloomberg Businessweek. (1)
Moore is in the news again because now he’s taking on the opioid industry. It sure is bad luck for them that Moore found his nephew overdosed from opioids seven years ago, slouched down from overdose, wet vomit on his shirt.
But it was good luck for the nephew, who was saved by Moore, who is a father figure to the man.
In July, Moore met with a dozen top lawyers from around the country at the same Washington hotel where the quarter-of-a-trillion class-action lawsuit against Big Tobacco was born.
Reported Fortune late last month:
“Aided by the lawyers in the room (and others, including high-profile and high-profiting alumni of the tobacco wars, such as Joe Rice and Steve Berman), 10 states and dozens of cities and counties have sued companies including Purdue Pharma, Endo, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals—beginning in 2014 but mostly in the past few months.
(Forty state AGs have launched preliminary investigations as a way to gauge the viability of litigation.) The suits allege that the companies triggered the opioid epidemic by minimizing the addiction and overdose risk of painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Duragesic. Opioids don’t just cause problems when they’re misused, the suits argue: They do so when used as directed, too.” (2)
Many municipalities already have taken aim at Pharma and its tentacle industries.
In a tiny town in West Virginia in June, mega-healthcare giant Cardinal Health, fingered in the 60 Minutes probe as being one of the most audacious violators of law, flew in top brass to “educate the (Mingo) County Commission.”
Fortune quoted attorney Ken Feinberg, who believes Pharma doesn’t have too much to worry about. Check out this incredibly rich prose:
“Even if the litigation is successful, what will you do with this money?” Feinberg asked.
He says giving it to surviving victims may be problematic, given their addictions.
As for paying for the nation’s crisis, well, the bill is just too big. Says Feinberg:
“I don’t think there’s enough money to cover it.”
How America won the tobacco war
But going back to the tobacco war, it may have taken half a century but it is being won.
Why has the war against cigarettes been successful? Every ugly aspect of smoking has thoroughly been exploited, and the educational campaign was paid for by Big Tobacco.
Along those lines, Devlin has a great idea. She is on the Board of Directors of a Foundation that will educate young people and communities about opioid addiction through music. She said musical artists are lining up to participate in a campaign to host sober concerts all over America.
The Foundation is called, “Above the Noise.”
You can bet that anything Anita Devlin is involved with likely won’t be sterile in its messaging. Her book, S.O.B.E.R., stands for “Son of a Bitch, Everything is Real,” after all.
Meanwhile, even Melania Trump is saying it: Stop the stigma.
“I have learned so much from those brave enough to talk about this epidemic, and I know there are so many more stories to tell,” Melania Trump explained in a lengthy introduction of her husband Thursday, which included a passionate description of her advocacy work for opioid-addicted children.
In the end, Trump’s order was not the “national emergency” type of declaration used for hurricanes and earthquakes, which would have made a lot of money available very quickly. But it will make money more quickly available in some ways, including getting telemedicine treatment to rural areas where clinicians are scarce.
There never will be an “end” to opioid abuse even if overdoses were slashed by 90 percent. Once a genie is out of a bottle, the genie can fool the unsuspecting.
Is this really what an “emergency” designation is for, then? How can we recover from an ongoing crisis?
And is now really any time to be using natural disaster funds for things other than natural disasters?
The declaration may have been moot anyway in the long run. Facing stigma and addiction takes every person in every city in every town. Nobody can be forced to acknowledge this problem until they are dead or at a funeral.
But as the president’s approval ratings sink to a new low (38 percent) per Fox News on Thursday, he must face the people who elected him: The so-called ‘Opioid Belt,’ so desperate for hope that a populist message convinced them to vote for him. (3)
And he has let them down in a very big way, even if only in appearances.
- Deprez, E. et al. (2017, Sept. 28). The lawyer who beat Big Tobacco takes on the opioid industry. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2017, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-10-05/the-lawyer-who-beat-big-tobacco-takes-on-the-opioid-industry
- Fry, E. (20176, Sept. 27). Big Pharma is getting hit with a huge wave of opioid suits. Fortune. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2017/09/27/big-pharma-opioid-lawsuits/
- Fox News. (2017, Oct. 26). Storms erode Trump poll numbers. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2017, from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/10/25/fox-news-poll-storms-erode-trumps-ratings.html