1. In 2017, health care providers across the US wrote more than 191 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication—a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people.
2. Despite guidelines to limit opioids as a first approach to managing most chronic pain, a study found primary care clinicians write 45% of all opioid prescriptions in the United States.
3. More than 11 million people misused prescription opioids in 2017.
4. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
5. In 2017, prescription opioids were involved in more than 35% of all opioid overdose deaths: nearly 17,000.
6. From 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people in the United States died from overdoses related to prescription opioids.
7. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
My son and his fiancé asked us over for a tasty mid-morning outdoor breakfast –– her parents were visiting on their way to Texas –– so we enjoyed smoked bacon, mixed fresh fruit, and recently-gathered eggs next to a large lavender bush. A monster.
Which reminded me of an ancient National Geographic special I’d seen thirty-some years ago, featuring an African pygmy village built around a giant marijuana bush.
The men either stood before the patch red-eyed swaying back and forth between bong hits, intermittently tending to plants, or sat in the community shed eating grasshoppers –– they popped the heads off first –– between bong hits.
All the physical labor and child care fell upon the women (imagine that) while the village population dwindled in the same downward trajectory as sperm health.
The military drove the Pygmies out of the Congo’s national parks in 1991 –– indigenous lands since time immemorial –– so now they’re clinging to the fringe of those parks, hiding small pot fields here and there, selling weed illegally, and barely eking out a living while constantly dodging “authorities”.
This week’s local paper reported that although opioid prescriptions are down thirty-percent, the death rate holds firm. Folks simply switch over to street heroin or fentanyl and die just the same.
The global village is now built around the Big Pharma Bush
Although recently discovered to be a significant part of human culture since 500 BC, weed carries health risks that cannot be ignored as injecting smoke into your lungs is always risky.
Positive effects are legion, but the only canary-in-the-coal-mine on current public display is Willie Nelson, who recently said that weed saved his life and kept him vital, avoiding the alcohol/tobacco-reaper that gathered so many of his Outlaw buddies.
However, if marijuana separates the user from family duties, job responsibilities, friends, or personal growth, then those negatives must be confronted.
Which is true of all drugs and obsessions.
Big Pharma, however, is about to gobble up the fledgling legal marijuana industry –– the same way corporations have gobbled up agriculture –– and dominate a legal market valued at nearly five billion.
Similarities between the pygmy pot-bush and Big Pharma’s Mega Bush abound. Blazed Americans –– minds awhirl on opioid-alcohol mixes –– stare at television screens (ironically showing other people exercising for outrageous amounts of money ) while blowing themselves up on refined sugars, alcohol, and processed food.
Simultaneously, their befuddled brains absorb self-prescribed “news” squirting from CNN or FOX, twisted fabrications of the truth sharing the same genetic code: keep the gullible gulping.
And like weed-soaked pygmy sperm, American spunk is losing its pop as birth rates plummet to forty-year lows.
At the same time white male suicide is off the chart: 69.6% of the total. Reports link this atrocity to increasing numbers of women graduating from college, superseding their male counterparts in the workplace, and subsequently earning higher wages and filling essential jobs while leading corporations in higher numbers.
As a male teacher comfortable with strong women in leadership roles – my favorite principal, and her evil opposite – were both female, teaching me that people are people. You take them one at a time.
Big Pharma owns innumerable super branches reaching out to dangle dozens of pills –– including sleep-aids –– in front of the eyes of the overworked and weary. A popular small business owner in our region has trouble shutting of his mind at night, so his doctor prescribed Ambien.
A month or so later his wife found him in the garage sitting in the driver’s seat of his running truck –– at 2:30 AM with the garage door closed –– loading a pistol with live ammo.
“I was asleep the whole time” he told me.
Like any fast-growing yard-dominating plant, the real work goes on underground, evil spreading in all directions unseen by the human eye, trillion dollar roots which won’t perish with legalization.
Chopping down the bush is a pipe (stuffed-with-weed) dream. Ain’t going to happen.
A capitalistic nation is never going to abandon tons of tantalizing cash held high in the hands of its citizens, even addict-citizens seeking rehabilitation. When this much money is involved, death rates will increase into a dark future.
Packing up the truck and moving sober Clampets away from The Big Pharma Bush may appear to be prima-facie practical, but in reality, it’s a world-wide-phenomenon, pills waiting for all Clampets in both Beverly and Beijing — the only escape being internal, self-generated discipline.
We see people all around us avoiding unnecessary medicines, pills, tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals thrust at them every commercial break, people who exercise regularly, eat right, stay hydrated, and live vigorously through their 80’s and early 90’s. As I typed the first draft of this piece a 101-year-old runner made national news.
However, a sad majority live in a global village built around the Big Pharma Bush. Seven-in-ten Americans swallow over-prescribed prescription drugs on a daily basis. That soma-drenched brave new world predicted by Aldous Huxley arrived as expected with only a few self-discipled-sweat-soaked naturals remaining unscathed.
And waiting for the majority of macho American males to summon enough inner strength to reach as high as an …
Logically, one should abstain from indulging in news the first thing in the morning.
Soaking up death, stabbings, arson, child neglect, fracking, meth-lab explosions, sex slavery, environmental disasters, racist cops, neglected infrastructure, enduring slave wages, endless CEO profit raking, idiotic politicians blubbering pie-in-the-sky promises with no intention of following through … mixing all those nauseous facts with prodigious amounts of caffeine … well.
That can’t be good for the psyche.
But the routine never varies.
Out of bed, slurp coffee, devour news, cautiously turn to the obituaries, brace for the blow.
A recent law-school grad with a long history of academic success, a loving family, and a promising future. Twenty-seven-years-old. Here’s a brief paraphrase from the obit:
God protected him many times when his parents were unable. His earthly life ended unexpectedly but his everlasting life has begun.
We’ve watched the font-size of our local print paper decrescendo for thirty years to the point where it’s barely readable.
After all, they have our subscription money, and we’ve read the news on our iPhones and internet feeds, old print news takes up valuable paper and ink, so we’ll minimalize it, shrink it with a pissant font, and look for other revenue streams.
To balance the loss of readership and revenue to online outlets, our local newspaper doubled the size of its obituary text, colorized large head shots of the recently-deceased, and unknowing created a daily parade of local folk now leaving eternal digitized images.
If you plan ahead, love to scribble, and can afford to throw even more cash at a local newspaper publisher, up goes your twin column half page manifesto, a.k.a. bird-cage lining.
Obituaries sell local papers. Furthermore, the family of the deceased wanting to run an obituary is billed up to $600— approximately five times an annual subscription price — to purchase the publication of their loved one’s death notice.
And newsprint corporations will continue to milk grieving readers until obituaries naturally migrate whole herd onto the “everlasting” cloud — which is subject to evaporation any second of any day.
So we slurp coffee, wipe crust from our eyes, and suffer the dark parade of endless young-people obituaries — two or three “mysterious passings” per week — digitized head shots projecting health, vitality, and promise … while the shocking dissconnect of truth and image confounds the thoughtful reader.
Cancer victims either declare outright the nature of their earthly battle, or direct donations toward eradicating the scourge, which indicates the cause of their passing.
But prescription or illegal opioid drug deaths — cloaked in self-painted societal shame — lie hidden between the lines of the family-or-funeral-home-produced death notice.
We’re talking perhaps 2-3 opioid-connected deaths per-week in a region supporting a newspaper circulation of 43,000.
National statistics suggest nearly fifty-two Americans perish every day from prescription opioid overdoses — eighty per day if you figure in heroin— so two-or-three deaths a week in such a tiny demographic seems outrageous.
Heroin deaths are linked to the pill trade because recently skyrocketing street-prices of prescription opioids allow cheap heroin to flourish across the land, hitting rural states and Appalachia especially hard due to decades of high unemployment and a culture slow to raise education standards, though the epidemic appears to cross all lines, racial, religious, geographic, and socio-economic.
Many of our locals succumb to fentanyl, fifty times more potent than typical street heroin. They go to a party, try a little, forget how much they’ve taken, dab a little more, and before the dawn appears …. the sun sets on their precious lives.
Opioid availability first soared (in recent history) after 26 states and D.C. legalized weed in some form and jerked market out from under Mexico, who made up the loss by dumping cheap heroin and opioid-laden chemicals on an already addicted North America poised to dull the pain with ever increasing amounts of opioids, a class of drugs that has debilitated us since the Civil War.
One family, six months ago, actually came clean in the second paragraph of their boy’s obituary, saying that the deceased fell victim to prescription drugs after losing his father two years prior. The son couldn’t bear the loss.
That’s the only self-admission I’d seen in thirty years of obituary reading, though I must confess that for twenty-eight years I only skimmed obits for astounding stories of WWII vets who’d conquered the world and returned home to build new lives.
The truth remains: we all wear a mask.
This concept came home to me thirty years ago when I taught Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veilto a class of honors English students in a suburban Chicago high school.
A small village church must deal with their minister, Mr. Hooper, who takes a notion to don a black veil covering his upper face — much like a widow would wear at an old-fashioned funeral. Everything goes south when he chooses to leave it on.
He becomes a better minister after this decision, ironically, and though his fiancé breaks off their engagement, she watches his entire life and comes to be with him on his death bed, where he admits all of us wear a mask. Upon his death, Mr. Hooper is buried with the veil in place.
Let’s look into the mirror.
When we’re at Sunday school, we wear the Sunday school face. Job interviews conjure a competent strong obedient flexible yes-sir face. Thursday night dollar-draft-beer Raccoon Club meetings at the local sports bar requires a special façade.
And since random acts of unprovoked violence occur in this crazy world — say the unexpected death of a child through accident or SIDs — well, that means perhaps even God wears a mask.
No one is immune from the natural instinct to project a happy face while masking reality through omission.
Facebook is simply a party-line on steroids, a party line with enough bandwidth so a billion users may share photos, text, videos, music, and fake news.
For whatever psychological reason, the vast majority of us prefer to keep the laundry in the closet and to project the shiniest image of ourselves and our loved ones, clean photo-shopped textually-tweaked images of success and prosperity.
Let’s face it, we’re all the billboard producers of our archived lives, turned digital and pulsing across the electronic social universe — Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, et al. — social media entwined through massive servers grown muscular through carrying an ever-increasing crescendo of porn to the sex-starved masses. Thirst begets thirst.
Irony. Cleanliness afforded by dirt.
As a result, we can now Photoshop and video-edit our pimples and purple lives while projecting sanitized, filtered, smiling, I’m so happy, self-assured-selfies, eternal masks frozen in digital clouds of memories, gigabytes juggled in “perpetuity” for dollars a month.
Even when people freak out, breech social barriers, and reveal their dark sides on social media, it’s often ignored until the post mortems roll in.
When an individual’s mask slips down, the tribe doesn’t WANT to look, or doesn’t want to acknowledge some of us actually DIDlook and failed to respond.
Which brings us back to the Double-O-Demons.
Jellybeaners is a topical novel about opiates and obituaries, and the fact that shame drives many of our decisions.
And until we supplant shame with grace and help people recover from addiction through counseling, financial incentives, and work opportunities, well.