NO MERCY: Everything I think I know, I learned while walking the dog. Translated into plain English, I listen to podcasts. That makes me just like every other member of Santa Barbara’s warm-bag brigade. It makes my head explode.
A couple of cases. About a month ago, I listened to an interview with Washington Post reporter Scott Higham, who just wrote a book likening the American drug industry to the Medellín drug cartel. Where I lost it was when he explained how the drug companies fueling America’s opioid epidemic passed a law that effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of its single most effective enforcement tool.
At that time, in 2016, the death toll from opioids was 42,000, nothing compared to the mushroom cloud of death that would subsequently engulf us. For context, we waged war against Iraq for its nonexistent role in 9/11, in which 3,000 people were killed. I never supported the death penalty — not an effective deterrent, among other reasons — but if a few drug company executives were to meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein, justice would be served.
What we did instead was wrong.
Leading the DEA’s enforcement efforts at the time was a Dirty Harry hard-charger type named Joe Rannazzisi — from Detroit by way of Long Island — who learned he could inflict serious pain on big companies who turned strategically blind eyes to unusually large shipments of opioids to towns so small they had only one stoplight. Rannazzisi availed himself to DEA regulations — enacted in 1970 during the Nixon administration — that empowered him to immediately “suspend” distribution operations for companies whose practices he deemed “an imminent threat” to the targeted communities.
Naturally, the companies objected. In response, they would spend $102 million on a lobbying campaign to pass a bill they gave the euphoniously deceptive name “The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Law Enforcement Act.” This masterpiece of legislative gobbledygook — I tried to read it and my head exploded — had one purpose: to redefine the meaning of the phrase “imminent threat” to mean “immediate” threat. An imminent storm is on the way; an immediate storm is already here. To make the finding that anything any drug company was doing — or in this case, not doing — posed an “immediate” threat is next to impossible.
The bill passed the House and Senate in April 2016 on a unanimous voice vote. Barack Obama signed it into law. In subsequent reporting, Obama has declined to speak about it, as have any of the legislative principals. One would like to believe it just slipped by. But a more cogent case can be made for believing in the Tooth Fairy.
The bill had been introduced twice before. And both times it failed. The first time, it died in committee because of withering opposition from the DEA itself. But industry stooges in Congress would launch an investigation into Rannazzisi for allegedly attempting to intimidate congressional staffers. He yelled at them in a meeting, screaming that the changes they wanted would protect criminals. He would be exonerated. But the damage would be done. The second time, it failed because of vocal — you might say strident — opposition by Obama’s own Attorney General, Eric Holder. But by 2016, Holder had been replaced and Rannazzisi neutered.
Not one dissenting vote.
$102 million in lobbying costs.
Immediate, not imminent.
And people on “our” side of the aisle are so mystified as to why “they” so hate the deep state.
Because “they” ought to.
As for the “science” in which people on “our” side so righteously believe — when I walk the dog in the morning, I pass at least 18 “I Believe in Science” or “Science Is Real” yard signs — it was “science” that assured us people couldn’t get addicted to pain medications if they were taking the drugs for real pain.
Guess what: It didn’t work out that way.
This is on my mind these days because in the past week, I wrote stories about two people locked up in county jail dying of overdoses from drugs they somehow secreted into some crevice or crevasse that got past the drug-sniffing dogs and drug-sniffing scanners. In the popular imagination, no doubt, they’re just junkies who were going to die sooner or later anyway. To their parents and siblings, these deaths are hand-grenade explosions that will reverberate for the rest of their lives.
As for the actual scientific basis of this phony claim — pushed so relentlessly by drug-company salespeople — it was rooted in a one-paragraph letter to the editor submitted to one of our more respected medical journals. Naturally, no studies were cited. None existed. In fact, the letter-writer repudiated how the drug companies took his speculations out of context.
In Santa Barbara County between 2017 and 2021, we had 502 overdose deaths. Of those, 293 involved opioids. Fentanyl, of course, is the latest variant. Between 2017 and 2020, we had another 2,552 non-fatal “saved” overdoses.
Right now, I have a bucketful of teeth screaming at me. My dentist very kindly wrote me a prescription for a mild controlled substance. The screaming stopped. I also got a warm glow radiating from the inside out. I was no longer agitated. About anything. And I wanted to listen to jazz. I figured I will do better with the screaming.
Nearly 200 years ago, England invaded the sovereign nation of China — kicking its ass — to force the Chinese government to allow British merchants to sell opium grown in India to the Chinese people. At the time, England had incurred a massive trade imbalance with China. England bought vast quantities of tea from China, but China wanted nothing England had in return. The solution? Force the Chinese to buy opium.
Ah, the White Man’s Burden.
I heard about that on a podcast, too.
Maybe it’s time I stopped walking the dog.