Are You Listening?

by Amelia Anderson

Yes, to a great documentary on the psychedelic guitar music and song of Jimmy Hendrix, a genius ahead of his time who sang from his heart. He wasn’t discovered like Elvis by Ed Sullivan for his Sunday night talent show ‘cause the Presley gyrations could be more easily controlled by tight waist-up framing. Jimmy had a special flair, too colorful for family TV. He exploded onto the musical scene like wildfire spreading by word of mouth. Jimmy came down to our neck of the woods from Washington, attending UCLA before he concert toured America from 1967 through mid-September of 1970. Tired after an engagement in England, he took a few sleeping pills from a friend. The dosage is stronger there. Jimmy never woke up.

That was the start of it all – folks not waking up. 47 years later, people take prescription pills like candy…called opioids. Ninety one people a day overdosed last year in America. This year? Depends on which radio station you’re listening to. Listen quickly to 89.9 before Trump defunds National Public Radio. Promoted to alleviate pain, drug manufacturers falsely labeled opioid pill bottles ‘non-addictive’ and touted this to doctors, too, who now find themselves complicit in the writing of prescriptions to alleviate pain; while patients find themselves worse off addicted to drugs.

So, when the prescription runs out, the patients run-out to replenish their stock from the black market on the street proliferating in virtually every community across America. So where’s our protection? Well, the DEA, Drug Enforcement Administration, used to. Prior to 2013. It was all explained last week on a joint Washington Post/60 Minute Investigation.

Basically, the fellows at the DEA are honest Joes, committed to protecting the health of the public year in and year out. But, not withstanding their expertise, the opioid death toll rose like global warming up to 12,000 deaths in 2010. And distributors were flooding the streets with highly addictive Opiods. One West Virginia town with a population of 372, was sent 9 million hydrocodone pills over two years time. Working in teams, the DEA agents decided to go after the distributors and take them to court to shut them down.

Judges saw the enormity of the threat to the health and well being of our populace, and cooperated in blocking suspicious bulk shipments of painkillers to pharmacies and pain clinics. The DEA court tactics made headway against the rising tide. Until 2013, when a slow-down suddenly occurred. Their supervisor seemingly set roadblocks in their path. He needed more information, research, reports. Nothing got to court anymore.

And then a strange thing happened. Agent Marino, who was a little slick, jumped the fence to work the other side. And a couple others followed. He became a lobbiest for the drug company that made hydrocodone. And then he became a Republican Representative to Congress from Pennsylvania. Along the way, he and his pals combined knowledge of how the DEA functioned and together they wrote and sponsored an industry friendly law that undercut the DEA’s efforts to watchdog shipments from drug distributors and hobbled their efforts to sue drug companies. Marino and other sponsors argued the law helped ensure patients received medication they needed. But DEA officials complained street access caused greater loss of life.

This is a clear example of money’s corrosive effect on politics. Does Congress even bother to read bills before voting? This was probably pushed through during elections. Anyway, the drug industry spent $102 million lobbying Congress between 2014 and 2016, including nearly $100,000 given to Marino. That may be legal…or bribery at best. And to add insult to injury, President Trump nominated Representative Marino for drug czar this week. Congress finally caught up on their reading and put up such a hue and cry that Marino promptly withdrew his nomination. Subsequently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they would move to repeal the Marino-backed law.

So I say, are you listening? We are in the midst of an opioid genocide… waiting for President Trump to declare it a national emergency, which he promised to do last August. Drug companies are wrecking countless lives and ravaging communities to make money. And it is a judgement on this country that we all but ignore it. Read, watch, listen. Back to the music of Jimmy Hendrix. Our country currently sounds like his rendition of our National Anthem at Woodstock back in ’68. His prophetic riff of “Oh, say can you see,” went up and down the keyboard in a high wailing screech sounding like nails scoring across a blackboard while guitar strings popped with a high pitched twang.

We are the people of the United States and we run this country. Not Trump. This story is an example of keeping the ship afloat. Again, I invite you to attend the meeting of our Neighborhood Council the second Wednesday of the month 6:30 pm at City Hall. You’re welcome to bring ideas of help and sign up for my Homeless Committee which will address concerns for our economically challenged. There are Christmas gifts to collect for children and homeless folks to count. Won’t you join us?

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