Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

Congress’s Drug Problem

The opioid epidemic has recently been thrown full force onto nearly every legislator’s agenda. It is prudent to know, however, that they may sometimes have the wrong incentive.

Our Elected Officials, Opioids, and Pharmaceuticals: When political lobbying and pro-business policies come back to bite.

No event in the last half-century has caused more devastation than the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, more than 183,000 died from 1999 to 2015 from opioid overdoses in the U.S. What’s more, those deaths have quadrupled per year since 1999.

Opioids affect the brain in the same way as heroin and morphine, creating a temporary feeling of euphoria to which the body quickly develops an addiction coupled with a high tolerance to lower doses. To continue the feeling, users increase the number of pills consumed to continue their “high,” often leading to overdose. Opioid addiction is like a whirlpool: once you get sucked in, it is incredibly difficult to get out. With the number of people getting “sucked in” skyrocketing, there is growing concern that this epidemic has no end in sight.

To add to the ever-present danger of opiate addictiveness to patients in need, it is now more difficult to stop pharmaceutical companies from selling to doctors and pharmacists who flood the black market with these prescription drugs. This is because, in April of 2016, Congress passed a law to reduce restrictions against pharmaceutical companies that has essentially made the Drug Enforcement Agency useless against the illegal trade of prescription drugs. Twenty-three lawmakers sponsored or co-sponsored the bill, including Trump’s nominee to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Tom Marino. However, he has since withdrawn his sponsorship following an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that uncovered how he helped reduce restrictions against the pharmaceutical industry. According to the investigation, political action committees contributed over $1.5 million to those 23 co-sponsors of the bill. While significant, however, the number pales in comparison to the $102 million the drug industry spent in total lobbying in Congress between 2014 and 2016.

This law effectively cuts off any power the DEA has to control and restrict the sale of prescription drugs, allowing doctors and salespeople to deliver the drugs through black markets with hardly any interference. This is a shady and corrupt attempt by the drug industry to increase their profits at the expense of people who have become addicted to prescription drugs. Moreover, it is prototypical politics: A company offers you a hefty sum of money for your reelection campaign in exchange for loosening restrictions against them. Marino, for example, received $100,000 from lobbyists, and Senator Orrin Hatch received $170,000. And those, mind you, are only the ones made public in this investigation. It is shameful that politicians, businessmen, and lobbyists are willing to overlook the threat that this poses to thousands of Americans in lieu of the funds to run a few more reelection ads. If ever there were an example of the negative impact of money in politics, this would be it. This nefariousness is the exact reason that lobbyists are perceived so negatively in our political scene.

This interference by the drug industry is also the reason that marijuana has been so difficult to legalize at the federal level. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legalized, it does not currently have a legitimate opportunity to be taken to a vote, partially because of the incredible meddling of pharmaceutical companies in our political system. The strong rhetoric and action in the 1980s during the war on drugs was acceptable then because it didn’t affect the profits of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, or Merck and Co., but now action is less strong, presumably because it would affect pharmaceutical business.

In order to have a healthy political system, there must be something done to stop the impact of big-business lobbying. The aforementioned investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” has helped shed a light on the evil of the current system, and it will help begin the path to a better way of passing legislation. Americans must take a stand against the evils, both foreign and abroad, to help protect the Union and our fellow Americans. As a party that stands for principles of limited government and a free market, the GOP should leave this governmental collusion to the Democrats. We should be working to better our system by promoting fair treatment of customers and not this crony form of a monopoly. Companies dictating how markets and laws are shaped is not the way capitalism is meant to function. That power belongs to the people. It is now time for us to respond by bringing attention to the thousands of people affected by these drugs and the companies that are trying to bully their way into power at the expense of the American citizen.

This piece is adapted from one of the same name, featured in the Winter 2017 edition of The Arch Conservative in print. Find copies at our Tate and Main Library distribution boxes.

—Carson Brown is a freshman studying history. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.

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