Opiate addiction is neither a disease nor a permanent condition. Methadone and suboxone maintenance programs are beneficial and highly profitable to a small minority of people; to those being “maintained” it becomes nothing more than a modern version of chemical slavery.
Some statistics to keep in mind while reading this blog: Someone dies every 15 minutes in the U.S. from a prescription drug overdose in all categories of drugs; 36% of those deaths involve some form of prescription opiate drug; although methadone accounts for less than 5% of opiate prescriptions it is implicated in one third of the opiate related deaths; and in over 30% of all opiate drug overdose deaths the victim has benzodiazepines in their system.
There is a disturbing theme and common thread interwoven within the fabric of several recent news stories on opiate addiction. These stories should be of particular interest to all those people learning about and fighting various forms of psychiatric oppression. They reaffirm my strong belief that a profit-based system stands as an historical impediment to the advance of science, medicine, and the care of those people experiencing extreme forms of psychological distress.
The Boston Globe recently published articles detailing how the new opioid “pain reliever” and highly addictive drug, Zohydro, was temporarily removed from the market in Massachusetts until a more tamper-resistant version can be developed. This effort was initiated by Governor Deval Patrick who has been under much public pressure due to this drug’s dangerous potential for abuse. Zohydro apparently has far more addictive qualities than the much sought-after opiate, Oxycontin. Both of these drugs had become quite popular among opiate addicts due to their ability to be ground down, and either snorted or injected, for a very intense opiate high, often touted as better than heroin. Oxycontin, while still very dangerous, has since had its composition changed to discourage such abuse.
There is an epidemic of opiate drug overdose deaths in this country, and all the New England states (even the rural and very picturesque state of Vermont) have suffered a rapid increase in such overdoses. Political leaders and various public health officials are being pressured to take action by a growing public outrage, especially by the grieving parents of those young people who are, all too often, the victims in these tragic losses.
Another somewhat different but related story in the Globe details how the venture capital company, Bain Capital, has taken over the largest chain of for-profit methadone ‘maintenance’ programs in the state. They acquired this company for $58 million through CRC Health, the largest provider of substance abuse and behavioral health services in the country. Apparently substance abuse treatment is a $7.7 billion dollar industry, growing at a rate of two percent a year.
Keep in mind that Bain Capital was once run by Mitt Romney. His political aspirations suffered from major criticism leveled at him during his run for the governorship of Massachusetts and the American presidency, due to Bain’s track record of “buying” (corporate takeovers) and streamlining corporations for maximum profitability and later resale. This practice often results in significant layoffs and job losses, not something that looks too good for a politician running for political office, especially when the U.S. is locked down in a major economic recession.
Another tantalizing nugget to this particular story is that General Barry R. McCaffrey, the former Drug Czar appointed during the Clinton regime and a much-touted leader in the failed “war on drugs”, has been on the board of directors for CRC Health since before the Bain takeover. General McCaffrey has sometimes been promoted in the media as a former “war hero” who has now transitioned himself into the role of some type of “savior” for the downtrodden drug addicts of the world. Many people might argue otherwise.
The so-called “war on drugs” has actually been a war on the masses by criminalizing the victims of addiction in this country (especially the high percentage of minorities jailed for related drug offenses) and using it as a cover for CIA and other covert activities in Third World countries where drug exportation to the U.S. often occurs. It also needs to be pointed out that so-called “war heroes” in the victorious countries might actually be more accurately viewed as war criminals in those defeated countries where bombs devastated the landscaped and destroyed hundreds of thousands of human lives.
General McCaffrey (according to New Yorker magazine investigative reporter Seymour Hersh) is now infamous for orchestrating a 1991 massacre of several hundred Iraqi soldiers who were involved in a planned retreat on the since-named “Highway of Death,” after a cease fire agreement was established in southern Iraq. Looking at all the concocted justifications and the overall toll taken in human lives and misery in this unjust war, you make the historical decision as to how General McCaffrey should be viewed. I know where I stand.
So now, with Bain Capital having been involved in significant maneuvers to buy up methadone maintenance programs in the U.S, we have clear evidence (if we didn’t already know) that the so-called “treatment” of opiate addiction with drugs like methadone and suboxone, can be a very profitable business venture. These two drugs, as some type of therapeutic option, may have a more minor role to play in helping people slowly detox from heroin, but long-term maintenance programs (often recommended for a person’s entire life) are self-defeating and, overall, exploitative.
The legal distribution of methadone and suboxone has actually become an important form of social control over a potentially volatile section of the population. A daily opiate habit is a very expensive reality for any addict; criminal activity often becomes a necessity to survive. If you can’t jail all the opiate addicts, then chaining them to “maintenance” programs is the next best thing. There is a definite reason that methadone is frequently referred to in the streets as the “orange handcuffs” – based on the color of its liquid administration and its association to the experience of being confined in a jail.
The system we live under has completely given up on the concept and reality of recovery from opiate addiction. Opiate addicts have now become marginalized and segregated in our society within highly controlled “maintenance” programs. The billions of dollars being spent on this form of social control is siphoning valuable resources away from other more innovative and alternative forms of treating opiate addiction. Attend any NA meeting in this country, or search the internet, and you will find multitudes of people who survived opiate addiction by either avoiding or escaping from methadone maintenance programs.
Economics 101 tells us that all capital by its very nature and internal laws of growth, seeks the highest rate of profit by expanding markets and eating up its competition. Methadone maintenance programs have apparently now become a major growth industry worthy of significant investment. What conclusions should we draw from all this?
In our culture of high stress with quick passage into addiction, many people seek temporary relief through the use of drugs that depress the central nervous system. High numbers of returning war veterans exhibiting symptoms that get labeled as PTSD have either succumbed to, or have been victimized by various forms of illegal or legal forms of drug addiction (don’t forget all the benzos, mood stabilizers, and so-called antipsychotics). In addition, unemployment and other related forms of poverty have also led many people on to the tragic path of addiction. So, looking at the actions of Bain Capital, can we now say that there has ever been a more obvious example of a major conflict of interests when it comes to both creating the conditions for addiction and then making large profits from “treating” it?
Well yes, there is a more obvious example. Let’s go back to the case of the highly addictive opiate drug, Zohydro. This drug’s producer, Zogenix, is owned by the parent company Alkermes Inc. This corporation is most known for its discovery and sales of Vivitrol (naltrexone). This drug has been touted as one of the few drugs that have any success in treating opiate and alcohol addiction – by allegedly blocking some of the intended positive effects and reducing drug cravings. As with most pharmaceutical drug promotion these benefits are greatly hyped, but nevertheless, there is some limited scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Alkermes Inc. now has the perfect capitalist dream, a market and a product (the drug Zohydro) that creates a so-called unending need for another market and product (the drug, naltrexone). Now if only the CEOs of Bain Capital can catch on to this and take things to the next level. (I’m sure they’ve thought about it.) They could buy out the drug maker and medical innovator, Alkermes Inc, and then they would have almost cornered the entire market on this particular brand of human misery. BTW, this is fundamentally no different than those pharmaceutical corporations that sell so-called antipsychotic drugs that are known to cause diabetes and other forms of metabolic disease, and at the same time – quite conveniently – sell drugs for the treatment of diabetes.
Let’s not forget that within all these economic machinations related to opiate drugs, that ‘Biological Psychiatry’ and its Bible the DSM-5 also label addiction as a disease. It is very common for drugs such as methadone and suboxone to be openly promoted as the medical standard of treatment and equivalent of “insulin for a diabetic.” This type of advertising and promotion is done despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence of addiction being an actual disease. Check my past blog posting on this topic, “Addiction, Biological Psychiatry, and the Disease Model.”
As I have stated before, the symptoms of addiction and those that get labeled as “mental Illness” are nothing more than coping mechanisms (in response to a difficult world) that sometimes get stuck in the “on” position. These various coping mechanisms are often very successful in the short term, but can become self-defeating and socially unacceptable if sustained in the long term. Calling them diseases and treating them with dangerous mind-altering substances is NOT the solution.
The facts now show that the manufacturing of certain opioid drugs by the pharmaceutical corporations has created the very conditions for enough misery to warrant the production, sales, and distribution of their alleged “antidotes.” This rather convenient situation for modern capitalism has also led to the related proliferation of pain clinics being opened throughout the country. While chronic pain issues are a very real problem for thousands of people, the role of so-called pain clinics as a viable solution has now become controversial and open to critical evaluation. Long-term use of opioid drugs not only causes the well-known factor of increased tolerance to these drugs but, also, a lesser-known but troubling problem called, “opioid-induced hyperalgesia.”
Opioid-induced hyperalgesia syndrome is related to increased drug tolerance leading to higher and higher dosages that over time lower a person’s threshold for pain tolerance. This drug phenomena, however, also has very distinct and separate features from increased tolerance. Apparently some people can also develop a type of receptor “supersensitivity” with the increased use of pain drugs that will actually intensify their experience of pain. Yes, these drugs can and will make their experience of pain much worse over time; the so-called solution now becomes part of the problem. This sounds eerily similar to other familiar stories at MIA, especially when combined with the growing scientific evidence regarding the dangers of long-term use of benzos for anxiety (GABA receptor sensitivity), so-called antipsychotics for psychosis (D2 receptor supersensitivity), and SSRIs for depression (tardive dysphoria).
Recent news seems to reveal more and more examples of how the current system we live under both manufactures and maintains oppression with new and innovative forms of social control. Understanding the inner workings of the capitalist system is critical to being a fully informed activist against Biological Psychiatry, as well as preparing one’s self to seek out future alternatives to the current madness.
We now have well-established and accepted forms of legalized drugging with psychiatric drugs; this remains hugely profitable for Big Pharma. If you somehow find yourself stuck in the underground world of illegal opiate drugs they also have highly profitable “maintenance” solutions that will keep you firmly in their chemical chains. If you get arrested, don’t fret too much; the jails in this country have now begun to recognize the value of psychotropic drugs as another way to maintain order in their prisons. And now we have the news about the good pastor Rick Warren jumping on the Biological Psychiatry bandwagon and offering up his churches as a vehicle to promote the NAMI agenda; an agenda that fully supports mass drugging and forced treatment. The hangman and the preacher (with rare exceptions) are working hand in hand to preserve the status quo, as has always been the case historically.
While Biological Psychiatry remains strong, a system such as this constantly creates its own gravediggers. Where there is oppression there will be always be resistance. There was a famous quote popularized in the 60’s that said “a capitalist would willingly sell a rope to those that may eventually hang him.” The system has cracks; we need to find the best wedges and hammers to create the conditions to eventually shatter all forms of human oppression.
“Dare to struggle, Dare to win.”
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.