Unintended Consequences

04-09-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I noticed a new CVS Pharmacy being constructed on Apache and Rural. So let’s count’em: Rural & Apache, Broadway & McClintock, Rural & Southern; then there is a Walgreens at Broadway & Mill, a Wal-Mart Pharmacy at Rural & Southern plus large pharmacies at the Broadway & Rural Safeway and the Rural & Southern Fry’s. That is seven pharmacies in less than 2 square miles. Obviously there is only so much toothpaste and band-aids that one needs so the raison de’etre is most likely to provide prescription drugs. We obviously take A LOT of them.

In the meantime there has been ample reporting about the massive Opioid Epidemic occurring in our country. By 2015 more Americans were dying from drug overdoses than from traffic fatalities or gunshots. The current epidemic makes the heroin problem of the 1970’s and the crack problem of the ‘90’s look like small town gigs. During the Presidential campaign, I was grateful that Mr. Trump made stopping the massive flow of drugs across our southern border an issue. Severely restricting the supply of illegal drugs is an important part of any strategy to bring this epidemic to an end.

But today more and more people are being introduced to opioids or narcotics via legal or prescription drugs. A big part of that problem is being fueled by the huge expansion of Medicaid, maybe an unintended consequence of health insurance expansion. Therefore, a larger part of the population has access to low cost or no cost prescription drugs than ever before. The problem is that for a few dollars co-pay you can get very expensive drugs such as the highly abused and addicting opiates. These drugs and many others are very profitable. Maybe that helps explain 7 pharmacies in less than 2 square miles.

The drug problem is getting lots of attention; now there is even a Presidential Commission designed to study this area. But the solutions are also creating unintended consequences. There are unscrupulous physicians who are content to make money off of writing scripts, and they need to be held accountable. But now even very conscientious physicians are being looked at with suspicion by the Drug Enforcement world. Their best medical judgments are being second-guessed in many cases, and physicians are spending lots of time justifying why they prescribe pain pills. As a result another unintended consequence may be that there are patients whose pain is being under-treated, as physicians don't want to deal with being put on a watch list.

There is also another unintended consequence of expanding availability and the financing of prescription medications. Again, for a small co-pay, a person can turn around and sell the drugs on the street for hundreds of dollars. There is a big incentive to do that: a large portion of the able-bodied work age population is no longer in the workforce, mostly because no work is available. Additionally, a large percentage of this non-working population is now mostly purposeless and collecting some form of government assistance: disability, food stamp, and welfare. While you might be able to survive on government assistance, it is certainly not very luxurious. So making a few extra bucks by selling your prescription drugs would be tempting.

This is just a brief outline of the web that we have woven that is now entrapping so many people in its sticky and dangerous grasp. Many people today begin their descent into addiction with the help of the Retail Pharmacy Pusher on the corner dispensing U.S. made and pharmaceutical grade drugs, financed by medical insurance, and they soon graduate to the Drug Pusher standing outside the pharmacy dispensing imported drugs that are often cut with dangerous and toxic ingredients. In the end, the brain doesn't know whether the drug it craves is illegal or legal. All we have done is double the pathways to addiction.

President Trump was right to describe it as “carnage.” It is not too harsh a word to use to get our full attention to see the corpses piling up and the massive cost to our families and communities.

As we head into Holy Week, pray for those families carrying the cross of addiction.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS Thanks for your support of our FullCircle Program. For many years now, we have been able to help hundreds of families and their addicted teens successfully recover and find healing and hope. Your support is critical so we can continue to be on the front lines of this epidemic.