In the past few weeks, I’ve seen the legions of columnists reporting and speculating on the fate of the Republican health care bill. A recent Politico article titled “Critics pan opioid cash designed to deliver moderates” talks of Mitch McConnell’s plan to try and get moderate Republicans to sign on to the repeal of Obamacare. The bill sought to cut back the Medicaid treatment for opioid addiction provided by the ACA in exchange for a meager 2 billion, an amount deemed by GOP governor John Kasich to be so insignificant as to be “spitting in the ocean”. The GOP bill would make the lives of those who have suffered from opioid addiction materially worse by throwing them off of regular healthcare provided by Medicaid as the current healthcare bill seeks to end the ACA’s Medicare expansion.
For some additional perspective on the funding required the battle the opioid epidemic, the moderate GOP senators McConnell was attempting to sway, such as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) had requested 45 billion dollars in funding to fight the epidemic. Richard Frank, a Harvard health economics professor, called the original 2 billion “a joke” while stating 183 billion would be needed over 10 years to fight the epidemic.
There’s something deeply wrong with the aforementioned picture; when the current healthcare negotiation is understood within the broader healthcare debate, funding for the opioid crisis is treated as a political football by politicians looking to take away healthcare from a country currently in the grip of a devastating healthcare crisis.
But enough with healthcare policy.
Starting with the 2016 presidential campaign, I began to hear more and more about the “disenfranchised voter” and the “mad-as-hell” voters. I continue to hear overtures from politicians desperately seeking power (anything to get back to that Washington honeypot!) by connecting with these forgotten voters. The most common cause for our angry politics, according to the beltway, is “economic anxiety”, however, the pundits miss the point yet again. While yes, voters are rightfully enraged about how just getting by is getting harder with each passing day, economic anxiety isn’t the cause for today’s reactionary politics. The common thread underlying voter’s outrage is the way that politicans play games with our lives, weather it be the economy or healthcare policy, to score political points at any cost to keep themselves in power (and by extension, further enriching themselves).
As a matter of fact, you can count me in that group of mad as hell voters.
At the young age of 19, I can no longer keep track of the number of people I have watched die from opioid overdoses. It usually begins with Oxytocin and ends with heroin. At the tender age of 12, I frantically ran downstairs to see my freshly graduated 18 year old brother lying lifeless on the sofa from an overdose on oxymorphone. Every year since that fateful day, a relatively steady stream of 1–4 people pass away from overdoses in my hometown of Simsbury, Connecticut. The seemingly endless slaughter of the young people around me and my experience growing-up I believe are a microcosm representing the state of the country.
Growing up in Simsbury, one of the wealthiest towns in one of the wealthiest states, I was supposed to be insulated from the crime, poverty, and drug trafficking happening only 20 minutes away in the nearby state capital of Hartford. Conversely, Hartford regularly makes the list as one of the poorest and most dangerous state capitals in the U.S. The region’s horrifyingly stark income inequality was supposed to act as an impenetrable barrier between my low-crime and mostly white community of “us”, versus the impoverished black and brown communities in Hartford of “them”.
I watched as the 2008 financial crisis ripped families apart and drained them of their wealth. Our corporate overlords got a bailout, but I watched as my classmates and their families were left to dangle out in the wind. I watched as the opioid crisis and its all-encompassing social ills descended on my quaint New England town, regularly ranked one of the best places in the United States to live. As the death toll rose, I watched the hearts of families break. On a local level, the response has been a deafening silence. Each year, the local school system touts its test scores while ignoring the rampant racism, generalized bullying towards minorities, and drugs that float around like candy. On a national level, I have watched the drug companies, whose for-profit motivations birthed the present crisis, continue with its greed-driven assault on our society by lobbying our politicians to continue to ignore the industry’s unchecked power.
Overall, my story, while sad, is unfortunately not unique. My story is a story of deaf political elites who continue to allow unchecked corporate greed and power to overwhelm our cities, counties, and towns, for their own personal pursuit of power and wealth. The debate over the funding for the opioid crisis is a debate over critical funds which could stop the legions of regular death that I see in the society around me. Yet, it’s treated as a minor political football in the broader scheme of ripping healthcare away from millions so that the Republicans can score political points with their base and maintain power.
Frankly, there’s nothing more enraging than a group of people in a far-off city throwing around an insultingly low amount of money as a bargaining chip in their game of self-interest while people are regularly dying. It’s almost as if each death was nothing more than a squished fly on our dear leaders’s conquest for personal fortune.
Most people would agree there is a great deal of pain in our society these days, but the good news is that we’ve got the power to fix it. We must all come together as Americans; black or white, rural or urban, gay or straight. We must defy the greedy economic royalists who seek to rule us through absolute corporate control of our government by coming together to demand a better life for all Americans, because a society where a young child is routinely exposed to death and violence isn’t much of a society at all.
For those interested in learning more about Big Pharma’s role in starting the opioid crisis, watch below: