Protecting people not profits – the opioid and semi-automatic machine gun/ assault rifle crises

Big corporations, not street dealers, are the true authors and profiteers of the opioid crisis.

At a recent rally in New Hampshire, Donald Trump called for the death penalty for drug traffickers as part of a plan to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States. At a Pennsylvania rally a few weeks earlier, he called for the same.

Now his administration is taking steps toward making this proposal a reality. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on March 21 asking prosecutors to pursue capital punishment for drug traffickers — a power he has thanks to legislation passed under President Bill Clinton.

Time and again, these punitive policies have proven ineffective at curbing drug deaths. That’s partly because amping up the risk factor for traffickers makes the trade all that more lucrative, encouraging more trafficking, not less.

But it’s also because these policies don’t address the true criminals of the opioid crisis: Big Pharma.

If Trump really wanted to help, he’d put the noose around drug-making and selling giants like Purdue Pharma, McKesson, Insys Therapeutics, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and others.

The president knows this, in a way. These companies “contribute massive amounts of money to political people,” he said at a press conference in October 2017 — even calling out Mitch McConnell, who was standing beside him, for taking that money. Pharmaceutical manufacturers were “getting away with murder,” Trump complained in the same speech.


(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

For once, he’s wasn’t wrong.

The pharmaceutical industry spends more than any other industry on influencing politicians, with two lobbyists for every member of Congress. Nine out of ten House members and all but three senators have taken campaign contributions from Big Pharma.

The Pain Behind Opioid Abuse

Addressing the opioid crisis means investing in addiction treatment, mental health, and alternative pain relievers like cannabis — not a wall.

Jill Richardson

Donald Trump recently declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. At first I thought, is this the first time I approve of something Trump has done?

Alas, no. And here’s why: Nine years ago, I lost my brother to a heroin overdose.

My brother and I each grew up suffering trauma, and it profoundly affected each of our lives. For my brother’s part, he dealt with his unbearable pain by using drugs. He died before he could get help.

In my case, I shut down, lost my imagination, cut off my ability to feel both emotions and physical sensations, and lost my ability to have close intimate relationships with others, whether platonic or romantic. I’ve suffered daily migraines for 23 years now.

I went to doctor after doctor for my migraines, tried 20 different prescription drugs, mental health counseling, Botox injections, and more.

There are just two drugs that help my migraines: opioids and medical marijuana.

Until recently, my only option was the opioids, which I get legally from a doctor’s prescription. This is how many people get addicted.


(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

My tolerance to opioids grows quickly. I try to use them less than once a month in order to avoid needing higher doses to quell the pain. At most I use them once a week, but even then, I start needing higher doses quickly just to make the pain stop.

Since I’m in pain every day, I can see how someone could get hooked. If I had popped a pill every time I had a migraine instead of rationing out my meds, I could’ve been one of the unlucky ones too.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten medical marijuana in the last few months, and it’s changed my life. I use it legally and responsibly. I don’t drive or work while using it. Now I can get pain relief as needed without worrying about forming a life-ending addiction.

My brother used marijuana too, but he lacked the option to use it legally. Instead, he was arrested for it, which didn’t improve things for him.

In my decades of going to primary care doctors, neurologists, and even psychologists, nobody noticed my trauma. My brother suffered on his own too.

If we want to get serious about the opioid epidemic, we need to increase the availability of mental health help in a big way. We should have more counselors in schools, and we should train teachers to be more sensitive to and aware of children suffering from trauma, and doctors to be more aware of it in patients.

Importantly, we should also decriminalize marijuana throughout the nation and get serious about medical research on the drug. When the alternative for many is opioids, there’s simply no excuse to maintain the prohibition on pot.

Meanwhile, we must keep funding Medicaid, so that the most vulnerable Americans have access to medical care too — including addiction treatment, which barely one in 10 addicts gets.

But what does Trump say? Build his wall.

Trump’s right about the problem, but dead wrong about the solution.

It’s not just politicians they shell out for.

Opioid pioneer Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin, bankrolled a campaign to change the prescription habits of doctors who were wary of the substance’s addictive properties, going so far as to send doctors on all-expense-paid trips to pain-management seminars. The family that started it all is worth some $13 billion today.

From 2008 to 2012, AmerisourceBergen distributed 118 million opioid pills to West Virginia alone. That’s about 65 pills per resident. In that same time frame, 1,728 people in the state suffered opioid overdoses.

McKesson — the fifth largest company in the U.S., with profits over $192 billion — contributed 5.8 million pills to just one West Virginia pharmacy.

Meanwhile, five companies contributed more than $9 million to interest groups for things like promoting their painkillers for chronic pain and lobbying to defeat state limits on prescribing opioids.

These companies don’t stop at promoting opioids. They also spend big on stopping legislation that would actually help curb opioid use.

Insys Therapeutics, a company whose founder was indicted for allegedly bribing doctors to write prescriptions for fentanyl (a substance 50 times stronger than heroin), spent $500,000 to stop marijuana legalization in Arizona in 2016.

In response, cities and states from New York City to Ohio are suing pharmaceutical companies for their role in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s time for the federal government to get behind them.

Of course, going after these companies isn’t going to eliminate opioid abuse on its own. That will take combating the root social and economic causes that lead to so many deaths of despair.

But it’s clear who the real profiteers of the opioid epidemic are. If Trump wanted to get real about curbing incentives for selling opioids, he’d turn away from street dealers and target the real opioid-producing industry.

This Popular Pro-Gun Argument Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Because criminals don’t follow the law, we shouldn’t have any laws at all? That’s nonsense.

Jill Richardson

As our nation debates gun rights vs. gun control, there’s a stupid argument that keeps resurfacing on the anti-gun control side. I’m not anti-gun, but I am anti-stupidity, so this is bugging me.

It’s the idea that because criminals, by their very nature, do not follow laws, we should not pass any laws limiting gun rights.

The thought goes that if we, say, require universal background checks, good, law-abiding people will follow that law, but criminals will still buy illegal guns. Therefore, why bother with the background checks?

This is ridiculous for several reasons.

First, that’s not how laws work. We don’t say, “Well, we could ban rape, but rapists would still do it anyway. I guess rape should be legal.”

Second, it could deter some people. There are some people who believe in following laws, or at least don’t want to get punished for breaking them. Even if the illegal gun buyers are unethical, many gun sellers will refuse to violate a law.

Third, not all criminals plan their crimes in advance. Some gun violence is done in a fit of passion.

Browsing at a Gun Show


Yes, the person premeditating murder might go get a gun in advance.

But let’s say it’s someone who would not be able to get a gun legally if there were universal background checks. Maybe they’re a convicted felon, or they have a mental illness that predisposes them to violence, or they’re a domestic abuser.

If this person flies into a murderous rage, it’s harder to get a gun quickly, because nobody can legally sell them one.

Also, some criminals aren’t very smart. Some are, but some aren’t. Even if tighter gun laws primarily kept guns out of the hands of criminals too stupid to find a way around the law, that’s still a win.

It would still save some lives. Not all. But why should we not save some lives just because we can’t save all of them?

If we cut the number of gun deaths by even 10 percent because only the very dumbest people couldn’t figure out how to get their hands on an illegal gun, we still would cut gun deaths by 10 percent.

How many mothers and fathers wouldn’t lose a child because of that?

I understand that some people oppose specific gun control measures, and some control any and all gun control measures. And that’s OK. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and we all get to vote.

But the notion that we shouldn’t make any laws at all because criminals don’t follow the laws? That’s nonsense.

We should debate the laws on their merits, pass the laws that the majority of Americans support — ideally ones that also protect the rights of law-abiding citizens — and then do our best to enforce them.

We ban murder, rape, tax evasion, intellectual property theft, burglary, and on and on. Criminals still do those things. And then, much of the time, we catch them and punish them. We do our best to keep them from committing more crimes in the future. We’d do the same with anyone who broke gun laws.

Let’s continue this debate — but retire this particular argument.

A Shiny New Tool to Pad Profits: Stealing

From making workers deliver packages off-hours to pocketing their tips, corporate greed is turning theft into business as usual.

Jim Hightower

Workplace exploitation is at least as old as the industrial revolution. But rather than using whips to make the assembly lines move ever faster, today’s corporate exploiters use technology, devious work schedules, and lobbyists to extract more work from employees — for less pay.

Walmart, for example, wants to provide next-day delivery for online customers by having its low-wage workforce use their own time and vehicles to drop off packages as they go home after work.

Economists have a technical term for these corporate ploys: stealing.

One entire group being victimized by corporate thieves are the 4.3 million Americans who make up our “tipped workforce.”

Mostly employed as wait staff in restaurants — from big chains like IHOP to the most exclusive dining establishments — these workers fall under a grossly unjust category of labor law that allows their employers to pay a miserly minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour.

Sexual Harrassment and Tipped Workers

No Crop Photo/Flickr

The rationale is that customers will subsidize this sub-poverty pay by leaving generous tips — a convenient corporate lie refuted by the fact the income of tipped workers is a third less than non-tipped workers. And tipped workers are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty.

Luckily, Trump has intervened to help. Lucky for restaurant owners, that is.

Bowing to demands by restaurant industry lobbyists, Trump’s Labor Department has proposed a new rule allowing employers to seize workers tips and use them for any purpose — including fattening their own profits. Paying $2.13 an hour already amounts to a massive wage theft, but this elevates it to legalized highway robbery!

Even the most notorious robbers in history would be too ashamed to pull a job this wicked. Thankfully, a Democratic provision slipped into an omnibus spending bill may have stopped it for now.

Still, today’s combination of corporate greed and Trump’s ethical bankruptcy is turning blatant wickedness into business as usual.


King’s Dream Included Economic Equality, Too

The late leader didn’t just criticize racial segregation. He called for an end to economic injustice.


April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

American history rightly honors King as one of its most celebrated civil rights leaders. Growing up, I remember learning about his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. In school, my teachers always highlighted him as a peaceful, non-violent protester against segregation, and a preacher who promoted messages of love and justice for all.

He was all those things. But that’s only one part of King’s legacy.

King was actually very radical about his vision of change for America. He didn’t just criticize segregation — he recognized the need for deep, structural changes to our entire economic and political system.

King identified three evils plaguing western civilization in a speech at the National Conference on New Politics in 1967. The United States, King said, is suffering from “the sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism” — a sickness that “has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning.”

MLK and 50 Years of Civil Rights

Penn State Special Collections Library/Flickr

“We have deluded ourselves into believing into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice,” King observed. But “the fact is capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.”

King foreshadowed that if we maintain our exploitive economic and political systems, then we’d get not only racial apartheid, but economic apartheid as well.

He was right. Nearly 51 years after that speech, we’re still heading in that direction.

recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that just three people — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet — own more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined. “The Forbes 400 list altogether own $2.68 trillion in wealth, more than the GDP of Britain, the world’s fifth richest country,” the report notes.

On the other end of the spectrum, one in five Americans have zero or negative wealth. The proportion grows larger when we break it down by race, rising to 30 percent of black families and 27 percent of Latino families.

As much as we cite the vision that MLK laid out for America, decades later we’ve not moved in the right direction. Within the past year alone, we’ve seen GOP tax cuts siphon wealth from middle and working class Americans to the ultra-wealthy and big corporations.

And we’ve seen a proposed federal budget that increases military spending to a historic 61 percent of discretionary spending in 2019. Housing and community programs would receive a 35 percent cut, according to the National Priorities Project.

It’s all there: racism, materialism, and militarism.

King called for a “radical redistribution of political and economic power” in order to end those three evils. Now is the time for this necessary radical change. We must channel MLK’s revolutionary spirit into an effort to reshape America’s values to ensure justice for all — “both black and white, both here and abroad.”

Let’s Protect Children, Not Guns

If Congress passed stronger gun laws and closed loopholes, it would save lives.

Marian Wright Edelman

The Children’s Defense Fund dedicated our report Protect Children, Not Guns 2012 to the memory of Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other children and teenagers killed by guns in America. Guns killed a total of 5,740 kids in 2008 and 2009, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the fight to uncover what happened that night in Sanford, Florida, a few facts are clear. It involved two people: A teen carrying iced tea and candy and an adult carrying a gun and patrolling a gated community, despite having previously been under a restraining order for domestic violence and charged with resisting arrest with violence and battery of a police officer.

We must protect children from guns and pass stronger laws that would save lives. Closing the gun-show loophole would make a great start.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which requires federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on every gun sale, has a loophole that allows private dealers to sell guns without a license and avoid requisite background checks. More than 40 percent of all guns are sold by unlicensed private sellers to buyers who didn’t have to pass a background check. Congress must require criminal background checks on anyone who attempts to purchase a gun.

(Jim Bumgardner / Flickr)

(Jim Bumgardner / Flickr)

Congress should also restore the ban on assault weapons. It banned them in 1994, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of 19 types of semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. That law, however, expired in 2004. Legislation now pending in Congress would again ban the high-capacity ammunition magazines that gunmen used in the mass shootings in Tucson, Arizona and at Virginia Tech.

We must also require consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns. Every gun in this country should be childproof. One-third of all U.S. households with children have at least one gun in the home, and it’s estimated that nearly 2 million children live in homes with an unlocked loaded gun. It makes no sense that the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates toy guns and teddy bears but not a product that killed 62,269 human beings in 2008 and 2009. No external enemy has ever come close to killing this number of civilians of all ages in the United States.

Federal law is silent on gun-related consumer safety standards and child access prevention. In fact, the production and manufacture of guns is exempt from oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As a result, many handguns lack easily installed life-saving safety features. Only 27 states have even attempted to keep children from accessing guns.

We must urge our leaders to make these essential and sensible changes at the national level while simultaneously pushing state and local governments to protect children and all Americans from deadly guns. Let’s demand the repeal of the “Stand Your Ground” laws now in effect in 21 states and made notorious in Trayvon Martin’s killing. These kill-at-will statutes trigger a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to confrontations.

Let’s also demand the repeal of laws allowing concealed weapons on school grounds, in child care centers, and at other public venues where children and teens gather. Urge your state legislators and local officials to support laws to prevent child access to guns such as requirements for locking devices and imposing criminal liability when guns are left unsecured or stored negligently.

It’s shameful that when child and teen gun deaths are compared in 23 high-income countries, 87 percent of all children under 15 killed by guns were in the United States. Our gun homicide rate for teens and young adults 15-24 years old was 42.7 times higher than the rate for the other countries combined. There are an estimated 283 million guns in civilian hands in America — almost one per person.

Why is the United States alone in allowing this unbridled gun epidemic and public health hazard to continue? As parents, grandparents, and voters, it’s up to us to tell our leaders that we won’t tolerate it any more.

Close the Gun Show Loophole

Some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use.

Dozens of Americans will be murdered, hundreds of others will be shot, and nearly 1,000 will be robbed or assaulted with a gun — today.

The United States has some of the weakest gun laws in the world. To make us, our families, and our communities safer, we need to beef up a few of those laws — now.

As President Barack Obama has urged, Congress should vote soon on common-sense gun laws that will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Sensible steps include requiring a criminal background check for every gun sale, making gun trafficking a federal crime, and banning the military-style assault weapon that killed so many people in Newtown on December 14.

It’s madness to allow guns to be sold to felons with a history of gun violence or to the mentally ill. That’s why current law requires that no gun can be sold by a licensed gun dealer without a criminal background check. But millions of guns are sold by unlicensedsellers at gun shows and through websites with no background checks. We need to strengthen current law to cover all gun sales. The few minutes it takes to complete a computerized check would save lives.

NRA Lesson Plan, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

NRA Lesson Plan, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The federal background check law has blocked more than 1.5 million illegal gun sales over the past 14 years. It works. The problem is that the law doesn’t apply to private sales, so the bad guys (and gals) can avoid a background check and get any kind of gun, no questions asked.

Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed mandatory, universal background checks because they know they will save lives. It’s time to close the gun show loophole.

I support the Second Amendment. Even gun owners overwhelmingly favor requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun. It will lead to fewer firearm deaths.

Some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use. That’s why the federal government imposed taxes and strict regulations on the manufacturing and distribution of sawed-off shotguns, silencers, very high-caliber firearms, grenades, and bombs nearly 80 years ago. Military-style assault weapons — like the one used to murder defenseless children and educators in Newtown — are versions of military weapons that are designed for rapid fire. They’re weapons of war, and like machine guns, extremely dangerous. We’d be safer without them.

And hunters and sportspeople don’t use these weapons to kill game. Rapid fire is contrary to the whole point of the sport. In the decade that the federal ban on assault weapons was in effect, the percentage of assault weapons traced to crime fell by 66 percent. The ban worked.

Some gun accessories should be outlawed. High-capacity ammunition magazines are designed to shoot a lot of people, quickly. There is no hunting or sporting purpose for these magazines — and that was a major reason for the ban on them between 1994 and 2004. Just like silencers, high-capacity magazines are simply too dangerous for sale to civilians.

The Tucson massacre is a good example. Rep. Gabby Giffords’ shooter had an ammunition magazine with 31 bullets. He was tackled after he shot out his clip and was trying to reload. If the magazine had only 10 rounds, a lot of lives could have been saved.

Let’s work together. Let’s ask our leaders to prevent the next mentally ill person from going to a gun show and buying an automatic weapon with a huge magazine without getting a background check. The police chiefs are asking for this.

What is Washington waiting for?