Doctors Getting Away with Murder

There is something wrong in America.

Prisons all over this country are filled, mostly with African-American men. The dramatic increase of arrests and incarcerations of African-American men coincided with President Ronald Reagan‘s “war on drugs,” and most of us Americans have smugly assumed that the war was declared in response to the appearance of crack cocaine in urban areas. According to Michelle Alexander, who brilliantly discusses disparities in incarceration between whites and blacks in her book, The New Jim Crow, the Reagan administration declared the war before crack cocaine began to ravage inner city neighborhoods, but used the spread of the drug to secure funds to carry out policies which exacerbated sentencing disparities.

The “war on drugs” led to policies that resulted an explosion in the penal population in this country, accounting for an increase from 300,000 inmates to over 2 million in less than 30 years, Alexander writes. The end-result is that this country incarcerates more people than any other developed country in the world.  Alexander writes that “the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” (p. 6)

But even as more and more attention is paid to those who use crack cocaine, more and more doctors are getting away with murder, prescribing pain and other medications that are no less damaging or dangerous than is crack. While the prison system is allowing legalized discrimination of African-Americans, American society is allowing legalized murder.

It has been said that Whitney Houston used crack; she herself said she used cocaine, but what we all know by now is that she used prescription meds, and was able to get them fairly easily. She apparently had doctors on both the East and West coasts, and in her room was found bottles of  Xanax, lorazepam, and valium – which are all benzodiazepines – as well as Ibuprofen, Midol and Amoxicillin.

I have heard doctors say that there is no way she should have been taking Xanax, lorazepam and valium at the same time. And the danger of her taking those drugs together was exacerbated by alcohol.

It is no secret that there is a double standard when it comes to crime and criminals; street drugs are looked down upon and those who use them are regarded as the dredge of society, while prescription drugs are acceptable. Go into any affluent neighborhood and it’s easy to hear people talk of the anti-anxiety drugs and pain meds they take regularly. It’s almost fashionable to take such drugs, and, contrarily, not fashionable not to take them. The people who are on prescription drugs not as criminals, though some get them illegally and “doctor shop” in order to satisfy their habits, and are socially accepted.

And who is getting away with supplying the drugs? The drug sellers or providers. On the streets, the drug pushers are labeled thugs by society, but in the suburbs, the drug pushers are called …doctors.

If America is going to have a “thing” about drug use, oughtn’t its concern be about all drug use?  I think of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Keith Ledger, recent stars who died not because they used crack, but because the sophisticated drug pushers called doctors prescribed them the drugs they were demanding.

The rampant use of drugs –  on the streets and in affluent society – makes me wonder why it is so many of us need to self-medicate. Something, somewhere, has failed if so many people in a country where opportunity is so much more available than in other countries are so unable to cope with life. I have no idea about the pressures in the music and entertainment worlds that seem to lead so many people to a state of deep unhappiness, so deep that they cannot cope without medical help. At least, in urban areas, where men cannot get jobs, where poverty is rampant and there seems to be no way out, there appears to be a justifiable reason to want to escape…but what is it when one is “on top?”

Whatever the reason, my point is that since America is so interested in putting “bad” people away, and since we have more money pumped into building new prisons than we do in improving public schools, then room in the cells ought to be made for medical doctors who are violating the Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm.” These doctors are “doing harm. They are getting away with murder, and they ought to be made to pay for it.

 

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