Lock up unscrupulous ‘legal’ drug pushers

The most dangerous drug pushers don’t operate on street corners. They don’t use disposable cellphones and, except on “Dressdown Friday,” they wouldn’t think of going to work in jeans and T-shirts.

You’ve already guessed I’m referring to drug companies, distributors and prescribers. They operate in plain sight — so why on earth can’t we stop them?

Think about this: What are the chances that, given the numbers of people involved in relation to those arrested for drug offenses, it’s safer to be a health care industry pusher than to be a street dealer?

Addiction to opioid drugs has two intertwined aspects: First, there are the cocaine and heroin addicts we’ve had for more than a century. They are people who, by choice, dabbled in substance abuse and got hooked. Frankly, if you think much can be done about that tragedy, you’re dreaming.

Second are people — much more numerous — who become addicted to painkillers containing opiates. Some of these folks volunteered to be junkies. They tried pills such as OxyContin because they thought it might be fun.

But many of those who got hooked on pain pills — including some servicemen and women given the drugs because of in-service injuries or wounds — became addicted accidentally. Once your body is reliant on opiates, it’s very difficult to get off them.

Unable to get prescriptions for painkillers or finding they can’t afford them, many of this class of addicts turn to cheaper, easy-to-get heroin or similar drugs.

This gets complicated. Many hardcore addicts started with pain pills prescribed at a time when a few drug companies claimed their opiate-based medications had very low risk of addiction. At some point, they learned they were wrong.

So did health care providers on the front lines — physicians prescribing the pills.

We’ve known that for years. Just now, authorities at the state and federal levels are investigating how many pain pills went into the pipeline after drug companies, distributors, etc., knew there was a problem.

Some companies continue to feed the junkies’ habit — and create new addicts — with the same old pills they know are dangerous.

And, incredibly, some of the slimiest creatures on earth have become innovators in the drug trade. They have found new, addictive drugs and are marketing them.

Just the other day, we carried a story about an Arizona billionaire whose company made tons of money selling a painkiller based on fentanyl. It’s really dangerous stuff.

He was arrested last month. Federal prosecutors say his firm actually bribed doctors and pharmacists to prescribe the product to people who didn’t really need it. Several other executives of the company have been charged, too.

In declaring substance abuse to be a national public health emergency, President Donald Trump pledged to crack down on unscrupulous health care providers who are contributing to the crisis.

Good. The sooner the better.

Again, though, how is it that they all weren’t shut down years ago?

How is it that some of these people think they can get away with it?

You know the answer: Because they have gotten away with it for so long.

Here’s an idea: For one month, take every cop and prosecutor in the country away from chasing street pushers and their connections. Frankly, that probably won’t hurt anything. It seems that every time one of them is arrested, there’s someone new ready to take his place.

Tell all these cops and prosecutors to spend one month finding the unscrupulous doctors, pharmacists, drug distributors and manufacturers who are dealing in death. Give them another month to prepare cases against them.

Then put them all in prison.

That would be a big, big victory in the war against drugs. I guarantee it.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.