29 May 2008

Spiral Culture

Recently, while I was at the local drug store acquiring some prescriptions, I saw a woman walk up to the pharmacy counter, and begin speaking with the pharmasist. I'm not normally one for prying into things that are, to be sure, not any of my own business, but the manner in which this particular individual conducted herself was, to be blunt, rather attention-getting. She appeared to be somewhere in her 50s or older; it was tough to tell, partly because it was obvious from various pock-marks, skin discoloration, and general demeanor that she was what folks around here call a "tweaker" -- a methamphetamine user. She was at this particular pharmacy seeking to find refills for a series of potent painkillers -- Soma, Oxycontin, Norco, to name a few of the ones she rattled off -- which she's been prescribed.

Now, don't get me wrong. If someone is in pain, and they've got coverage, they should be able to get pain medications. However, I could tell from the course of the conversation several key facts. First, this was not the first pharmacy she'd been to seeking to acquire these refills; that's a red light in my book, simply because I figure if anyone has turned her down, it's for a reason (perhaps one beyond the fact that the refills weren't yet due -- another revelation she was happy to admit). Secondly, she's been using a collection of more and more potent painkilling pills for quite some time, and is accustomed to "pharm-shopping" to get what it is she's after. Third, she was getting all of these things through some sort of state or federal medical coverage -- that is, the taxpayers of California, or of the U.S. in general, are paying for this woman's continued consumption of these powerful -- and expensive -- drugs.

Living in a place dubbed the "meth capital of the West" by some, I'm more than familiar with the effects that methamphetamine can have on a person. These include joint and bone troubles, shooting pain through the veins, and other, more serious, medical conditions, many of which are extremely painful; a pain that can only be silenced through intensive drugging and, shockingly, discontinuing the use of meth altogether so that the problems don't persist once the drugs have run their course. Otherwise, all that ends up happening is an increased tolerance to the prescriptions that are handed you, and an increased level of pain as the twisted wreckage of your body tears itself apart -- literally -- from the inside, trying to expel from itself the lethal poison that keeps it standing upright despite itself.

If she'd been on private, or work-offered, insurance coverage, I wouldn't really see an issue here; she's paying, one way or another, for the whole of what's happening. But she wasn't. She was getting these benefits, these drugs, at the expense of the population, whose money also goes to fund the war on drugs, the anti-meth task force that the local law enforcement has set up. You'd think that if she has to go through the rigors of getting these benefits -- it's not easy! -- that somewhere along the line, one of the dozens of government agents she'd have to speak with over the months, years, or decades would think, "Hey, maybe this lady is using illegal drugs!"

I'm not saying that suspicion alone is enough to toss someone out on their ass when they're trying to get the help that they need; that's ridiculous, and prone to endemic systematic flaws throughout. However, would it be so difficult to, say, administer a simple urine- or folicle-based drug test to people applying for some sort of government aid? By supplying people like this anonymous woman with coverage, we're wasting taxpayer money, while at the same time encouraging them to pile on the prescriptions, often just as (if not more) addicting than the illegal substances they're already using, thereby compounding the problem in over itself and bringing the whole affair to a screaming speed-race to see who can get higher faster cheaper longer and ride the intoxicating wave of tax dollars put to work to keep all the wheels spinning, and these lives collapse underneath the weight of their own desire to keep on going further, getting more, expanding upon increased drug tolerance with voracious desire, pharmacy-hopping to get their next fix to even the keel that was tipped off-balance by their existing addiction-condition.

Why isn't this being done? Why aren't there regulations that keep this from happening? Simple -- because as long as people like this woman fuel the pseudoeconomy of both the medical companies and the government agencies pouring the dollars of hard-working Americans into the collective coffers of greed. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost; keep the people so full of painkillers that they can't feel themselves dying, can't feel the strain on their own bodies, their own societies, their own cultures. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost; keep the money flowing so far and fast that it can't be tracked, and proselytize your supposed efforts to squelch illegal drug use, even as you ensure that those who come clean from things such as meth are forced to feed a new, more powerful, addiction inspired by the professionals to whom they turn when there's nowhere else to look for some kind of comfort. Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost.

How long can any institution fuel itself on the fumes of a faltering base? How long can an entity consume before there's nothing left?

Keep the wheels spinning, no matter what the cost ...

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