The addiction epidemic is the millennials’ Vietnam

My most recent post about our current Legislature’s inability to draft a budget in a timely fashion was pretty much a straight-up rant from beginning to end. Usually my rants are complete thoughts — something like a ginormous exhale of words, purging my frustration with a situation.

This time, though, a couple of pieces from my rant stuck around on the inhale, lingering and calling out for just a little more time and attention.

Lingering thought #1

I can’t help but think I was on to something when I sarcastically suggested that legislators and the governor should forfeit their pay when they are unable to draft a budget in a timely fashion. Two legislatures in a row have struggled in highly problematic ways to complete this one primary job requirement.

Now, I’m the first to call foul when conservatives start prattling on about running government like a business, and I have a pretty complete rant about the ways in which government is not at all like a business. But elected officials are the citizens’ employees, and I’m thinking we need some immediate recourse available when lawmakers fail to do the budget aspect of their work.

Obviously the idea of being voted out of office holds no sway when it comes to working collaboratively to draft a budget. I’m guessing the idea of forfeiting pay would be just the right kind of leverage necessary to keep lawmakers on task as a collective.

I like the idea so much I think it should be applied to both state legislatures and Congress. Want to stop the two parties in Congress from endlessly fighting about the budget and passing ridiculous temporary spending measures?

Let’s have them work within a timeline and forfeit their pay for failure too. Sure, pass another temporary budget resolution, but just know that the payroll stops until the permanent one is drafted. Party over. Party bickering over, too.

Lingering thought #2

I also can’t help but think I was onto a very dark something when I called our addiction epidemic the millennials’ Vietnam, except worse. Over the decade and a half the Vietnam war waged on, Maine lost 341 citizens serving there. Maine has lost 1,032 citizens to overdoses in four years.  

It will easily take an entire generation to heal and recover from this mess as a society. It didn’t have to be that way.

The out-of-control train of addiction was barreling through our families and communities long before policy makers and elected officials said boo about it. I know I was worried over a decade ago when I and my fellow MaineCare recipients were being offered opiates and other prescription drugs as if the pharmacy was a candy store and a little candy was good for whatever ailed you.

Besides fueling the epidemic, I have a personal theory that the push to hand out prescription drugs like candy for whatever ails you contributed to the drastically rising MaineCare/Medicaid costs that conservatives love to use as a weapon to defend cuts in spending in more recent years.

If my personal theory is right, the long and the short of it would go like this: It was OK to spend government dollars to develop addictions in recipients but not OK to spend government dollars to treat recipients’ addictions and the original health conditions they were seeking help for when they became addicts.

When you look at it that way, it’s just another case of for-profit entities like pharmaceutical companies benefiting from programs meant to uplift the poor and vulnerable — benefiting so much that politicians decided that there’s no more money left to actually provide quality health care to the people for whom the program was created.

I am relieved that Ohio is suing five drug companies for actions that may have contributed to the epidemic. And I’m relieved our own attorney general is joining with other states to investigate drug companies’ practices when it came to the marketing of opioids.

However, like Vietnam, this epidemic is a complicated entanglement involving a variety of factors. There is so much more to understanding and solving the epidemic and its precursors than those actions, but those thoughts will have to wait for a different post … a future rant.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.