From the Editor: Gross overkill

Recently, I was forced to make an emergency dentist appointment after experiencing the worst tooth pain I’ve ever felt.

Let me just say right now: ain’t no pain like dental pain.  

I was vehemently aware that this was going to be more than just a routine check-up. I was surprised to realize that it was actually a cavity so bad, I was going to need a root canal and a sizable filling.

The pain during and after was excruciating, but honestly? Manageable.

I was on an ibuprofen cocktail, and as long as I stayed on top of it, I wasn’t curled in a fetal position. However, this didn’t stop my dentist in readily prescribing a 30-day supply of Oxycodone. It took nothing of her to prescribe 30 opiates for a cavity. Thirty.

I never filled it, because I didn’t need it, but it shed light on just how easy it is to get opiates from a prescription. If I could down a month’s supply for a decayed tooth, I can only imagine what a hospital doc might readily sign on a pad for a broken arm or major surgery.

We’ve heard the story time and time again, where people who down these pills, get hooked, realize heroin and fentanyl as a cheaper and many times more potent option, and become full-time users before they realize what just happened. You then realize big pharma is just as guilty in the opioid crisis as the cartels bringing in brown bricks of lethal heroin.

But it’s not that lethal. As long as an emergency medical technician can get to someone that’s overdosed in time with a drug almost equally as popular – Narcan – then there’s a good chance of survival and in many cases a chance to start the vicious cycle all over again.

Do you think the makers of naxolone and Narcan want the opioid crisis to end? Not a chance, especially not when they can boast big portfolios at annual stockholder meetings, CEOs can nab giant bonuses and the entire company can appear as the shining white knight in a dark crisis.

So where’s the solve? You can go after Big Pharma, but they’re untouchable with their lobbyists and assorted homies sitting high on Capitol Hill. Plus, sadly, we as a society will happily take a month’s supply of Oxy for a toothache so it’s not like there are enough people saying no to shut down the shop. You can go after the low-lying dealer selling the shit under EL stops to eager drug users with no way out, but that dealer is getting it from a bigger dealer, who’s getting it from a cartel and that river is never going to stop.

So we go after the users. We try criminalizing, de-criminalizing, calling national emergencies, but in sections of our fair city, you can’t go a block without seeing a syringe, a baggy or a spaced-out user doing whatever they can to get that next hit. It’s a story that every time you think it gets old, there is another unfortunate wrinkle that keeps sucking you back.

In Kensington, the answer was clearing out a large swath of space where addicts hung out and got high. Except for the true solution for where they’d go or what they’d do next was never considered. So like bugs scattering from underneath an unearthed stone, they’ve taken over library lawns, front stoops of churches and have built tent cities under bridges.

The do-gooders do what they can, the city says it’s a top priority but seeing the familiar face of an addict walking around rapidly gentrifying sections of Philadelphia is ever-present. It’s a situation that has no end, yet has become exhausting. To the addict, to residents, to the EMTs, police and fire responders, who at times go out to revive once more the same person they revived earlier that day.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a cynic here, but I think it’s a sad reality that right now the answer to the rampant opioid epidemic is that there is no answer.


  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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