You may have heard that in October, several counties in Ohio reached a legal settlement with three of the biggest drug distributors in America – Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corporation – and Teva Pharmaceuticals, a drug manufacturer.

As part of the settlement, Summit and Cuyahoga counties get nearly $260 million in funds to help fight the opioid epidemic, which has hit them particularly hard, and the companies involved don’t admit to any wrongdoing in a court of law. But of course there was wrongdoing; you don’t cough up $260 million if you’re innocent. Those companies, among others, spent years aggressively marketing opioid painkillers to doctors and patients, hiding their addictive potential, chasing profit.

It’s a tragic story, one that we are all too familiar with in Maine, but you might be wondering, why am I writing about Ohio, when I’m the Maine Millennial?

Well, because since 2008, Sen. Susan Collins and her affiliated political action committee, Dirigo PAC, have received $25,000 in campaign donations from McKesson Corporation. She has taken $5,000 from Teva Pharmaceuticals. $8,500 from Cardinal Health. Even $2,300 from Jonathan Sackler, of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the family company that produced Oxycontin — you may have heard of it). And that’s just what I found in half an hour of poking around on the FEC’s database. There is almost certainly more. Big money is surprisingly good at hiding itself, and that goes double for the pharmaceutical industry, which, after all, went for a long time hiding how dangerous opioid drugs were.

What’s the point, you might say. All senators take blood money, it’s just how things are done. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

But the thing is, I follow Susan Collins on Twitter. (I follow all of Maine’s federal delegation.) She’s been ramping up her tweeting lately, highlighting all the things she has looked like she’s been doing – I’m guessing because she’s up for reelection next year, but maybe she just likes Twitter. And on Dec. 2, she tweeted: “In order to address the opioid epidemic, we must ensure those struggling with substance use disorders have access to the treatment they need. (Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire) and I are committed to helping increase the number of doctors trained in addiction medicine.”

And that just rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, more doctors trained in addiction medicine is a good thing, although I’d love to see who ends up profiting from the massive amounts of Suboxone it will take to get millions of addicts into sobriety. (Hint: I bet it’s the same companies that started the drug problem in the first place.) But how are we going to train all those doctors? And won’t that take a few years to get them through medical school? What do we do in the meantime?

Her tweet did not acknowledge the campaign funds she received from the aforementioned Big Pharma companies. It did not mention the fact that the Trump administration – a Republican administration – is trying to cut funding to Medicaid, which treats a disproportionate amount of substance abuse patients. So it seems quite disingenuous for her to step in like this now.

I care about this because I am an addict. One of the reasons I talk about my addiction to alcohol – which is what alcoholism is – is because I want to try to demystify this disease, to explain what it’s like to live with it, to show people that yes, you can heal.

But what I really want everyone to know is that the only difference between me and the 354 Mainers who died from drug overdoses in 2018 is sheer dumb luck. I am at a higher risk factor for addiction than most people; I have the bad genes. If I had gotten a prescription for Oxycontin or hydrocodone or Tramadol at the wrong point in my life, I truly believe that would have killed me. As it is, I have to work every day to make sure I don’t drink my way into an early grave.

Any resolution to the opioid epidemic will involve holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for what they did. On a practical level, we need their money to help pay for treatment and to mitigate the massive costs to society. On a moral level, this problem came about because thousands of people made thousands of small and large decisions that, together, caused thousands of deaths and uncountable damage in ripple effects.

We need apologies, in the public square and in courts of law. We need to be able to see what happened, and how, and we need action and laws to make sure it never happens again. Corporations will do what corporations will do, which is to seek and generate profit. Only we the people can prevent the harm that can sometimes come from that.

And for crying out loud, elected officials have got to stop taking corporate money.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial


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