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You've Got a Right to a Healthy Life
IN MINNESOTA, Alec Smith was unable to afford either health insurance premiums or the insulin needed to treat his Type 1 diabetes, despite working full time. He died last year from diabetic ketoacidosis, at age 26. Other young Americans with diabetes have suffered the same fate.
David Bridges of Indiana has health insurance through his job, but a high deductible means he has to pay for his multiple prescriptions out of pocket. One of those prescriptions alone costs $700 a month. He maxes out credit cards to buy what medicine he can, yet still has to skip doses.
These stories represent the status quo of U.S. health care, even with the preservation of the Affordable Care Act. In responding to such gaps, the faith community has traditionally turned to the direct provision of charity health care, a generous hallmark of our traditions for generations. But we cannot stop there.
A Deadly Prescription
ARE CLEVERLY branded fishing hats, stuffed animals, and fancy dinners to blame for the raging opioid and heroin epidemic in the U.S.?
Most of us know the breathtaking scope of that epidemic. People are dying of overdoses at a higher rate than ever in our history—nearly 80 deaths every single day. Four of every five heroin users trace their addiction back to prescription painkillers or opioids.
Less well known is the unethical corporate sales and lobbying blitz that helped trigger the epidemic. During the two decades when addiction rates climbed to unprecedented numbers, multiple pharmaceutical companies spent billions of dollars pushing physicians and patients into a downward spiral of painkiller overprescription and abuse.
Corporate painkiller promotions included dinners and junkets for physicians and direct outreach to patients. One company even funded a “pain guide” that cheerfully promoted the life-changing benefits of opioids while citing multiple “disadvantages” of over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen. At the same time, the industry was using insider ties to rewrite the medical guidelines that justified the rash of prescriptions.
The efforts paid off. In 2010 alone, physicians wrote 254 million prescriptions for opioids, and pharmaceutical corporations raked in $11 billion in opioid sales.
Multiple companies are culpable, but the most high-profile effort was Purdue Pharma’s promotion of OxyContin. Purdue’s marketing centered on the claim, embossed on its complementary fishing hats and plush toys, that each dose of the drug provided 12 hours of relief. The lengthy duration was the factor that distinguished OxyContin from other, cheaper alternatives.
Unfortunately, for many patients, the drug’s effects did not actually last that long, according to multiple clinical trials, patient experiences, and physician reports. When OxyContin’s effects wore off before the next scheduled dose, it created desperate patients—and what one neuropharmacologist calls “the perfect recipe for addiction.” In one New York county, for example, between 1996 and 2011 opioid pill use increased 1,136 percent and heroin use rose 425 percent.
The Time Is Ripe for Faith-Based Advocacy
This time of crisis may also be a time of opportunity for people of faith, as the Matthew 25 Pledge and other calls to action are asking. Of course, U.S. faith-based activism played a critical role in the abolition movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and many other historic efforts to fulfill the gospel message. And Trump’s unlikely ascendance to the presidency is prompting some social movement experts to point back to the faith community for next steps.
Ending the Embargo on Affordable Health
Forget cigars—some low-income communities in the U.S. are importing Cuba's health-care strategy.
Seeing Through 'Right-to-Work' Laws
It's in the interest of us all to protect the right of labor to organize.