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Monday, June 14, 2010

Watcha Gonna Do About It?



According to Holly Zachariah ("Protections Weak Against Few Rogue Doctors, Pharmacists Flooding State with Deadly Pills," The Columbus Dispatch, February 7 2010), Pharmacists in Ohio filled 2.7 million prescriptions in 2008 for high-powered painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet, narcotics that contain oxycodone amounting to  nearly one for every four people in the state. In addition, the pharmacists filled 4.8 million prescriptions for hydrocodone medications such as Vicodin, one for every 2 1/2 people in the state.


The problem has reached epidemic proportions, and county sheriffs say their jails are full of people who illegally sold or abused those drugs. Prescription drug abuse is particularly bad in Scioto County, which has landed on a federal Drug Enforcement Administration watch list of the 10 most-significant places in the country for trafficking in the medications.

Many officials agree that the Appalachian stretch of Ohio has terrible Rx drug problems for these three main reasons:

• Poverty: Scioto County's unemployment rate hovers around 15 percent, and the drug trade can be lucrative.

• Location: Rt. 23 provides a pipeline to and from Columbus. In addition, the bordering states of Kentucky and West Virginia have significant amounts of prescription-drug abuse. Their proximity allows for doctor- and pharmacy-shopping across state lines, which is harder to detect.

• Apathy: The area has a track record of limited resources and uncooperative elected officials who have refused to help with drug investigations, said William Winsley, director of the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.

Source (Holly Zachariah, "Protections Weak Against Few Rogue Doctors, Pharmacists Flooding State with Deadly Pills," The Columbus Dispatch, February 7 2010)



A Brief Exercise in Activism

If we look at the three main contributing factors to the prescription drug abuse epidemic, what do we notice about an immediate possibility for some relief and gradual improvement?

We all know the old Meatloaf song, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad." But, in actuality, only one of the three reasons for the problem presents immediate work for all citizens of Appalachian Ohio. "Which one?" you say.

As much as we would like to entice more good-paying jobs and large-scale labor into the area, civic leaders and politicians have been working on this aspect of our depressed region for decades with little result. Hopeful headlines about industry and even broken promises about new jobs abound. The average citizen of Southern Ohio has lost much faith and largely conceded that major improvement in employment will not occur any time soon. In truth, some criminals take the opportunities that present themselves out of greed and desire for easy money. Witness the dealers and the pill mills.

Location, location, location! This, phrase, of course, is the first rule of real estate. The maxim implies that, generally, buyers will get the best return for their money if they buy the worst house in the best neighborhood. As we travel Route 23, we can easily see, the beautiful hills of Appalachia are easy on our eyes but also very inconducive to our property appreciation. In the middle of crime, poverty, high welfare statistics, poor health conditions, and overwhelming depression, a drug pipeline surges with deadly products because many of our residents look for temporary narcotic relief. Geographic location is fixed barring a major earthquake at the New Madrid fault accompanied by a Lake Erie tsunami.

Yes, we are left with apathy as the only factor viable and wide open to change by all concerned citizens. Apathy by officials, apathy by lawmakers, apathy by the courts, apathy by enforcement officers, apathy by media, apathy by teachers, apathy my churches, apathy by neighbors, and apathy by individuals (young and old) is currently at hand. Unfortunately, the "talk" of our citizens is much louder than the "walk." Quite frankly, many choose to ignore the problem and spend their spare time on computers, cell phones, or video-related products.

But, apathy reaches its violent, mind-shaking end when we become kin to an overdose death. Suddenly, the need for proactive and preventative measures becomes all too real. For many in Appalachia, these devastating tragedies have ripped every fabric of their lives. Their earthly mission then centers on efforts to destroy apathy and to save lives of those who will become or who have already become addicted.

We all need to understand the consequences of our apathy. It is our civic and societal duty to educate ourselves. We need to face these evil outcomes before they cripple and kill many more in the epidemic of drug abuse. We need to understand that even if our family escapes the disease, others close to us suffer daily. Most of all, we need to take action to eliminate the problem. All the words and all the prayers do help; however, saving even one life means putting our able feet on the pavement and our strong hands around the neck of this monster. Our participation bloodies our bodies and bruises our confidence, yet the cause is just and true.  

Until a significant number of people activate against apathy, we will not see significant change. Most will satisfy their slight commitment by joining a cause, saying "I'm against drug abuse," and letting others worry about any activism. Fear of involvement, fear of voicing an unpopular opinion, fear of retribution, fear of commitment --
for whatever reason, apathy reigns in Southern Ohio. Sadly, thousands in action could make an IMMEDIATE impact but those same residents pose very little threat while sitting silently close to potential destruction. 



The Bystander Effect

Inaction in times of another person's peril is known as the bystander effect. Two major factors contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present.

The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. Other researchers have found that onlookers are less likely to intervene if the situation is ambiguous. For example, was a potential murder interpreted as just a lovers' quarrel or was an incapacitated, badly injured man seen as just a staggering drunk? (L.Z. Soloman, H. Stone & R. Stone, "Helping as a Function of Number of Bystanders and Ambiguity of Emergency," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1978)

For the interested reader, here at 10 notorious cases of the bystander effect. http://listverse.com/2009/11/02/10-notorious-cases-of-the-bystander-effect/

 

Conclusion

We have to choose. Riding a fence will lead to more problems. If the drug deaths in Appalachia do not motivate us to action, we must consider the cost, the crime, the broken families, and the ties to almost every depressed situation that exists here. If I could make everyone attend meetings, events, and even storm Columbus, I would. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were able to overcome incredible odds to motivate action that eventually changed society. So, yes, all things are possible.

"I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate - it's apathy. It's not giving a damn."  -Leo Buscaglia

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