What’s Drugs Got to Do with It?

WRITTEN BY Kyrah Brown


4/20 – An informal, annual “holiday,” acknowledged by non-smokers, but beloved by weed heads, blunt rollers, and junkies alike – waiting anxiously for their next high. Yet, for some, the day is a painful reminder of the raging drug epidemics which have killed off so many of our loved ones.         

A term coined so frequently, yet, the story of its beginnings often go untold; how did the date, 4/20, originate? Over the years, rumors have spiraled in regards to how 4/20 was recognized as the yearly celebration of cannabis culture as we know it. One, possibly a code among police officers for marijuana smoking. Another, slightly more comical and ironic, theory attributed they day with Nazi leader and war criminal Adolf Hitler’s birthday, April 20th. However, Time reports that the most plausible and credited story for the origination of the day begins with a group of five teenagers at a high school in California – San Rafael High School.

Each day, at 4:20 PM, this group of five would meet at the campus’ statue of Luis Pasteur, a famous chemist, for their daily round of passing the joint. Thus, 420 became the new code word for one their favorite after school pastimes. This group of teens, later known as the “Waldos” because they met near a wall, included Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich. How did the phrase spread? Reddix connected with a popular band, Grateful Dead, through his brother, and the band began to call out 420 in reference to their cannabis breaks. Used more frequently and on a wider platform, the phrase launched globally and has been used ever since.

Mary Jane, the Waldos, and the fight for decriminalization of marijuana lives on, but the new drug epidemic that is heavily circulating around America is the use and abuse of opioids. According to CNN, more than two million people in the United States alone have a dependence on these drugs. Opioids are dispensed to patients with acute, chronic pain, due to their ability to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium. Legal forms of the painkillers comprise morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Those which are illegal include heroin, banned in 1924 in the U.S., and synthetically-made fentanyl. The statistics are astonishing; opioid prescriptions were 122 million in 1992, and the number increased to a peak of 282 million in 2012 – just a 20-year difference. The number of prescriptions administered has declined, but opioid-related deaths that occurred between 2002 to 2016 have increased to a dumbfounding rate of 533 percent. Painkillers, however, are expensive. Many who become dependent on painkillers turn to the street drug, heroin, which is cheaper. Opioids may pose a more lethal effect on society due to the ease of attainability – they’re legally prescribed drugs, but can doubly be retrieved on the streets. The concern, therefore, falls on who is accessing the drug, and at what dosages.

Amidst the opioid crisis, the abuse of the pharmaceutical industry and physicians should not go amiss in this situation. In 2007, criminal charges were brought by the federal government against manufacturer Purdue Pharma who mislead doctors and consumers that their pill, OxyContin, was a safer and less addictive version than other opioids. Eight years later, in 2015, 280 people consisting of numerous doctors and pharmacists were arrested for fraudulently over dispensing large sums of opioids. The prescription drug bust, deemed Operation Pilluted, is the largest in the history of the DEA. In 2016, the CDC published guidelines for properly administering opioids to patients, but several “pill mills” still exist in the shadows.

These are just a few highlights of the abuses of drug-makers and distributors across the country, but with opioid addiction and fraud on the rise, what has the government accomplished in improving our health care system? In 2016, legislators passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which allotted $1 billion in opioid crisis grants. This funding allows for addiction treatment and prevention programs to expand nationwide. Additionally, the launch of an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit within the DOJ was announced in 2017.

The death and destruction opioids have imploded upon families across America cannot be undone. Nevertheless, hope for future generations lay within increased transparency, accountability, and a dose of compassion.