21st Century Pusher Man

I was listening to Freakonomics on NPR today, and the topic was opioids, and the rate of addiction to them, specifically in the U.S. One somewhat mind-blowing statistic revealed that while the U.S. represents about 4% of the world’s population, it represents 80% of the use of these narcotic, prescriptive drugs in the world. How is that? Certainly, other people around the world feel physical pain due to injury or other misfortunes, those “other people” being the rest of the 96% of the human population. What is the reason as to this seeming imbalance per the manufacture (legal or otherwise), distribution and (usually) medical dispensing of the various opioids on the market? Well, as the radio program was analyzing this matter, it became clear that over the last 20+ years or so, the drug companies have essentially taken over the retail turf of pusher man, that person being the local street corner (or back lot) connection that has, historically, provided the goods you need but can’t always easily obtain, owing to the illegality or federally controlled nature of narcotic substances. After all, junkies have been around for ages. And so has that Pusher. They are serving the marketplace, the same as other businesses seek to find a need and fill it with their products and services. People, going back for centuries, have needed drugs. Back in 4th century Greece, Hippocrates wrote about using nature for its analgesic properties, stating “Divinum opus est sedare dolores”. Translated that means ( for you non ancient Greek scholars) “divine is the work to subdue pain”.

There you have it. Seeking relief from pain goes waaay back. The question is: is all pain the same? Of course not. Have you routinely been to see the doc lately? The nurse will screen you first with some questions–along with taking your vitals–with one question being “are you in any pain right now?” Perhaps you are in pain. Maybe LOTS of pain. That’s why, rather than a routine Dr. visit, you are seeking, first and foremost medical relief from pain. Maybe you fell and broke a knee cap. Or have a nasty back pain. Or a migraine. Perhaps you have been the victim of some spoiled food. You have an infection. Goodness knows how many ways we can feel pain, right? You want medical science to have a remedy, a pain-relieving treatment plan, and of course a CURE from the cause. But first, a cure from the literal pain of the moment. That is your desperate need, regardless of the cause.

The red opium poppy would appear to be the earliest use of a narcotic for pain relief, as noted above per Hippocrates. The Sumerians, long ago, referred to opium as the “joy plant”. Hmm. So, were the Sumerians enjoying opium for its joyful effects, or was that a side-effect of using the drug to initially relieve some pain visiting their bodies? Perhaps a little of both? Evidently, a narcotic is capable of not just relieving physical pain, but capable of making one want to again “feel joyful”. Given how currently so many people have become addicted to narcotic, prescriptive drugs, many of whom eventually die from an overdose by mixing it with booze or other additives in our current moments, it seems getting zonked is a joyful state of existence, one that is not inherently built into our mind/body mojo. And self-preservational logic is evidently rendered null and and void during a Pusher Man-generated joyful sojourn.

Freakonomics pointed out that in the past couple of decades, drug companies have strategically created ever-more-potent pain-killing products. Their consumption has resulted in many disastrous outcomes, including death, but before that endgame, the user likely becomes debilitated, gradually, and is basically always seeking a “refill”. Like the junkies hooked on street skag, the only object of any day’s existence devolves into yearning for that high again, to feed that need, to feel that euphoria, to walk with the king.

However, heroin isn’t the go-to pain killer when that medical assessment of one’s agonizing present condition is assessed and given a prognosis and a program for regaining full health. But there is the pusher man who now is in the examining room with you and the doctor. This Pusher is much more formal and sophisticated than the street corner dudes. It’ s Big Pharma Man. What am I talking about?, you may be asking. Okay, so not that long ago, someone would have a sprained ankle. They go see their doctor. It’s a sprained ankle. The normal remedy: rest, ice, compression, elevation, and if needed, some ibuprofen, such as Advil, an over-the-counter pain reducer. Now, Big Pharma Man has gotten scores of doctors to buy into new pain pills (using irrational persuasion by false claims of their safe use).These pain killers such as the notorious OxyContin can now be prescribed to ease the discomfort of that sprained ankle. And Big Pharma man charges lots of moolah for these super pills. With the monetary payoff from more expensive pain killers being prescribed for such minor injuries, Big Pharma has gained massive profits, while the users of Oxy as well as other similar narcotics being liberally prescribed by doctors, unwittingly turn scores of their patients into addicts, some of whom die or are left a mess of human being.


Is this blog strictly about the opioid crisis, as it has now become labeled? Well, not entirely. As already noted, the use of narcotics have been documented going back to 460 bce in ancient Greece. That means these potent, addictive drugs, once solely derived from nature, have been around a long time. They precede us humans. But here, in the 21st century, again thanks to Big Pharma, there are synthetic versions of the natural, unadorned drugs derived from nature’s poppy plants that have the most pain-killing kick to offer their users. How about Fentanyl? How much pain are you in need of masking? Where does this “pain” come from? Are all opioid addicts killing physical pain? Are they, rather, killing the “pain” of not getting their fix? Morphine is derived from opium. Which is derived from that poppy plant. So, nature provides us the poppy plant. Someone uses the poppy in a way that reveals its “joyful plant” characteristic. This “joy” is a good thing, damn straight. In the immortal words of Ren and Stimpy “happy happy, joy joy!”. To be happy and joyful, again, does NOT seem to be part of our natural human condition. Of course it isn’t. Just read the history books. Humankind is one aggressive, voraciously greedy, insecure, petty, exploitative, self-absorbed, vindictive, homicidal species. Does being a scumbag produce joy?! Oh, sure we have our benevolent moments through history. But for every Mother Teresa, I’d say there are a few thousand, tens of thousands?, of nefarious motherfuckers looking for an angle, a scheme, a self-serving, pernicious approach to betterment. Most of our current human population lives in poverty, afflicted by disease and systematic oppression. That, in spite of 21st century medical and technological advances that have come about in the last 100 years or so. Even near where I live, in suburban Chicago, the notorious South and West sides of the city are emblematic of a sinister City Hall, status quo. For many decades these areas clearly could use some serious sharing of the budgetary municipal pie, but each gets but a few crumbs, while those areas that have no need for a hand up, get a handout. Then the generational power brokers give lip service as to their desire to help resolve the blatant inequities that are kept in place in these South and West sides. And guess what? There’s lots of narcotic drug use in those areas. Shocking! These “hoodies” don’t want to better themselves, say some analysts. They just want to get high. Or could it be they want to get high as an antidote to eating those stale scraps of the budgetary pie?

But can the enormous use of those deadly narcotics, handed out by medical professionals to even many a middle and even upper class segment of society be relegated to the same kind of desire to escape reality as for the victims of official, inflicted painful policies, or is it simple, nefarious intent by Big Phama Pusher Man? Just what is it that apparently drives so many people to use addictive, deadly drugs, far after the cause of the initial physical pain has been nullified? Escapism? From.what to where?

Taking an acid trip is one option. Maybe you’ll actually get your shit properly wired by expanding that grey matter between your ears. Or you’ll have a freak out. One and done. But take an opioid, and feel no pain, bro, its potent elixir coursing through your veins; that’s where so many people prefer to be, regardless of of race, color, creed, religion, political affiliation, income, ethnicity, male or female. And they likely prefer to–once having visited with the joy plant (and/or its synthetic overdrive derivatives)– make repeated visits. Thanks to a psycho-physiologic synapse revealing just how much better–how not?!– this altered state of being is than is to deal with everyday reality.

Nature and Big Pharma. Filling a Natural need for pharmaceuticals. The Pusher man. Find him at your local doctor’s office. And if the FDA makes it harder to get those scrips in a rapid-relief modus operandi, then there’s the original pusher man, likely not too far from wherever you live, be it a rural or urban setting. That’s why the so-called “War on Drugs” never has and never will have a chance of being won. We humans just seem to need to escape reality, whether that reality is an emotional, or a physical distress. Or maybe it’s just the mundane existence of everyday life. I mean, pot is legal in a number of states, but even the best weed can’t compete with the narcotic-guided off ramp from reality. Reality? THC is a non-life altering, very momentary altered state of mind, and while some accuse marijuana of being a “gateway” drug, it simply is not. One can become psychologically “addicted” to MJ, but giving it up won’t have the user climbing walls in need of another dose.

You want/need the narco-train to joyville. Hop in the car, drive out of one hood and into another. Find that generic looking medical clinic, or a vast, modern medical mecca out there, or just a barren outpost at the corner of Desolation Row and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. If you want it bad enough you can get it. There’s always a Pusher Man somewhere waiting to serve your needs. Your doctor  or some street vendor in the Derelict District. He may even be an ancestor from Ancient Greece. 

Caveat Emptor, of course. I’m not endorsing this sometimes deadly dynamic. Just simply commenting on it. Just trying to be helpful. We humans need to help one another. Now more than ever, as there’s a lot from which one might want to escape as far as current events go, local, national or international. Nationally? Ugh. Reality? More like a garish cartoon that has no joy, not a hint of civility, sensibility or that rare desire to just make life good enough at its waking surface. Sure many people are just fine with our tenuous, divisive, hateful, fear-mongering moment on our sphere, a stupefying reality that for many just adds to the stress that life throws at us. Paging Pusher Man.

So, try not to be a pain in someone else’s ass. But, ya know if assholes could fly, there’d be airports everywhere. Seriously…

This opioid thing is predicated upon one kind of pain or another. Forget opioids. Try watching Ren and Stimpy. Go see a happytime movie or play, or a live, entertaining performer. Read a page-turning  piece of literature. Maybe that can be good enough to avoid destructive pill popping. Only if you have a strong constitution for bullshit, that is. And lots of will power. Maybe we can cut down our 80% slice of the poisoned global, narcotic pie. Maybe just have a THC gummy bear. What does it say that weed is slowly being deemed acceptable enough of a high to decriminalize it in more and more states?  Our local governments are realizing a whole lot of people need just that escape route now and then. It’s not physically additive (as asserted), won’t turn the user into a sad, degenerative statistic and, as John Prine has sung: you may see me tonight, with an illegal smile but it don’t cost very much, and can last a long while.

Well, it’s selectively legal and maybe eventually available in vending machines. But it is not potentially lethal (says medical science). Or just tough it out with grit and determination. There’s booze and nicotine, right?, if will power is running low. 

Mind and body. Less is more. Nothing in excess. Try not to suck. Life is short. Use it or lose it. 

But if push comes to shove, find Morpheus and take the blue pill when you start feeling reality is a bit too dreadful. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.



About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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2 Responses to 21st Century Pusher Man

  1. For what it’s worth, the National Institutes of Health is working on opioid additions. [I was thrown out of an NIH Neurofibromatosis Type 2 Natural History Study for being severely mentally ill. It obviously isn’t my favorite place at the current time. I was in the NINDS, neurological section, and came every 6 months for four and a half years.]

    Opioid-related Research Supported by NICHD [National Institute of Child Health and Human Development]
    NICHD’s Role in the Helping to End Addiction
    Long-term SM Initiative, or the NIH HEAL Initiative SMNICHD is playing a major role in the NIH HEAL Initiative, a trans-agency effort focused on improving prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction, and enhancing pain management. Launched in April 2018 with funding from Congress,the NIH HEAL Initiative brings new hope for people, families, and communities affected by the national opioid public health crisis.


  2. The United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow direct to consumer pharmaceutical drug advertising. That may play a role in big pharma’s outsized success in peddling addictive pain killers in the US as well as the opioid fueled rise in adult mortality rates in this country. Nefarious!


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