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Current Events PopWrapped | Current Events

Last Week Tonight Examines America's Opioid Crisis

Ashley Perna | PopWrapped Author

Ashley Perna

10/26/2016 4:12 pm
PopWrapped | Current Events
Last Week Tonight Examines America's Opioid Crisis | Opioid
Media Courtesy of HBO

Last Week Tonight is known for taking on tough topics. Their strength is in educating their viewers using a combination of humour, outrage, and information. Sunday's episode was no different, with host John Oliver and the rest of the Last Week Tonight team covering two very depressing topics: the election and the opioid crisis currently facing America.

Oliver began by talking about the election, "or, as you may know it 'I honestly don't even know if I can make it another two-and-a-half weeks I've been drinking a lot and lashing out and frankly my family is worried 2016'". He pointed out that this last debate "of this election season, and possibly ever" was an opportunity for the candidates to go out on a high note. Instead, of course, we got the third debate.

The show paid particular attention to Trump's refusal to say whether or not he would accept the results of the election -- something Hillary Clinton pretty aptly called "horrifying".

"What do you mean you'll keep us in suspense?! This is a Presidential Election not an American Idol results show. 'I'll tell you whether or not my followers will plunge the country into anarchy ... after the break'"

Viewers were reminded that voter fraud, a topic the show has previously covered, happens extremely rarely. In the 14 year period between 2000 and 2014, only 31 cases of impersonation fraud were reported. To put that into perspective, Oliver compared it to the number of newborns named 'Abcde' born in 2009 alone, something arguably more concerning (the number is 32, for those who are curious).

There was one particular moment in the third debate that Last Week Tonight highlighted: where Hillary seemed to have struck a nerve with Trump by mentioning his reaction to losing an Emmy. Oliver was unsurprised that Trump coveted that particular award: "It's a woman, it's gold, and it's proportionate to his tiny, tiny hands. It's basically his ideal mate". He rolled that clip from earlier this week, including Trump's interjection that he believes he should have won. Using this as further evidence of Trump's inability to accept loss, Oliver had a unique proposal for Trump. He suggested they bet on the outcome of the election, with Oliver taking the position that Trump would win, and Trump taking the side that he would lose. This way, even if Trump loses, he still wins. It's almost so perfectly suited to appeal to his narcissistic side, it just might work. Oliver sweetened the deal even further with stakes that even Trump couldn't resist: his Emmy. He closed the segment by urging Trump to "take the bet, Donald. Take the fucking bet".

The show's main segment dealt with drugs -- specifically, the opioid addiction crisis facing America. As of last year, at least 2.6 million Americans were addicted to some form of prescription pain reliever or heroin. Opioids were the cause of death or involved in the death of almost 30,000 people across the country. These are astonishingly high numbers, so Last Week Tonight decided to investigate further by going to the source of many heroin addictions: prescription opioids.

However the addiction starts, it can get out of hand really fast. Oliver rolled a clip from a documentary, where all participants interviewed saying they moved from prescription opioids to heroin at one point in their lives. Others would deliberately injure themselves or put themselves through unnecessary surgeries in order to receive prescription painkillers.

The fact that so many people are addicted to opioids is especially interesting when you consider how rarely they were prescribed in the 1990s. Despite their effectiveness in dealing with pain, especially end-of-life pain, doctors suffered from so-called "opioid-phobia" and were reluctant to prescribe it for fear of addiction.

Now, no one is arguing that people in extreme amounts of pain should be denied the only treatment that offers some measure of relief. Consumer advocacy groups sprung up, working to clarify misconception about painkillers. Unfortunately, in their rush to legitimize painkillers, these groups mistakenly advocated that painkillers were not addictive, when, in fact, they are. This last assertion was capitalized upon by the drug industry, who saw an opportunity to broaden their market.

With the rise in number of opioid prescriptions, one would think that doctors would notice the increase in addictions. Not so. Oliver explained that many drug companies had doctors on payroll who would speak about "pseudo-addiction" (being addicted to the relief provided by a medication rather than the medication, itself) in an attempt to encourage doctors to continue prescribing their drug.

There is some good news. The makers of Oxycontin, Purdue Pharma, admitted that it had misled the public about its medication and was ordered to pay $634 million in fines. Purdue isn't alone, either. Drug manufacturer Cephalon was ordered to pay $444 million, and Insys Therapeutics, Inc. is currently under investigations for claims it made about the way they were pushing -- and even helping patients obtain -- Fentanyl.

One potential solution to the opioid crisis facing America is to provide access to alternate therapies to give patients the ability to get the same level of pain relief but without use of such an addictive substance. The issue with this solution is that many patients don't have access to these therapies, or their insurance won't cover those treatments. Oliver suggested that more needs to be done to battle addiction -- from increasing the availability of alternate therapies to putting money in addiction treatment.

Best Lines:

"'No, you're the puppet', sounds like something Pinocchio would say to Geppetto, slamming his bedroom door: 'You're the puppet! You're the puppet! I wish I had never been carved!'"

"To be fair, the questions the moderator asked there were: 'what is an offensive way to describe Mexicans?', 'state an objective falsehood', 'describe a non-existent medical process', 'mansplain in two words', and 'incorrectly name your favourite Janet Jackson song'."

"That room couldn't have given him more of a home field advantage. This wasn't a town hall; it wasn't a debate. This was a $3,000 a plate fundraising gala at a Manhattan hotel organized by the Catholic Church -- a real estate owning, male-dominated, sex-scandal-plagued organization with whom Trump obviously shares a uniquely qualified interior decorator."

You can watch the main segment on opioid addiction below. Last Week Tonight returns next week at 11pm on HBO.


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