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Editor's Letter 9/4/19

Last week, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million for its role in the deadly opioid crisis. The pharmaceutical giant was found to have engaged in “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns … [causing] exponentially increasing rates of addiction [and] overdose deaths,” including babies born with opioid exposure. 

According to data from The Washington Post, more than 1.4 billion pain pills moved throughout Oklahoma between 2006 and 2012. That shakes out to about 54 pills per resident. 

The numbers are breathtaking, but this kind of “public nuisance” is the inevitable outcome of a for-profit healthcare scheme. When there’s money to be made on our vulnerable human bodies, corporations like Johnson & Johnson, Teva and Duke Pharmaceuticals will be there to take it with both hands. That’s nothing new in this country—but suits like the one brought by the Oklahoma attorney general are. 

The $572 million price tag is insultingly low compared to the damage done to our communities, the cost ahead for addiction treatment and the obscene profits made by companies like J&J whose net worth tops a repugnant $360 billion. Still, I’m proud to be a resident of the first state that punched back against this cabal of billionaires building fortunes on our misery. May it be the first of many. 

We’ve got the reaction to the J&J verdict from Barry Friedman. Then we hear from Fraser Kastner, who just passed the distinctly American rite of passage by getting kicked off his parents’ health insurance on his 26th birthday. Tag along with our resident weed columnist as he navigates the bureaucratic nightmare of an industry that “prioritizes the flow of capital over human health and wellbeing.” Happy birthday, Fraser! 

You’ll find another public health story in these pages, as Cydney Baron takes us through the final days in the push to repeal permitless carry in Oklahoma. The last-ditch petition effort was a referendum on HB 2597, which would allow most people to openly carry a firearm without any training, licensure or background check. Volunteers needed to collect nearly 60,000 signatures in two weeks to pause the new measure, set to go into effect Nov. 1, and put it to a vote of the people. Cydney talked to former state Rep. Karen Gaddis, who voted against permitless carry during her time in the legislature, about the far-reaching effects of the bill and the danger it poses to our communities.    

Also inside—a stunning photo essay from Boley, one of Oklahoma’s last historically black frontier towns; a look ahead at the annual Philbrook MIX cocktail competition, including bartender portraits and a Q&A with New York Times cocktail writer, Robert Simonson; plus our usual fare of local music, art, food and more. 

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