Commercialization: Good or Bad? It depends.

Is commercialization a good thing or bad thing? How does commercialization affect our lives? I believe it depends on how intimately a commercialized activity impacts our health and happiness.

I was just checking out the definition of commercialization because I’m writing about the effects of commercialization of the marijuana industry on Colorado. If you look at statistics related to marijuana use and its impacts on the state, the statistics are divided into pre-commercialization and post-commercialization periods. Why? Because the impact of legalized medical marijuana was fairly mild before commercialization and it was dramatically worse once this change took place.

In this context, what is commercialization? It’s running an industry or activity for profit. When marijuana was legalized in this state for medical use, the industry was not intensively commercialized until 2009. Before 2009, there were no stores where you could buy medical marijuana but the 4,800 medical marijuana cardholders could grow the plant for their own use. Post-2009, the industry became commercialized. In the next three years, 95,000 more people obtained their cards and 500 businesses opened up to sell this product.

The statistics of use and negative impact exploded when this industry commercialized.

After marijuana was legalized for recreational use as of January 1, 2014, the industry exploded even more. Huge amounts of money began to pour into this industry as investors saw the profits that would be possible. Like with alcohol, if you can get people using this drug, some will become addicted and they will be your best customers. Hopefully forever. Or at least that is the commercialized viewpoint.

The retail dispensary I visited in Denver in 2015. Still early days in terms of all the damage this drug would cause.

In a 2018 article, a U.S. Attorney in Colorado described the disastrous effects of commercialization on his state:

“Now Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85 percent higher than the national average. Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151 percent. Now 70 percent of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness. Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power per square foot than an average residence. Now each of the approximately one million adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes over 2.2 liters of water — per day. Now Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold.”

You can read that whole article here.

This Isn’t Actually a Post About Marijuana

It’s a post about commercialization. It has actually been the commercialization of the marijuana industry that has created ruinous effects.

So here’s the question: Has commercialization ruined any other industries that we know about?

How about healthcare? Medicine? And pharmaceutical products?

There’s thousands of people asking the question, “How can we fix our broken healthcare system?” I believe a big part of the answer lies right here. The entire industry has been commercialized. And that has ruined the state of healthcare in this country.

Just at a casual glance, here’s some areas that have been heavily influenced and perhaps, ruined by the commercialization of healthcare.

  • Insurance coverage and administration
  • Medical training
  • Hospital management
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Treatment decisions
  • Development of new pharmaceutical products
  • Pricing of life-saving drugs
  • Marketing of pharmaceutical products
  • Vaccine development and mandates
  • Direct-to-consumer advertising of all types of pharmaceutical products

You can probably think of more items to add to this list.

Even the treatment of addiction, a life-threatening health condition if ever there was one, has been commercialized. Shortly after the new millennium, buprenorphine, an opioid painkiller, was approved by the FDA for the treatment of addiction. It would replace methadone, another opioid, as a popular treatment drug. When people are addicted to opioids like heroin or OxyContin, methadone or buprenorphine keep the person from getting dopesick, meaning suffering the full effects of withdrawal pain and sickness.

NC: Corporations In North Carolina
Purdue Pharma makes OxyContin, a drug that has addicted untold thousands of people. They also make buprenorphine and have tried to get permission to treat the addictions they caused. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar

What a fabulous opportunity for the companies that manufactured buprenorphine. They lost no time working hard to take advantage of this opportunity. Their efforts followed on the heels of the fantastically fraudulent actions of the opioid painkiller industry to popularize their products starting about 1995. The result of that commercialization was the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic currently in our midst. In 2018, an estimated 1.7 million people were struggling with addiction to painkillers.

I began working in addiction recovery in 2006. I was alerted to this new treatment drug soon after my arrival. I have watched in horror as agencies and officials have worked hard to make buprenorphine the new standard form of treatment for anyone addicted to opioids. This emphasis has pushed other types of treatment to the margins, even if tens of thousands of people have successfully used those methods to recover.

Unseen, the pharmaceutical companies have undoubtedly lobbied hard to get legislators to mandate buprenorphine products as the most valid type of addiction treatment. And not just the most standard, but also the only authorized type of treatment.

Standardized language has been developed to state that the types of rehabilitation to receive the most support and funding from government agencies are those using “evidence-based treatment,” meaning they administer buprenorphine in a method of treatment called medication-assisted treatment.

No one but a pharmaceutical company has the half-million dollars or more to fund the scientific studies that grant a method of treatment the status of being “evidence-based.” (All “evidence-based” means is that the drug was found more effective than doing nothing in at least two research studies/drug trials.)

So these are the industries colluding to place a straightjacket on the entire field of addiction recovery: government, pharmaceutical, insurance and healthcare.

Capitalism? Corporate Greed? Or Commercialization? 

I have been thinking of problems like these as deriving from corporate greed and yes, that is true. But the exact phenomenon that is so destructive is commercialization.

It’s fine for corporations to make a profit. If they make products that are helpful and that we like, go ahead. Make all the money in the world. I love my Macintosh laptop and iPhone and I’ll buy more of them in the future. That’s not evil or destructive.

But life and death matters should never be allowed to be commercialized. Once you commercialize healthcare, pharmaceutical products, the marijuana industry, addiction recovery and other very human matters, our existence, happiness, ability to enjoy life and even our sanity are in the hands of people with big dollar signs in their eyes.

And so we end up with the destructive influences many of us are fighting so we can protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

It takes a lot of work to fight back against these multi-billion dollar industries to regain control of our bodies, healthcare and addiction recovery. The fight is worth it – we really have no choice but to fight for our freedoms.

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