Jewish Journal


March 13, 2013

Peddling Drugs and Selling Sobriety



By Ben Spielberg

As I halfheartedly worked on a paper on Sunday night, an infomercial on Comedy Central piqued my interest. It was some type of advertisement for recovery. However, like most treatment centers flaunting late-night commercials, there was a catch. Turn To Help labels itself as a place to go when opioid dependents feel alone and/or want help.

The problem is not the website. The problem is that Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals owns the website. Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals owns something else, too: Suboxone. Yes, the same Suboxone that is used as an opioid maintenance alternative to the “liquid handcuffs” of Methadone. And, yes, the same Suboxone that led to a 13% net increase in revenue for Reckitt Benckiser in 2009.

In this case, we are facing two distinct dilemmas. On the one hand, Reckitt Benckiser is doing something positive, because they are making harm reduction mainstream, thus leading to a reduced crime and disease rate. On the other hand, Reckitt Benckiser is advertising maintenance as recovery in order to sell a product that prolongs withdrawal in order to make a profit.

Upon visiting the Turn to Help website, I can do three things: learn about opioid dependence, take a quick survey if I am unsure of my addiction, or find a licensed doctor near my zip code. It is only after checking out the bottom of the “Treatment” category, after tabs of licensed doctors and methadone clinics, that I found information regarding 12-step programs and inpatient treatment options. However, there was no information about where to find them. Surely, the website developers for Reckitt Benckiser could figure out an algorithm to find a few meetings or treatment centers in different cities.

Turn to Help isn’t necessarily a bad idea--in fact, it’s a great strategy to take up the most market share possible, just short of selling heroin and owning rehabs. Phillip Morris owns “Quit Assist,” but even they don’t have the audacity to peddle their nicotine patches and gums to desperate smokers. Suboxone isn’t necessarily bad, but it needs to be marketed transparently—at least until the tablets can absorb an AA meeting and three months of primary treatment at Beit T’Shuvah. If that’s the case, then find me a doctor ASAP.

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