Nothing treaded the dark path,
Not a man nor a mouse
For there were rumors about the man,
The man in the house.
One day her bike broke down,
And she was forced to walk alone,
And she cautiously approached
The man and his gaunt home.
Suddenly, the door swung open,
And he walked out with a smile on his face,
With his perfect teeth and crisp suit,
The man who lived in this place.
He gently approached her at the gate
Greeted her as his daughter
He promised to help,
He fixed her bike,
The kind man who lived here.
As she told others of his kindness,
Rumors of his peculiarity subsided.
Many approached him for his help,
His knowledge, his wealth, his beautiful promise
The wonderful man and the building where he resided.
She approached the man one dreadful day
And knocked on his door, but no one answered.
She turned around, mounted her bike.
Not noticing a window open.
The wheels of her bike had been shot.
As she looked back, she saw his form clearly.
For the first time realizing the devil in the details
With his arm stretched, the man held a gun,
Wickedly grinning, his yellow teeth showing
His suit now covered with suspicious stains of red.
Faceless shadows appeared from the earth
Approaching her from every which way.
Promising she would join them,
Promising that there was no escape
She looked back at the evil man,
She pleaded and begged
Cried with growing dread
But he simply grinned
The empty pockets of his heart now full
And as he slowly closed the window,
He saw as the darkness consumed her.
Pulling her dress into the earth.
She became one with the nameless.
Nobody ever found out what happened that day,
And rumors started to spread.
But rumors are just words in the wind.
Carried away without meaning.
Over time, the man revealed his invincibility,
Like a rose bush with thorns under the flower
For the man had an accomplice
A helper who was as much of a criminal
As the strange man in the tower
Once again, the path was abandoned
By both man and mouse
For there were rumors about the man,
The man in the house
I was inspired to write this poem after one of the first meetings I attended in medical school. In a Narcan safety course hosted by Tampa Bay Street Medicine, I became aware of the atrocity that is the American opioid epidemic. Everyone has heard of the opioid crisis, but the meeting sent me down a rabbit hole to understand the source of the problem better. It didn’t take a long time for me to understand that the primary entities behind the epidemic were pharmaceutical companies (the strange man in the house). For decades, we have known how unethical practices by pharmaceutical companies pose a danger to public health in more ways than one. However, despite all the warning signs, we continuously rely on them for help. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have finally been brought to court for their actions. In 2020, Purdue Pharma, known as the creator of OxyContin, plead guilty to false advertising and ignoring the consequences of their pain-killer drugs. For many years, they encouraged providers to prescribe OxyContin in unnecessary situations, creating an addiction that fueled the opioid epidemic. However, this is not an isolated incident. Six pharmacy chains and drug manufacturers, including CVS and Johnson and Johnson, are paying over $36 Billion to settle thousands of lawsuits against their unethical business practices. The strange man is indeed the source of the problem, but he does not act alone. His accomplice, revealed in the last few stanzas, helps him at every turn. This “accomplice” is often ignored and could be any number of people or organizations. Politicians, lobbyists, law enforcement and even public ignorance help to bolster big pharma and allow these companies to thrive. This poem is my creative attempt to illustrate this problem, and as medical students, it is important for us to be aware of it. Our role as future physicians will be one filled with irony. We’ll be relying on these companies for medications and research, and at the same time treating the health crisis that they’ve created. I truly hope that substantive actions in the future can help solve this epidemic and prevent any more victims of addiction and overdose.
For more information about the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid epidemic, visit the following links