America’s Finest News Source has taken aim at the drug war - not just once, but repeatedly. Here’s a rundown of some of The Onion’s best jabs at drugs and drug enforcement.
Highlighting both cartel violence and big pharma’s role in addiction in America, The Onion ran a 2013 piece titled, “Pfizer Kingpin Gunned Down in Ongoing Prescription Drug Cartel Turf War.”
“In the latest of an increasingly violent series of murders linked to international prescription drug trafficking, infamous Pfizer cartel leader Philip ‘El Loco’ Cox was gunned down Thursday by rivals from the Bristol-Myers Squibb organization, the FBI has confirmed,” the piece begins.
In real life, there’s been no news of industry CEO shoot-outs or assassinations, but some pharmaceutical execs have graced the headlines for running afoul of the law - albeit with far less blood and guts than their cartel counterparts.
Last year, several Insys managers and executives were charged with racketeering after federal prosecutors alleged they “led a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners to unnecessarily prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication and defraud healthcare insurers.”
As the industry’s role in spreading the use and abuse of addictive painkillers has come under increasing scrutiny, it’s sparked a number of other legal actions, including lawsuits in New York, Ohio, and Indiana.
The Onion’s take-out goes on to detail the supposed pharma cartel war and offer some faux quote gems, including this ominous closing warning from a fake sociologist: “Just remember that the next time you visit a major pharmaceutical hub—maybe it’s San Diego, maybe it’s Raleigh-Durham—you may find yourself abducted, tortured, and thrown out of a moving car with the word ‘GlaxoSmithKline’ carved into your chest.”
The Highs of Campaign Lows
Less a commentary on drug policy and more a mash-up of tropes from the last completely bonkers election cycle, a 2016 piece pulled together Jeb Bush’s flagging campaign and the New Hampshire heroin crisis that got so much press during primary season.
“Demoralized Jeb Bush Succumbs To New Hampshire Heroin Epidemic,” the headline reads, just above a dreary image of the ex-governor looking forlorn and hopeless.
When the story came out, Bush was fresh off a campaign run through the Granite State, the politically important site of the first primary elections in the presidential campaign season. Some pundits posited at the time that Bush was finally beginning to “hit his stride” after an uplifting stop in Portsmouth - but it was too late. By the end of the month, he threw in the towel.
“Plunging into a downward spiral of despair and self-doubt after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, a demoralized Jeb Bush reportedly succumbed this week to New Hampshire’s ongoing heroin epidemic,” The Onion wrote, while Bush eked out the last days of his campaign.
“At press time, a senior Bush advisor confirmed that the candidate had climbed in the New Hampshire polls after generously sharing a needle with several fellow addicts.”
Unfortunately for Jeb and his rig-sharing ways, it wasn’t until a few days after this story that the Florida Senate approved a needle exchange.
War is Hell
The drug war was still charging forward with reckless fervor when The Onion posted a 2005 gem riffing on the longstanding lock-em-up approach to addiction.
“Report: 92 Percent of Souls in Hell There on Drug Charges” the headline declared.
“A report released Monday by the Afterlife Civil Liberties Union indicates that nine out of 10 souls currently serving in Hell were condemned on drug-related sins,” the piece began. "’Hell was created to keep dangerous sinners off the gold-paved streets of Heaven,’ ACLU spokesman Barry Horowitz said. ‘But lately, it's become a clearing-house for the non-evil souls that Heaven doesn't know how to deal with.’"
Although the astonishingly high percentage of prisoners locked up on drug charges has long been a source of consternation for drug policy progressives, currently the lock-up rates aren’t quite that high. Roughly half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges, according to federal numbers.
In case the parallels to the drug war weren’t clear enough, the piece referenced “God's ‘get tough’ drug policy of the 80s A.D.” and a “one sin and you're out” practice reminiscent of zero tolerance policies.
“According to God's law, souls who possess four ounces of illegal drugs at any point during their mortal lives face a mandatory minimum sentence of eternity,” the piece continues. Of course, in the intervening years, America’s hellishly tough drug policies have softened nationwide - and hopefully the afterlife has taken some cues from that shift.
Playing on concerns about animal testing and tropes about the behavior of people with addiction, a 2010 send-up is titled “Chimp in Cocaine Study Starts Lying to Friends.”
“Concerned workers at the National Primate Research Center said Bobo, a 5-year-old chimpanzee participating in a 16-month cocaine study, was observed this week lying to the faces of friends, family, and staff,” the text begins.
The piece goes on to describe Bobo becoming “an asshole” whose friends enable him by always giving him “one last chance.”
As of press time, Bobo was reportedly sprawled out on the floor of the laboratory,” the piece ends, “begging for more cocaine and offering to give researchers hand jobs in exchange for some.”
Unlike most of the other items on this list, this piece doesn’t particularly target a drug war-specific issue and hones in more on concerns about animal testing and widespread perceptions about the behavior of drug users. Nonetheless, it still merits a mention for its gold-star humor.
In fall 2016, as stories about the growing heroin epidemic formed a dominant thread in mainstream media outlets, the Onion set its sights on the dope boom with a piece titled, “Small Town Beginning To Wonder What Taking Heroin Epidemic So Long To Get There.”
“Saying they figured their community’s mix of high unemployment and low economic mobility would make it a prime target for the drug problem devastating similar small towns throughout the nation, residents of Boswell, IN reportedly wondered aloud Friday what was taking the heroin epidemic so long to get there,”’ the Sept. 2016 send-up notes.
“‘I keep hearing about how small, economically depressed cities all over the country have been succumbing to the flood of cheap heroin, and given the state of things here, it just seems like we really should be looking on helplessly as our neighbors turn to lives of hard drug use,’ said Boswell native Kathryn Witte, echoing the sentiments of her 770 fellow residents who argued that, with the town’s rural location and lack of entertainment options, Boswell should be awash in overdoses and drug-related crime by now.”
The opioid epidemic’s ferocity has made waves in rural areas, gaining a glut of coverage in West Virginia, Kentucky and other areas not stereotypically seen as the center of such big city problems. But it hasn’t impacted the whole country equally, and has particularly batteredAppalachia - though presumably real-life rural towns aren’t actually worried about being left out.
Blowing Bush’s Legacy
The Onion took a jab at the 43rd president’s rumored partying past with a 2013 piece titled, “George W. Bush Having Trouble Finding Decent Cocaine Since Leaving White House.”
“Sucks, because I could really use some good coke right now,” the story jokingly quoted the ex-president saying. “It’s commencement season, and God knows how many speeches I’m gonna have to get through.”
Bush has never publicly admitted to dabbling in the white stuff, but rumors have plagued the Texas native for years. And he may have only added to the mystery by refusing to offer answers, instead alluding to a misspent young adulthood.
“What I did as a kid? I don’t think it’s relevant,” he told a reporter one time. "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” he said another time.
But even years after vacating the Oval Office it seems it’s a fog of mystery he can’t escape.
“I had some real good hookups in D.C., but the shit down here is just terrible,” faux Bush told The Onion.
“I just don’t get as high, you know?”
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