It is safe to say that there is an opioid addiction crisis in the United States. Back in 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for painkillers during 2012, representing a 400% increase in prescription opiate use in only 10 years. In Venezuela, however, the opioid crisis is at a whole different level — the people of Venezuela cannot get medication, and when they do, it is mostly expired or ineffective.
A recent report has found that Cuban doctors have been taking advantage of Venezuela’s ongoing medical crisis by selling expired, or near-expired products. Las Americas Journal reports that this uncommon form of medical trafficking has Cuban doctors illegally shipping drugs to Venezuela, and since they come from a respected source, Venezuelans haven’t been checking the quality of said drugs.
For 14 years, Cuba and Venezuela have had a growing partnership in which Cuba has sent their doctors and medicine to Venezuela in exchange for crude oil. But, while this system has proven successful for both Cuban and Venezuelan leaders, the people of Venezuela have been the ones to suffer.
The program, known as Barrio Adentro, is riddled with corruption. While it is meant to offer free medical care to the poor of Venezuela, the program has ended up backfiring as doctors wouldn’t be allowed to give out prescriptions and have been forced to fake statistics.
Due to a widespread lack of access to these clinics, doctors and dentists had to fake paperwork saying they saw double or triple the number of patients that actually walked into the clinic. To make things worse, the doctors were forced throw away medicine to ensure their reports looked accurate.
“I worked for three and a half years as a dentist in Venezuela, and it was horrible dealing with the statistics,” explains Thaymi Rodríguez to the Miami Herald “I might see five patients a day, but I had to say I’d seen 18, and then throw all that medicine away, because we simply had to.”
But in a country that is experiencing severe medicine shortage, why would the doctors have to do this? The answer is simple: since the Cuban government would be getting the profit from each patient seen by the doctors, they had to adhere to a strict quota or risk deportation.
Most of the illegal drugs involved in this trafficking ring are women’s contraceptive pills and those used to treat eye conditions.
In a country where medical care is so completely scarce, this is a dramatic tale to tell of what is to come for Venezuela. Just the other day, the country’s first infant death of 2017 was due to malnourishment, simply because her mother didn’t have access to food, medicine, and vaccines. Even though the child was brought to a hospital during her last days, the doctors could not help her because she was experiencing complete organ failure.
While this was the first infant death of 2017, it was an all too common trend in 2016. For the past year or so, Venezuela has been in such a full-fledged crisis that mothers are forced to go to extremes to get basic necessities for their children. For example, there is such a deficiency of diapers that mothers have to wait in lines at three in the morning to even get their hands on a package. And when they do, they are expected to shell out the equivalent of 20% of their monthly wage for a standard 15-pack of diapers.
Compare this shortage to wealthier countries, such as the United States, who have the disposable income to invest in rapidly growing technology efforts. For example, 3D printing, which is set to be worth $8.43 billion by 2020. For countries such as the USA, this spending is possible because they don’t have to worry about basic human necessities, such as medicine, food, and health care.
In response to this medical crisis and scandal, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has made it clear he will not help. At one of his recent speeches, when audience members yelled for food, Maduro responded:
“Don’t ask me for food. I’ll remind you that I gave that responsibility to General Vladimir Padrino López, go ask him at Fuerte Tiuna,” Local 10 reports.