Drug Importer or Chronic Pain Sufferer?
Toyota’s Chief of Corporate Communications, American born Julie Hamp, was arrested recently for importing oxycodone from America to Japan. Despite the headline catching nature of her arrest, she wasn’t caught with millions of pills. It remains unclear whether she was smuggling in prescription drugs or simply fell victim to international medication laws.
Ms. Hamp, appointed as a senior executive in April, was arrested by Tokyo police for violating the Narcotics Control Act, which bans foreigners from bringing in medication. Lawyers for both Toyota and Hamp deny that she was smuggling drugs.
The circumstances surrounding her arrest tell a different story. An international package containing approximately sixty oxycodone pills was delivered to Japanese customs officers in June. The package was listed as containing necklaces, but was found to contain Oxys hidden in many smaller boxes.
Japanese officials haven’t released details about much else. The type of oxycodone is still unknown, as is the strength of the pills. Police have, however, raided Toyota headquarters and its offices in Tokyo.
This type of raid is common after an arrest, especially a high profile arrest featuring an American citizen.
What Do We Know So Far?
While the details on Ms. Hamp’s arrest and trial are still being kept closely under wraps, there is some information we do know. As mentioned above, we know the pills were hidden and mislabeled.
In a public response, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, apologized that someone from his company had caused such controversy. He also came to Hamp’s defense, stating she’s an “indispensable” part of the company and expressing regret that they hadn’t helped her transition to a new country better.
Mr. Toyoda also went on record as saying, “Through the investigation, I believe that we will learn she had no intent to violate the law” (CNN).
We know Japanese law as well. Oxycodone is a legal prescription drug in Japan. In fact, it’s controlled and distributed in a similar manner to how it is in the US. Japan’s laws are incredibly strict when it comes to importing all prescription medication however.
To import just about any medication, from oxycodone to Advair, you need to obtain permission from the government ahead of time. More on this below.
We also know the criminal sentencing guidelines for those found guilty of importing oxycodone and other narcotic pills. They range in severity depending on the individual case, but importing controlled narcotics carries with it a prison sentence of between one and ten years.
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A History of Importing Prescription Meds
This isn’t the first time an American has gotten into trouble for bringing prescription medication into Japan. This isn’t even the first case of it this year!
In early 2015, Carrie Russell, a twenty-six year old teacher, was arrested and detained for over two weeks. Her crime? Receiving a package of Adderall from her mother.
Ms. Russell’s mother, a doctor in Oregon, sent her the pills for her ADD. Still, she was held for an extended period of time and only released after a number of American politicians and diplomats intervened.
That’s a natural question to ask about Julie Hamp’s arrest. So what? Why should we care that someone was arrested for bringing powerful painkillers into a foreign country? If anything, doesn’t it make sense?
It certainly does. No one should be above the law of any country. Still, Ms. Hamp’s arrest, and Ms. Russell’s before, reveal an interesting trend. They show the scope of America’s prescription medication addiction on an international scale.
Let me be clear, when I say “America’s prescription medication addiction,” I’m not suggesting that either Hamp or Russell are addicted to pills. Indeed, both appear to have legitimate reasons for needing prescription meds. Russell suffers from ADD and Hamp has a history of chronic knee pain.
What I do mean is that Americans love prescription medication. Our country writes more prescriptions, and for stronger, more dangerous drugs, than any other country. Why do you think we’re in the midst of the opioid epidemic?
It’s interesting to see this play out on a global scale. I’m sure Hamp and Russell aren’t the first Americans to be arrested for bringing controlled drugs into foreign countries. I’m also sure they won’t be the last.
So what can we do? How can we curb the arrest of US citizens on foreign soil?
Simple – we can break our dependence on prescription drugs. Those suffering from chronic pain can try alternative methods of pain relief. Guess what? Not only will this eliminate any possible arrests, but it will also eliminate the potential for opioid addiction. Not to mention that practices like acupuncture and physical therapy have been shown to be effective pain relief methods.
This type of shift, from narcotic painkillers to various “lifestyle treatments,” may sound radical. It isn’t. It’s intensely practical and has far-reaching and positive impacts. Bring it on!