Pharmaceutical Corporations “Pushed” The U.S. Opiate Epidemic

pills on a white background. symbolic photo for medicine and drugs

Corporate drug lobbyists are stronger and more organized these days. They fund their own “consumer study” groups and send well-heeled Washington lobbyists out to protect their financial interests. These cartels don’t operate in the far reaches of a foreign country either.

Since 2000, more than a half-million people have died from drug overdoses, report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fatal overdoses involving opioids, prescription painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone and Vicodin, as well as heroin, have seen a fivefold increase.

On the heels of the Surgeon General’s historic report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, many officials blame pharmaceutical companies for fueling the nation’s heroin epidemic. As of September of this year, CBS News wrote that states Attorney Generals were in discussions about how to “pursue legal action” against several companies, most notably Purdue, the maker of OxyContin.

• In May 2007 executives at Purdue Pharma pled guilty in federal court to misleading regulators and physicians about the potential risk of addiction of it’s blockbuster opioid OxyContin. The company agreed to pay $600 million in fines, while the executives themselves agreed to pay $34.5 million in fines

• In December 2015, Purdue settled a claim with Kentucky, a state devastated by opioid addiction, after Attorney General Jack Conway brought suit against them. The company agreed to pay $24 million to the state, which will use the money for addiction prevention and treatment

Despite rulings against pharmaceutical companies for their aggressive and misleading marketing campaigns, opioid painkiller use continues to rise. According to the Health and Human Services Administration, physicians dole out a staggering 650,000 prescription painkillers on an average day. As a result, an estimated 78 people die each day from accidental overdose to opioid painkillers.

Heroin abuse has crippled once thriving communities. Residents of New Hampshire ranked drug abuse as the single most important issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. Research suggests that among heroin users, 86 percent began after their doctor prescribed painkillers for a legitimate medical condition. With new legislation, though, painkiller became harder to get and many users switched to heroin, which has the same chemical makeup, is cheaper and readily available.

A Wall Street Journal graph chart (below) shows the explosion of heroin use, noting that fatal overdoses on opioids surpassed deaths due to automobile accidents:

opioid-overdose

There are skeptics about big pharmaceutical’s role in the opioid addiction crisis. As a growing number of states move toward legal medicinal and recreational marijuana laws, they claim Mexican cartels shifted their production from pot to heroin. Others disagree, but the influx of cheap heroin into the U.S. dovetailed with an addiction cycle caused by corporate greed.

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