In the years following the Vietnam war, there was a wave of heroin use. Then through the 1980s, there was the crack surge, now an opioid epidemic. America will always have a war to wage when it comes to freeing its citizens from addiction. However, the usage of opioids has changed how many people view the pharmaceutical companies and industry. As a whole, the pharmaceutical industry has profited more from the opioid epidemic than any alternative drug ring in history. A substantial feat and a terrifying realization, doctors are prescribing addiction for profit.
Quick Stats on the Opioid Epidemic
Daily, approximately 130 people die from an opioid overdose, which is astonishing as these are not illegal drugs. Most people abusing opioids currently, or in the past, have a prescription for the medication. Doctors, hospitals, emergency centers, and more urgent care establishments are becoming the primary enabling force that is leading to these overdoses.
Additionally, as these are prescription pills, it places a substantial financial burden on the country. Collectively the production, manufacturing, and coverage of prescription pain killers including Fentanyl, is costing the U.S. about $78.5 billion per year. That figure also includes the cost of addiction treatment, healthcare benefits, the strain on criminal justice for issues that arise with addiction, and more.
Approximately 40% of those opioid-related deaths were attributed to a person who had a current prescription for the drug used in the overdose.
While the statistics around opioid addiction are easy to analyze the problematic part is identifying the people pushing this addiction to its limit. Cartels, mafias, and drug kingpins are the primary villains of drug trade documentaries and movies. With the opioid epidemic, though you’re not likely to find a low-laying kingpin. In fact, it may be astonishing that the likely culprit fueling this epidemic is an executive of the brand that produces baby powder.
Throughout the U.S. the states taking the most significant toll are the ‘fly-by’ or central states. Oklahoma is the first one among those most impacted to take legal action against the mass producers of pain killers.
Mike Hunter, the Oklahoma Attorney General, has alleged that Johnson and Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals had ignited the epidemic through aggressive marketing tactics. Allegations include the use of underhanded methods which influenced over-prescribing medications which directly led to thousands of deaths.
Essentially, he is holding Johnson and Johnson responsible for their role in the deaths of those who died from an overdose of prescription opioids. But Johnson and Johnson weren’t the only company included in these allegations they are simply the only company willing to fight the state on the claims. Purdue Pharma settled the same accusation made against them for about $270 million, and Teva Pharmaceuticals settled for $85 million. These settlements do not always acknowledge guilt; however, it does not leave a good impression on the community regarding their innocence.
Johnson and Johnson are currently awaiting an outcome on the civil case; however, it doesn’t look like things will resolve in their favor. The drug giant has paid out millions of dollars before in other matters regarding unethical behavior. They have fought each one with the argument that unethical action is not the same as illegal conduct.
Is There Help on the Way?
There is help available, and in 2017, the Presidential office took charge of ending this crisis. Through the SUPPORT Act, passed by Congress in 2018, there is now an all-government approach to helping those impacted by this epidemic. Approximately $6 billion in funding is working to end over-prescribing practices, increase criminal justice action against opioid trafficking, preventing more opioids from coming into the country, and providing support for those in need.
The SUPPORT act has allowed a 20% increase in young adults utilizing outpatient treatment for opioid addiction and recovery. That is a substantial gain and gives many people an advantage that otherwise would not be available.
As an official public health emergency, this epidemic will inevitably begin to slow down. However, the wake of those left in addiction is not forgotten. Recovery and treatment centers are working harder now than ever before to put an emphasis on education and using evidence-based treatment.
The ability to implement and provide access to recovery support will be essential for the nation to recover from these struggles of opioid addiction. Recovering from opioid use is a harrowing journey.