Oct 30, 2017
Last week at a press conference, Trump called the opioid epidemic “a national shame” and declared it a public health emergency. But this crisis was not discovered last month. It has been in the making for decades since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OxyContin, a powerful and highly addictive opioid, in 1995. After its approval, the sales of this opioid, a drug that acts on the nervous system to relieve pain, increased by 2,000 percent in a span of just five years through powerful marketing by its manufacturer Purdue Pharma.
Everything about this real social crisis is undeniably shocking. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 59,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States just in 2016 – that is, 162 people each day. Approximately 80 percent of the global opioid supply was consumed in the United States in 2015, according to CNBC. About 240 million pain prescriptions were written in the U.S. in 2015, which amounted to at least one bottle of pain killer for every household that year. So, people are flooded with opioids up to their neck, in every corner of the U.S.
Causes of this epidemic include aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies and in the process, downplaying addiction risk; payments to physicians and medical journals by pharmaceutical companies to encourage the prescribing of their drugs; and doctors who then, in turn, prescribe and overprescribe these drugs to patients without fully explaining their side effects. From the giant pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the opioids, including Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, to giant drug distributors like McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, which provide these opioids to the pharmacies; and pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, which sell these opioids to the public, it’s giant companies that form the supply chain of the opioid industry.
The cost of manufacturing one opioid pill is no more than a few cents. But, each 30-pill vial of one opioid, oxycodone, is worth $900 when re-sold by a street dealer. So, the opioid industry is a mainstream and hugely profitable business cornered by giant companies, the biggest pushers of these drugs.