The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

McKinsey and the Opioid Epidemic

Feb 15, 2021

McKinsey is a gigantic consulting company, hired by others to analyze operations and to “help them meet their goals.” In this capitalist society, that essentially means finding ways to maximize profits. And that means following the logic of capitalism to deadly conclusions, as a recent settlement reached over the opioid epidemic illustrates.

McKinsey was hired by Purdue Pharma, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin, to “turbocharge” sales, even as the opioid crisis was accelerating at the end of the 2000s. In 2009, McKinsey helped Purdue formulate “sales ‘drivers’ based on the idea that opioids reduce stress and make patients more optimistic and less isolated,” even though it was patently obvious that OxyContin was addictive itself, and led directly to heroin addiction, something that certainly increases stress and isolation!

These consultants knew exactly what they were doing: In one slide of a presentation, McKinsey estimated that 2,484 CVS customers would overdose or develop an “opioid use disorder” in 2019 alone. McKinsey even proposed that Purdue offer a rebate to CVS and other pharmacies for every overdose “event,” since those overdoses would cost the pharmacies customers!

McKinsey also helped Purdue Pharma attempt to keep money rolling in even as it began coming under increasing scrutiny. It advised Purdue to sell high dosage pills, which are more addictive—but also more profitable. McKinsey told Purdue to team up with other drug companies to push back on regulation by the FDA. And after Walgreens settled with the federal government to restrict opioid sales in 2013, McKinsey advised Purdue to “lobby Walgreens’ leaders to loosen up.”

So far, at least 450,000 people in this country alone have died in the opioid crisis, not to speak of the millions of lives ruined. McKinsey has reached a settlement to pay out almost $600 million dollars for its role in all this—which it claims is more than it received for its advice. But that kind of settlement is like asking a murderer who also stole some cash to give back the money—ignoring the dead body.