Prescriptions issued for OxyContin in the US increased tenfold over six years (1996 to 2002), from 670,000 a year to more than six million. A bulletin from the American Public Health Association in 2009, reviewing the rise of prescription opioids, is titled “The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: commercial triumph, public health tragedy”. The document also asserted that Purdue had played down the risks of addiction. In a landmark case, the company was fined more than $600m in 2007 for misleading the public, but it was making billions – at the time the only company making this kind of money from high-strength opioids.
Fast forward to today and America is losing almost 1,000 people a week to drug overdoses. Two-thirds of those are opioid fatalities – with the pill problem still pervasive, but with a rising number of heroin and fentanyl deaths.
In 2015, a quarter of drug overdose deaths involved heroin, compared with 8% in 2010.
The US is the epicentre and the origin of the crisis, consuming more than 80% of global opioid pills even though it has less than 5% of the world’s population and no monopoly on pain.
142 fatal overdoses a day
Overdoses killed more people in the US in 2015 than car crashes and gun deaths combined. The daily death toll is 142 fatal overdoses, 91 of them from opioids, adding up to almost 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015.
Shockingly, the primary sponsor of this legislation, Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino, is now President Trump’s nominee to serve as the next Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. You can read more in this Washington Post Piece. We need you to call the White House directly today by clicking here – send the President a message that his nomination of Tom Marino must be rescinded.
Politicians and Pharmaceutical companies spend months doing research but never release reports!!
Our federal government is controlled by pharmaceutical companies who spend $80m per year on lobbying
The opioid epidemic now claims close to 60,000 American lives a year
evolving into the biggest health emergency since HIV/Aids, as the medical profession’s caution about the prescribing of opioids fell away. Drug companies and some specialists pushed the notion that opioids were not addictive when used to treat pain based on the flimsiest of evidence, including a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine citing a small study that its authors say was misused. Out of that flowed a policy of treating pain as a “fifth vital sign” that corralled hospitals and doctors into mass prescribing opioids. Deaths from opioid overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015; ninety-one Americans die from opioid overdoses every day.
April Rovero’s son, Joey, died from drugs prescribed by the only doctor so far convicted of murder for illegally supplying opioids, Lisa Tseng. Rovero came out of it determined to educate others and set up the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse.
With stigma and ignorance come fear. Sherrie Rubin’s son, Aaron, survived an OxyContin overdose but his brain was starved of oxygen. He was left paralyzed and only able to communicate using two fingers. Aaron collapsed after taking the pill for fun at a friend’s house but the family delayed calling the emergency services because her son bought the drugs illegally in Mexico. The parents of Aaron’s friend finally drove him to the hospital but pretended not to know what was wrong with him. Rubin, now the executive director of Hope2gether, channelled her pain into pushing through a Good Samaritan law in California to protect a person from being arrested for possession of illegal drugs when summoning help for someone who is overdosing.
Parents winning local battles but losing the war to change national policy in the face of the considerable power of the pharmaceutical companies. So they drew their disparate organizations together under an umbrella group, Fed Up!, to press for change in Washington.
Yesterday, Google announced an enormous policy change as the result of months of consultation with Facing Addiction’s leadership team about protecting the safety of individuals and families seeking information and help for addiction.
Google is one of the largest referral sources for treating a disease that affects millions of Americans
This week, Google started restricting ads that come up when someone searches for addiction treatment on its site. “We found a number of misleading experiences among rehabilitation treatment centers that led to our decision,” Google spokeswoman Elisa Greene said in a statement on Thursday.
Google has taken similar steps to restrict advertisements only a few times before. Last year it limited ads for payday lenders, and in the past it created a verification system for locksmiths to prevent fraud.
In this case, the restrictions will limit a popular marketing tool in the $35 billion addiction treatment business, affecting thousands of small-time operators.
As of this week, Google has stopped selling ads related to searches for phrases like “drug rehab” or “alcohol treatment centers.”, although it may lift the restriction if it can find a way to weed out misleading advertisements. Read NY Times article here
Under Obama, America’s addiction to mass incarceration seemed to fade. But then came Trump and a hardline attorney general
For many years research and advocacy groups had opposed mandatory minimum sentences as cripplingly expensive, marked by racial disparities and of dubious value for crime prevention. But the laws were still on the books and the federal prison population continued to grow.
In May, Sessions reversed his predecessor’s initiative, claiming, without evidence, that Holder’s sentencing changes had led to America’s sudden 10.8% increase in murders in 2015.
Sessions, a former senator from Alabama known for his hardline views on crime and legal immigration, had been denied a federal judgeship in 1986 over alleged racist comments and attacks on the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union (he first admitted, and then disputed, calling these organizations “un-American”). Martin Luther King’s widow had written a letter opposing Sessions’ appointment, saying he had “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” through “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions”.
Appointing Sessions as attorney general “was like hosting a Confederate flag above the Department of Justice,” says Eugene Jarecki, a filmmaker who directed The House I Live In, an award-winning 2012 documentary about mass incarceration.
Botticelli supported a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by families of opioid victims, doctors and health organisations seeking the removal of the powerful painkillers from pharmacy shelves.
Activists see the “citizen petition”, which legally requires a response – Congress passed legislation in 2007 that requires the FDA to rule on citizen petitions within 180 days – as a test. It will show whether the FDA is finally turning away from policies that critics contend have contributed to the epidemic by putting the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies ahead of public health.
Among the drugs the activists want withdrawn are higher strength versions of OxyContin. Its launch 20 years ago with a marketing campaign claiming that it was neither addictive nor dangerous kickstarted the opioid epidemic, which swept out of Appalachia and across the country. Both claims were false and the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle legal actions. Three of its executives were also convicted of crimes over the false claims.
“Withdrawal symptoms from sugar come from dopamine deficiency in the brain. This may lead to symptoms such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it may even create a similar state in the brain as found in patients with depression.” read article here
In a draft report, the cross-party group of lawmakers argue that doing so would force officials to prioritise attention and funding to the issue.
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks“, the authors write.
One third of Americans were prescribed opioids in 2015, the group found.
The report also recommends that doctors curb excessive prescriptions of opioid medications, and improve access to pain management treatment techniques.