America has been trapped in a losing drug war for decades, despite having spent over $1 trillion combatting it.
Experts say the availability, addictive nature, and potency of opioid drugs has led to the worst narcotic crisis in American history—one that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed lives, businesses, and families.
Its victims range from the chronically poor in small-town Appalachia to middle-aged suburban moms, to a host of celebrities including the musician Prince and the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Whether people are getting their fix from cheap heroin/fentanyl smuggled from other countries or through prescription drugs like OxyContin, the results are too often the same: broken families, shattered lives, addiction, and death.
How did we get here? How did we end up in a place where, on a single day in early 2017, authorities in Louisville, Kentucky, responded to 43 overdoses in a 24-hour period? Where 50 overdoses were recorded in a 24-hour period in Philadelphia in late 2016? The answer is depressing, but not surprising.
The seeds of the opioid crisis were sown by FDA collusion with a pharmaceutical industry that subordinated humanity in exchange for the massive profits garnered by addicting millions of Americans to their opioid-based drugs.
Opioids go Mainstream
Not too long ago, opioids were relatively uncommon, both in the illicit drug trade and in the treatment of chronic pain.
Medically, they were mostly used to control cancer pain or trauma.
As street drugs, opioids were long ago overshadowed by cocaine and crack, and then later by methamphetamines. Heroin, the most common street opioid, was heavily stigmatized.
That began to change in 1995, when a pharmaceutical company called Purdue Pharma was able to lay the groundwork for today’s epidemic, as a result of inefficient, inept oversight by the federal government.
That year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved oxycodone for chronic pain. Oxycodone, sold under its trade name OxyContin, was a semi-synthetic, time-released opioid, similar in structure and function to heroin and other opioids.
From the moment it was approved, OxyContin was backed up by an unprecedented, aggressive, and poorly regulated marketing campaign.
First, Purdue Pharma targeted busy primary-care physicians because they were less likely to be trained in safe pain management, and had little time to manage complex pain cases.
Purdue also trained their sights on doctors who already prescribed the most opioids and saw the most chronic pain patients.
Next, they expanded the range of conditions, thereby selling doctors on the idea that it was an acceptable solution for virtually any type of pain. Finally, they made the false claim that the drug was less addictive than other opioids because it was offered in a time-release capsule.
The campaign worked. Sales of the blockbuster painkiller skyrocketed from $48 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion in 2000. By 2003, nearly half of OxyContin prescriptions were written by primary-care physicians. One year later, it became the most widely abused opiate in the United States.
Eventually, Purdue Pharma’s tactics came back to haunt it. In 2007, the company and three executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges. According to prosecutors, Purdue Pharma had intentionally lied about the addictive risk of OxyContin. The company was slapped with $634 million in fines. These executives responsible were not sentenced to serve any jail time.
The convictions did little to stop the flow of powerful opioids into American communities. By 2015, Purdue Pharma was pulling in $2.4 billion annually from the sale of opioids, including OxyContin.
Today, synthetic opioids like fentanyl—which are much more powerful than pure heroin—are tearing through American communities. According to the CDC, the death rate from synthetic opioids increased by 72.2% in a single year, from 2014 to 2015.
Fentanyl is the drug that killed the pop star Prince.
Follow the money and you’ll find the truth unfortunately in many cases. Big Pharma is big business today. I get a handful of heroin cases in the office now and in most cases they were previously on prescription pain medications. Pain management in our country is a disaster. I realized this when I worked at the hospital during my undergrad years. When I was involved in a car accident when I was 17, I knew my options from the typical M.D. was going to be pain killers, steroids, or injections. No thank you. Many medical doctors have over prescribed these medications over the years and haven’t been held accountable for it. I’m glad for the car accident earlier in life, because it introduced me to chiropractic care and was the beginning of my journey.