The Opioid Epidemic in America

Without a doubt, the opiate epidemic is the worst drug crisis in American history. Today more Americans die from drug overdoses than they do from car accidents. Last year the number of drug overdose deaths rose to an astounding 72,000 – the vast majority of these were opiate or opioid-related.

How did we arrive here?

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While corrupt doctors and academic institutions can both be blamed, if it hadn’t been for the existence and actions of a particular family, none of this would be going on. That family is the Sackler family – one of America’s wealthiest families.

Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, sons of Jewish immigrants from Galicia and Poland, are the owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals which is the developer of Oxycontin and the engineer of America’s opiate epidemic.

According to Forbes, the Sackler family fortune exceeds 13 billion dollars. A fortune that they’ve ‘earned,’ and I use this term quite loosely, at the expense of millions of Americans who are now addicted to opiate or opioid drugs.

Before the Sackler family began its marketing and lobbying campaign for Oxycontin doctors were always reluctant to prescribe strong opioid painkillers – synthetic drugs derived from the opium plant. Until quite recently, physicians typically only prescribed these kinds of drugs for end-of-life palliative care and acute cancer pain.

That all changed when Purdue’s Oxycontin was thrust onto the American pharmaceutical market.

Before the drug’s release in 1995, Purdue Pharma began an aggressive and criminally deceptive marketing campaign which looked to completely overhaul the protocols and habits of doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers. The Sackler family paid doctors, funded medical research, and gave massive endowments to medical schools who then propagated the idea that previous concerns about Oxycontin addiction were unfounded and that the drug could safely and effectively treat an ever-expanding range of ailments.

After Oxycontin’s release in 1995 many hailed the drug as a ‘medical breakthrough’; a long-acting, time-release opioid that could help treat patients with moderate to severe pain without having the same addictive potential as other opioids. The drug reportedly netted around 35 billion dollars for Purdue. For a short period, Oxycontin was seen as the quintessential painkiller. A miracle opioid that exhibited all the upsides of a traditional opiate with none of their pitfalls…. Sounds perfect, right?

The marketing and widespread over-prescription of Oxycontin has left an indelible stain on the medical establishment and medicine as an institution in our country. Doctors who over-prescribed the drug and who facilitated the addictions of millions can and will always claim to have been ignorant or duped regarding the drug’s highly addictive nature.

But should we believe them?

Of course, we shouldn’t. A similar motive to that which caused fraudulent bankers to make subprime mortgage loans to those who wouldn’t be able to pay them back, without a doubt, caused doctors to become Purdue Pharma’s street-level drug pushers. That motive is greed. And more specifically, greed being elevated well above human goodness and decency.

The opioid and opiate epidemic didn’t happen overnight. For it to have occurred first one of our most trusted institutions, the medical establishment, had to be corrupted to its core. We have the Sackler family to thank for this.

It has now been 24 years since the Sackler family unleashed Oxycontin onto the American pharmaceutical market. Look at the irreparable damage to our society that’s been caused as a result. Vast swaths of the population are now hooked on heroin, and more people are dying from overdoses than ever before in our country’s history.

The American Society for Addiction Medicine has reported that four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription opioid painkillers like Oxycontin.

Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty to marketing Oxycontin to the public “with the intent to defraud an mislead,” and has paid a $600 million fine.

Over 200 states, cities, and counties have filed lawsuits against Purdue for criminal misbranding of the drug.

But for a family who made tens of billions of dollars from getting millions addicted to opioids, I think most sane people would agree that monetary compensation just isn’t going to cut it. Considering all the lives that have been destroyed due to the criminal actions of the Sackler family, nothing short of many decades of imprisonment for the family members who were involved would begin to pay the societal debt.