The effort to rein in the prescription opioid problem here in America continues even though there hasn’t been an announcement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on how it plans to tackle the issue. While state and Federal lawmakers tirelessly work to bring about change and hold those responsible for their actions, the pharmaceutical industry has been less than cooperative. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise, after all the prescription painkillers are a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S. Taking even a modicum of responsibility for misleading doctors and patients about the dangers of opioids would be to acknowledge profiting off suffering and death.
All roads lead to the pharmaceutical industry no matter from what angle you examine the American opioid addiction epidemic. There is a plethora of evidence showing the tactics of companies, like Purdue Pharma, beginning in the late 1990s. Methods including promotional videos assuring doctors that the number of patients who might develop an opioid use disorder was statistically irrelevant. Before long, and with the bonus of incentives to prescribe, primary care physicians began doling out drugs like OxyContin for all things pain.
Naturally, the opioid scourge in America wasn’t the doing of just one entity; we need to consider that there are many stops along the way from the poppy fields to the medicine cabinet. The onus of the problem affecting millions of people falls on many private companies, health organizations, and government agencies like the FDA. In fact, some of the companies which profited the most from addiction in America were pharmaceutical distributors, those in the business of getting drugs from manufacturers to the pharmacy. Even a cursory look reveals that wholesalers turned a blind eye to filling suspicious orders.
Opioid Addiction Accountability
Yesterday, the leaders of five pharmaceutical distributors sat before a House panel hearing fielding questions regarding their practices in the state of West Virginia. The population of the “Mountain State” is roughly 1.80 million, according to today’s estimates and yet, 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone tablets went into the state between 2007 and 2012, CNN reports. The town of Kermit, WV, for instance has a total population of 400 people and yet, over the course of just two years almost 9 million painkillers were sent to one local pharmacy.
At one point during the hearing, House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee chairman, Gregg Harper (R-MS) asked McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Miami-Luken and Smith Wholesale if their companies had a role in the opioid epidemic? All the distributor heads but Dr. Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of the board of Miami-Luken, answered Harper unequivocally, “NO!”
Despite the fact that Rep. David McKinley, (R-WV) was not a member of the subcommittee he was able to sit in and allowed to share some thoughts with the distributors, according to the article. He points to the companies' "lack of attention on your algorithm and your core operation. And deflecting responsibility, saying, 'I just had to fill the order' -- no, you had a role. You had a role." Adding, "And for several of you to say you had no role whatsoever in this I find particularly offensive."
I just want you to feel shame in your roles, respectively, in all this," said McKinley. "I am so frustrated for the people of West Virginia and this country that you all have not stepped up and took more responsibility for this.
Paying for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
Lawmakers’ ire is fervent toward manufacturers as well, with many reasoning that since the companies had a role in creating the problem, the least they can do is help cover the cost of treatment. Currently, some 15 states have legislation in the works that would tax prescription opioids; the revenue would then fund addiction treatment services, The Chicago Tribune reports. Of course, bringing such laws to fruition is, unfortunately, a David and Goliath scenario given the powerful ‘big pharma’ lobbies. To date, only the state of New York has been able to pass an opioid tax measure.
The industry is up-to-its-eyeballs in lawsuits and protracted litigation, owing mainly to the staggering death toll in the last twenty years. The general public and lawmakers (some of whom have lost loved ones to overdose) want the industry to do what’s right, take responsibility, and be a part of the solution. Such companies can afford to help, especially when you consider the amount of money opioid developers spend in efforts to defeat common sense legislation. The big opioid producers spent $880 million on politics and lobbying from 2006 through 2015, according to AP and the Center for Public Integrity.
So, what is the manufacturers and distributors argument, you ask? The companies contend that an opioid tax is wrong and would lead to patients or taxpayers eating the cost in the long run. As you can probably imagine some lawmakers are at their wit's end with the lack of accountability, state Sen. Julie Rosen (R-MN) walked out of a meeting with big pharma reps, the article reports. She said:
They know that they're spending way too much money on defending their position instead of being part of the solution.
Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
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