The state of Ohio sues pharmaceutical companies for pushing painkillers. Missouri cops carry opioid antidotes in their cars. Judges everywhere play doctor, forcing abusers to choose between anti-addiction injections or jail.
And the U.S. military — which has been dealing with opioid addiction since Civil War doctors dosed wounded soldiers with morphine on the battlefield — literally takes new tech to the front lines, using nerve blockers similar to the epidurals given to pregnant women.
Every generation has its drug, from the opium dens of the 19th century to the crack houses of the 1970s to the hysterical “reefer madness” of the 1930s and the acid trips of the 1960s. The 1990s were all about ecstasy. The 1980s were PCP. It seems like only yesterday that the headlines were all about meth.
But how much of this is really new, or news-driven? Even Sherlock Holmes was an opioid junkie.
Related Link: The Fentanyl Abuse Epidemic
Opioids, however, are the crisis du jour with a twist: Despite an influx of homemade versions, opioids are modern medicine, an economic imperative of the $3 trillion U.S. health care industry. Opioid awareness is not so much new as nouveau: Opioid pill-popping has killed entertainment icons from Marilyn Monroe to Prince.
Here’s a look at the landscape of what some are calling an epidemic that killed 59,000 people last year, about 26,000 more than guns, way behind alcohol and still a fraction of the fatalities caused by cigarettes.
Sue Big Pharma
Ohio, which leads the nation in opioid deaths, announced in May it was suing these companies:
- Purdue Pharma L.P.
- Endo International PLC's ENDP Endo Health Solutions
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) TEVA and subsidiary Cephalon
- Allergan plc Ordinary Shares AGN
- Johnson & Johnson JNJ and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals
Painkillers are a cash cow for Big Pharma, which blames users for abuse. West Virginia sued Purdue Pharma in 2001 for creating a public nuisance because of its distribution of OxyContin, for example, and the case settled for a scant $10 million in 2004. Some legal experts believe juries have a tendency to put the onus on addicts.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in March sent letters to pharma companies seeking info about sales and marketing materials, among other things. The targets are Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen division, Insys Therapeutics Inc INSY, Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Depomed Inc DEPO.
McCaskill is the ranking Democrat on the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. At the D.C. scene, if the media can get ahead of the scandals of the administration of President Donald Trump, this is an investigation worth watching.
Market Anti-Opioid Drugs To Lawmen
Alkermes Plc ALKS has convinced hundreds of judges nationwide to deploy Vivitrol, an anti-opioid drug, drawing criticism from medicos who say criminal justice personnel should not play doctor. Users aren’t forced to take the injections, but often are given a choice of either that or jail.
Bust Doctors And Pharmacies
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Aug. 2 announced a program designed to cut down on one big part of the burgeoning opioid crisis: illegal prescriptions. The Justice Department will use a new data-analytics program to identify doctors and pharmacists abusing their authority, Sessions said.
Equip Cops With OD Tools
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens last month signed an executive order that would equip Missouri state troopers with an anti-overdose drug called naxoxone. Mississippi’s governor last week followed suit.
The Few, The Brave, The Addicted
Col. Chester “Trip” Buckenmaier III, professor of anesthesiology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, got a fellowship to Duke University in 2002 at a time when the school was pioneering pain management. The crux of research was to inject chemicals to deaden nerves, thereby easing pain without the use of addictive substances.
Buckenmaier performed the first battlefield nerve-blocking treatment of a soldier in excruciating pain while deployed to a field hospital in Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion. He has since become a vocal proponent of changing the utter nature of pain management, using techniques such as nerve-blocking, acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy instead of dosing people with addictive drugs that funnels so much profit to the pharmaceutical industry.
What is often missed in these debates, however, is the fundamental urge of a certain segment of people to alter their consciousness in search of a sense of well-being. And whether advocates and authorities can incentivize Big Pharma to quit its own debilitating addiction to the painkillers it sells so aggressively.
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