Our nation faces an epidemic today that may have been entirely avoidable, and the shame we should feel for this has been numbed by those who profited most from the horror.
I’m speaking, of course, about the opioid crisis. The Big Pharmaceutical industry has been complicit in the distribution of these highly addictive drugs, which nearly identical to heroin in their chemistry, pushing for doctors to prescribe these drugs en masse despite understanding the dangers involved.
As insidious as this for-profit addiction racket sounds, it actually gets worse.
In 2012, as the death toll from the nation’s opioid crisis mounted, drug companies shipped out enough of the powerful and addictive painkillers for every man, woman and child in the U.S. to have nearly a 20-day supply.
In some counties, mostly in Appalachia, it was well over 100 days.
An Associated Press analysis of drug distribution data released as a result of lawsuits against the industry also found that the amount of opioids as measured by total potency continued to rise early this decade even as the number of pills distributed began to dip.
The reason: Doctors were prescribing — and the industry was supplying — stronger pills
The facts are downright damning.
“It shows it wasn’t just the number of pills being shipped that increased. The actual amount of opioids being prescribed and consumed went up,” said Anna Lembke, a Stanford University professor who researches opioids and is serving as a paid expert witness for plaintiffs in the litigation.
“We know that the higher the dose of prescribed opioids, and the longer patients are on them, even for a legitimate pain condition, the more likely they are to get addicted.”
The AP found that the overall amount of opioid medication shipped to pharmacies, medical providers and hospitals increased 55% from 2006 through 2012. The number of pills rose significantly over that period, too — but that increase was lower, about 44%. (The amount of medication was calculated using a standard measure of potency known as a morphine milligram equivalent, or MME.)
Rural east coast communities were some of most harshly effected, with towns scattered around Appalachia bearing the brunt of the drugmaker’s wrath.