Ex-DEA whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi recently shocked the nation during an interview with 60 Minutes in which he revealed that America’s opioid crisis exists and is “fueled by” the greedy actions of the pharmaceutical industry and Congress.
“His greatest ire is reserved for the distributors, some of them multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 companies. They are the middle-men that ship pain pills from manufacturers, like Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, to drug stores all over the country,” explains 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker. “Rannazzisi accuses the distributors of fueling the opioid epidemic by turning a blind eye to pain pills being diverted to illicit use.”
According to Rannazzisi, the industry allowed the distribution of millions of prescriptions drugs to pharmacies and doctor’s offices where people with no legitimate need for these drugs were prescribed them anyway.
“You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people?” asks Whitaker.
“That’s not an implication,” responds Rannazzisi, “that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.”
In response, President Trump announced that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency in coming days — even though he announced the exact same thing last August and never followed through with it.
Following the interview on 60 Minutes, Esquire ran an exposé on the Sackler Family, who owns the company that manufactures OxyContin. While we can only estimate what the Sackler Family alone has made off of the distribution of painkillers, saying nothing of politicians, lobbyists, and the rest of Big Pharma (By Forbes’s conservative estimate the family is worth $14 billion, the majority of which came from narcotic OxyContin), we can more accurately count the fiscal and fatal costs to society.
In 2002, about 12,000 died due to opioid overdoses, and that number’s been climbing steadily since. That number more than doubled by 2015, with the death count reaching higher than 33,000. If you include illicit drugs, which addicts commonly turn to after prolonged prescription drug abuse, those numbers get bigger, with heroin death rates in all age groups increasing by 20.6 percent in 2016, and even higher death rates attributable to fentanyl. All-in-all, the monetary cost of the US prescription opioid epidemic is estimated at $78.5 billion.
How Do We Solve This Problem?
For years, further patient education has been touted as the solution, especially for those who suffer from chronic pain, or pain that lasts longer than six months. The idea is that health care professionals can help patients with chronic pain through proper education and collaboration to ensure that they’re given appropriate treatment, while preventing abuse of pain medication. This solution may be somewhat viable, because some people think that the fact that their doctor has given them medication inherently makes that medicine safe. In fact, this is listed by ABTRS as number two out of the top ten reasons why people abuse drugs. If patients knew just how addictive painkillers are, they might be able to temper their use or may be smarter about misusing them. Unfortunately, patient education alone likely will not stop the misuse and abuse of opioids.
Medically-assisted treatment, such as methadone treatment, has been explored in the past. However, a new implant has recently been approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine implants are the first of their kind, and prior to their approval a patient would have to place a pill or film inside their mouth until the medication dissolved. This new implant provides six months worth of medication, slowly releasing buprenorphine throughout that time.
Another potential solution comes in the form of cannabis, which could pose as an alternative pain management medication. The American Journal of Public Health recently published a report concluding that the “legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths.” Unfortunately, Trump’s opioid agency has failed to cite marijuana’s benefits, despite mounting evidence, according to The Hill.
The Overarching Theme? Greed Wins When Leaders Fail
As we proceed further into the 21st century, the troubling pattern emerging is that the little people’s interests are being passed over so that the interests of the greedy and wealthy may take root. The recent Equifax breach is solid evidence that those we trust with the security of our lifetime data don’t truly have that security in mind. As Lily Hay Newman, writing for Wired, puts it:
“The fact that attackers got into Equifax’s systems through a known vulnerability with a patch available galls security analysts. But the company also acknowledged that it knew about the patch when it was first released, and had actually attempted to apply it to all its systems. This inadequate effort hints at the truly haphazard nature of Equifax’s operation. Other anecdotes — like the digital platform used by Equifax employees in Argentina that was guarded by the credentials “admin, admin” — simply expand this picture.”
The only reason that Equifax would be so lax with security protocol is that they didn’t want to invest more money in protecting their users’ information. Similarly, these Rannazzisi revelations point to an American law-making body that’s more concerned with turning a profit than saving citizen’s lives. They’ve allowed healthcare to become a perversion of what it should be, taking lives instead of saving them.
There’s no easy solution here; perhaps as the truth makes itself more apparent, we’ll begin to see a world where the little people are protected by their governments and more affluent members. Until then, this is the news we should continue to expect.
Author Bio: Andy is a health, tech, and futurism enthusiast from the outskirts of the lush, Pacific Northwest. When he’s not writing, you can find him working on his latest audio mix, going on a run, or rolling d20s with friends. Follow him on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer.