Vox had two great articles on the opiod crisis. Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than HIV/AIDS did at its peak. In 2015, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, nearly two-thirds of which were linked to opioids like Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl. That’s more drug overdose deaths than any other period in US history — even more than past heroin epidemics, the crack epidemic, or the recent meth epidemic. And the preliminary data we have from 2016 suggests that the epidemic may have gotten worse since 2015. Vox has maps and charts that tell the story:
- Drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined.
- Drug, painkiller, heroin, and other opioid overdose deaths are still on the rise.
- Opioid overdoses are one reason US life expectancy declined for the first time in decades.
- The epidemic is much worse in some states than others.
- By and large, the drug overdose epidemic has hit white Americans the hardest.
- Americans consume more opioids than any other country.
- In some states such as South Carolina, doctors have filled out more painkiller prescriptions than there are people.
- Drug companies have made a lot of money from opioids.
- At the same time, Americans report greater levels of pain.
A Senate investigation into the pharmaceutical companies’ role and responsibility for the nation’s worst drug overdose crisis in history: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced that she is requesting marketing, sales, and addiction study material from the companies behind America’s top five opioid products. The investigation, she said, will draw out the role that opioid manufacturers played in causing the epidemic and letting it continue.
As USA Today noted, McCaskill will need Republican support on the committee to be able to subpoena opioid makers’ documents should the companies not comply with her requests.
Drug manufacturers played a major role in the epidemic. By marketing their opioid painkillers as safe and effective, they convinced doctors to prescribe painkillers in droves to patients. That allowed the drugs to proliferate, leading not just to widespread painkiller misuse but also to the misuse of more dangerous opioids like heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl. With this, the risk of overdose increased — spawning the opioid crisis we have today.
Much of this was the result of misleading marketing by major drug companies. In fact, Purdue Pharma, a producer of “hillbilly herion” OxyContin, in 2007 was forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines due to its false claims about opioids.
In wide-ranging investigations, the Los Angeles Times has uncovered more evidence of how Purdue’s misleading advertisement played out at the ground level. It found that Purdue exaggerated the effectiveness and safety of OxyContin, while covering up any criticisms and complaints about the drug. As a particularly egregious example of why Purdue and its marketers did this, one sales memo uncovered by the Times was literally titled “$$$$$$$$$$$$$ It’s Bonus Time in the Neighborhood!”
Other opioid makers have faced similar allegations. Insys, a drugmaker, allegedly pushed its fentanyl spray for uses far beyond late-stage cancer pain treatment, according to McCaskill’s office. A sales representative claimed that the company’s informal motto was, “Start them high and hope they don’t die.”
A 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found many painkiller users were moving on to heroin, and a 2015 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who are addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.