Dramatic stories of dangerous drug deals and deadly overdoses are true. But at least one root of the opioid crisis reveals that some of the most dangerous “drug dealers” in our country wear suits and ties to the office each day.
One large reason for the opioid epidemic in the United States has been the irresponsible information supplied by pharmaceutical companies about their opioid drugs. For decades, the companies downplayed the addictive nature of opioids and suppressed or ignored evidence of their dangers. Tragically, the rise in sales of prescription opioids has correlated directly with the rise in overdose deaths, so that today 44 percent of all drug overdose deaths and 73 percent of opioid-related deaths come from prescription opioid pain relievers.
In 2007, the top executives of Purdue Pharma pled guilty and were subject to over $600 million in fines for intentionally misleading doctors and the public by labeling their prize drug, OxyContin, “abuse resistant.” Representatives meeting with doctors were shown to have often encouraged “off-label” uses of the opioid while downplaying the “high” patients would get and dismissing concerns about addiction.
Though the company has now been sued in relation to the drug more than 1,000 times, all of the fines and penalties for consistent wrongdoing have not made a significant dent in over $30 billion in sales. Litigation and investigations into other drug companies suspected of doing the same are continuing across the country.1