The epidemic of opioid addiction that’s sweeping the nation is a massive issue that’s costing an estimated $78.5 billion, according to a recent study. Most of that burden is in the healthcare system — medical care for overdoses and repercussions of addiction, as well as treatment for the addiction itself — and the criminal justice system.
In other words, whether through rising health insurance premiums or taxes, the bill comes back to the American people.
How did this epidemic begin? It’s been traced back to a single company, Perdue Pharma — a small player in the pharmaceutical industry until it introducted OxyContin in the late 1990s. What made this particular product catch on so quickly, according to an in-depth report published two years ago in Pacific Standard magazine and republished by The Week, is the company’s claim — now deemed false — that its time-release formulation greatly reduced the risk of addiction compared to other strong pain relievers. That and an aggressive sales effort, which involved doubling the company’s sales force, and use of big data to identify physicians who prescribed lots of pain killers without regard to whether those doctors were relevant specialists (back surgeons, for instance) or simply peddlers of scrips for controlled substances.
Eventually, people who worry about public health caught on. Perdue Pharma has been sued multiple times now for its singular role in the opioid epidemic.
In a 2007 federal judgment, the company agreed to pay $600 million in fines, according to the New York Times — and in a particularly rare move even admitted guilt. Three of its top executives were also found guilty of criminal charges and paid more than $34 million in fines — though none of them went to jail. So Perdue’s singular roll in kicking off a health epidemic that has since spun off into a secondary epidemic of heroin addiction, is not just an allegation. It’s a court-established fact.
A media report over one of the most recent suits, in Everett, Wash., carries this blunt headline: Lawsuit: Greedy drug maker purposely flooded black market with opioids.