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10.26.2016

The Start of the Painkiller Epidemic?

OxyContinA recent investigation published by STAT news found what appears to be evidence of the beginning of the prescription opioid epidemic, and how efforts to stop it were thwarted by the maker of OxyContin 15 years ago.

Officials from the West Virginia state employees health plan saw a rise in the number of deaths related to oxycodone, and requested to have OxyContin placed on a list of drugs that required pre-authorization. Instead, the drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma, apparently paid off the pharmacy benefits management company via “rebates” to keep it on the regular list of easily accessible drugs. This action, combined with the fact that the drug maker was hiding information about OxyContin being more addictive than other similar drugs, started one of the worst healthcare crises in the last century.

Since that time, the number of deaths tied to opiates, including painkillers and heroin, has skyrocketed to 28,000 lives lost in a single year.

Tom Susman, who headed West Virginia’s employee insurance agency back then, stated, “We were screaming at the wall. We saw it coming. Now to see the aftermath is the most frustrating thing I have ever seen.” Unfortunately, their efforts fell on deaf ears and were chewed up by a corrupt pharmaceutical business. Now West Virginia has the highest incidence rate for opioid fatalities.

Given this and so many other stories that have risen in recent years about the drug company’s involvement in the opioid epidemic, it seems like more should be done to help save lives today. The White House recently asked for over $1 billion in new spending to treat the opiate abuse crisis. Rather than passing that off onto Congress (who gets the money from all of us taxpayers), a much better resource for that funding should come from pharmaceutical giants who make billions off of these drugs, including the ravages left in their wake.

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