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As Opioid Addiction Spreads One Family Cashes In

In July, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the rate of fatal heroin overdoses in the United States nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, with more than 8,200 people dying from heroin overdoses in 2013 alone.

Fatal overdoses of prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and codeine are even higher with the CDC claiming that roughly 16,060 Americans a year die from prescription painkiller overdoses, or 44 a day. Since 1999 deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses have risen by 400% among women and 265% among men.

The CDC also claims that 45% of people addicted to heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

What many onlookers to the opioid addiction crisis may not realize is that those addicted to opioids often become so not through recreational drug use, but through the use of legal prescriptions for legitimate medical ailments. So while drug addiction is a disease and should be treated as such in any context, many of those who travel down the dark road of opioid addiction are sent on their journey by licensed physicians.

Despite the dangers of addiction and death, opioids are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US with the increase in overdose death mirroring the increase in opioid drug sales, which quadrupled from 1999-2010. It is a great business to be in.

One group of people in particular are making a real killing in the market, the Sackler family. According to Forbes, the Sackler family is now worth $14 billion due to its 100% control of Purdue Pharma which makes one of the leading drugs of the opioid addiction epidemic, OxyContin.

In 1996, right before the opioid epidemic started, Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin as an “innovation” on the opioid medication oxycodone. Oxycodone, which was developed in Germany in 1917, was not in widespread use in part because it had shown to be a highly addictive narcotic. As marketed by Purdue Phama, OxyContin, unlike oxycodone, had a time-release mechanism within the drug allowing it to last longer which, along with its new formula, made the drug less addictive than other opioid painkillers.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. OxyContin is just as if not more addictive as other opioid medications and, more to the point, Purdue Pharma knew so when marketing the drug to doctors and patients as a safer alternative to other narcotics to ease pain.

Those claims related to OxyContin and addiction ultimately cost Purdue Pharma $635 million in fines and forced some executives at the company to plead guilty to charges of false marketing after the Department of Justice brought a case in 2007.

The Department of Justice’s $635 million fine for falsely marketing the drug as less addictive than other painkillers pales in comparison to the $35 billion in sales the drug has produced since its 1996 launch. For the Sackler family, none of whom faced charges or direct fines from the DOJ suit, it’s been a good score.

File: A close-up of the touch screen of a smartphone using Verizon networks. (Flickr / Robert Scoble)
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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.