When and where does this insanity end?! Just when I thought I’d seen it all, that I’ve heard the most outlandish words ever to pass over a persons lips or witnessed with my own eyes the most despicable act a human being could commit, something pops up that sets my brain on fire. Well, I had one of those moments just a few days ago when I learned that the former president of Perdue Pharma and son of one of the three founding brothers was granted a U.S. Patent for a new opioid product intended for people addicted to opioids – such as their very own OxyContin.
To the casual observer the sadistic irony could be easily lost. However, anyone who has been exposed to addiction or has worked in the field will certainly feel the nausea that comes when their stomach tightens and disgust at this company’s questionable practices that have led to their profiteering from ordinary people’s pain and death.
Most addiction experts, myself included, believe Perdue Pharma’s unprecedented aggressive marketing and blatant lies regarding the addictiveness, safety and efficacy of their product OxyContin served as ground zero of this raging drug epidemic we find ourselves in today and the catalysis that keeps it going. Statistically, it’s hard to argue.
Perdue Pharma is a privately held company bought in 1952 by three physician Brooklyn-born brothers, Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler. In 1996, Perdue debuted its newly formulated opioid painkiller, OxyContin. It was introduced as a safe, extended release painkiller. Sales representatives for the company provided doctors and dentists with maligned research claiming opioids were not nearly as addictive as once thought. They also plied them with cash, special perks and lavish vacations for over prescribing OxyContin to anyone claiming to have pain. They were also major supporters and sponsors of non-profit groups, consisting mainly of pharmaceutical executives or their proxies, advocating for the use of opioids in pain management.
Sales of OxyContin skyrocketed. In four years, Purdue Pharma’s sales grew from 44 million in 96, to 1.1 billion in 2000. Arthur Sackler was inducted into the “Medical Advertising Hall Of Fame.” OxyContin was being touted as a breakthrough drug. But something much more nefarious was happening at the same time– people were dying at an exponential rate from opioid (including OxyContin) overdoses. In fact, many graphs have shown that the number of people dying from drug overdoses corresponds directly with opioid (including OxyContin) rise in sales.
It was revealed in Federal Court in 2007 that Perdue ownership and management were acutely aware of people crushing and snorting, and otherwise abusing OxyContin in the first couple of years their product was on the market. A reasonable person could think that it is incumbent upon a responsible pharmaceutical company to withdraw a product that is killing people from the market until they can fix the problem. After all, Cargill Meats recalled over 25.000 pounds of ground beef products last summer because it was suspected it contained E Coli – a bacteria that can cause cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
“But that is not at all what Perdue Pharma did.”
As the body count rose, the only precautionary action Perdue took was to mount a vast public relations campaign to deflect criticism. Being fully cognizant that people were dying from OxyContin by the thousands, Perdue did nothing to improve the product to prevent abuse until they were forced to 10 years later.
In fact, at about the same time Perdue was being sued by the Federal Government in 2007 for misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the drugs risk of addiction and it’s potential to be abused, they were selling 9 times more OxyContin to the pill mills in Florida than all the doctors in the other 49 states combined. Literally, busloads of addicts rode I95 – a.k.a. “Oxy Alley” and “Oxy Express”– to South Florida from Kentucky, West Virginia and other states for the easy access to OxyContin. Seven to eight Floridians died from OxyContin overdoses every day and Perdue didn’t even flinch.
It was just after the civil war when the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments from corporations wanting the same rights as individuals. The idea gained traction and over the years corporations have been given many of the same privileges of individuals guaranteed under the law. It just seems to me that corporations enjoy these protections with none of the penalties.
Take Joann Curley for example. Nearly two years ago she was released from a state woman’s prison after serving a 20-year maximum sentence under a deal she struck with prosecutors where she pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Curley admitted to spiking her husbands food and drink with poison for over a year. She was held accountable and paid for her actions.
“All the money in the world can’t bring back a person who died an avoidable death or put back together the families OxyContin destroyed.”
In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three of its executives plead guilty in a Federal Court to fraud by misleading OxyContin’s addictiveness, safety and efficacy. They were ordered to pay $635 million – the largest fine ever levied on a pharmaceutical company. Incidentally, the fine was less than half of Perdue’s 2007 sales of OxyContin.
A couple of years ago Charles Kiessling, a Pennsylvania Coroner, said he now lists the cause in opioid overdose deaths as a homicide. He believes that calling it ‘accidental’ only down plays the severity of the situation. Other Medical Examiners and Coroners are following Kiessling’s lead and I couldn’t agree with them more.
Do you want to end America’s dependence on narcotics? The answer is quite simple. Give corporations what they asked for; to be held to the same standards as an individual under the law. If Joann Curley got a 20-year sentence for poisoning her husband, how many years should Perdue Pharma’s owners and executives get for the poisoning and death of tens of thousands of their customers?
“What does it say about lawmakers that force the recall of a product that can cause vomiting and diarrhea but turns a blind eye on a poison that is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans?”
I’m confident the opioid production and distribution industry will fall into rubble on the very same day that the first pharmaceutical executive is sentenced to 20 years. But that will never happen because Big Pharma has paid for protection in the form of campaign contributions to congress men and woman. In fact, they have enough of our elected officials on their payroll to get any bill they choose passed or rejected. Their influence on our lawmakers is so strong that they were able to get a bill passed (Marino Bill 2014) that effectively pulled the teeth out of the DEA’s ability to police the pharmaceutical industry – the very same agency that was established to protect you and me from the bad Pharma actors.
Our lawmakers have sold us out! According to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over the last 20 years, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin. Between 1999 and 2017 over 700,000 Americans have died an avoidable death due to drug overdoses including OxyContin. Yet here we find ourselves again, only with a new twist – a Perdue Pharma heir apparent receiving FDA approval, and granted a U.S. Patent for another opioid product that is sure to kill more Americans.
Richard Sackler, son of Perdue founder Raymond, was granted a U.S. Patent this year for an opioid use disorder therapy. The patent is for a wafer containing buprenorphine that they claim dissolves faster under the tongue than others currently on the market. Buprenorphine is an opioid approved for the Medicine Assisted Treatment plan and is also used extensively to detox opioid addicts. In the patent, Sackler, and others listed as inventors, claim the faster dissolving wafer has less risk of diversion.
Pardon me if I sound jaded, but it sounds to me like Sackler is now trying to profit on the backside of this addiction epidemic his family helped create and perpetuate. With such a rich family history of parsing words in blatantly lying to federal regulators, doctors and patients, a body count that far exceeds all the brave American Soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and their inherent uncanny contempt for the average hardworking American, I have my reservations about the true motives behind Mr. Sackler’s new opioid product. This isn’t capitalism — its cannibalism.
If there is any satisfaction in all of this, it is that Perdue Pharma is right now the defendant in over 1,000 lawsuits brought by local towns, cities, counties, states and tribes. It seems as though the local municipalities have run out of patience with the federal governments deadly shenanigans and are taking on the bull by the horns.
You have the power to help your neighbors and local communities end this insanity. Once again, it’s election season and politicians will be asking for your vote. Before you give it to them, ask them hard questions at Town Hall Meetings or call them directly. Their numbers are easily accessible online. Ask them if they are taking money from the pharmaceutical and/or Medical Device industry? Will they fight to overturn the Marino bill that severely limits the DEA’s ability to protect us from bad pharmaceutical companies? Will they fight to make sure every addict has access to treatment regardless of money and/or insurance? It’s time to bang the drums!
John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare & Chronic Relapse Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is the Second Vice President of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 65 papers published in peer reviewed scientific and medical journals. www.PreventAddictionRelapse.com www.HolisticAddictionInfo.com