Which Billionaire Family is Profiting Off America’s Opioid Crisis?
The number of Americans addicted to drugs has skyrocketed and the reason is perfectly legal – prescription drugs.
President Donald Trump who vowed to take on the drug companies instead is relying on them to staff his administration. His recent nominee for drug czar, Rep. Congressman Tom Marino, had to withdraw from consideration after a Washington Post and 60 Minutes investigation found he led a drug industry-backed effort to pass a law that weakened the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to crack down on addictive opioids.
And now the halls of justice are calling for an investigation into the major pharmaceutical companies that have fueled the opioid crisis.
A new investigation by Esquire magazine reveals how the billionaire and secretive Sackler family, whose company invented OxyContin, downplayed the risks of addiction and exploited doctors’ confusion over the drug’s strength.
The Sacklers have lobbied Congress to undermine efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths here. Even President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis said: “America is enduring a death toll equal to Sept. 11th every three weeks.”
However, Trump’s nominee to be head of the DEA helped pass the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act in 2016 which made it nearly impossible for the DEA to intervene in cases where large, suspicious shipments of opioids are delivered to pharmacies bound for the black market. The drug industry lobbied heavily to pass the bill, contributing $1.5 million to 23 congressional co-sponsors, Democracy Now (DN) reported. The bill was promoted as a way to ensure patients had access to pain medication.
The 2016 law, which passed without opposition in the House and Senate, was signed by President Obama, DN reported.
Esquire journalist Christopher Glazek told DN that while the Sackler name – like the Pritzkers here – is well known for philanthropy, including contributing to art museums around the world, people do not know that this secretive family that owns OxyContin is closely connected to the opioid epidemic. More than 200,000 people have died from prescription drugs since OxyContin was released in 1996.
Glazek told DN the Sacklers never give interviews, are rarely seen in public and never put their name on their product. He said Purdue Pharma, which had manufactured OxyContin, had plead guilty in 2007 to criminal charges for misbranding a prescription drug, had to pay a huge fine and three top executives were punished. Unbeknownst to the public, the company was 100 percent owned by the Sackler family, yet the Sackler name appeared nowhere in the guilty plea, Glazek said.
The story behind how the Sacklers made OxyContin into a billion dollar drug is interesting. According to Glazek, MS-Contint, the predecessor to OxyContin, was targeted exclusively at the cancer market that helped cancer patients sleep through the night without needing to redose, and addiction didn’t matter when you’re a cancer patient. The Sacklers then decided to create an oxycodone pill, and instead of marketing it to cancer patients, they marketed it to 30 million people suffering from back pain, menstrual cramps, toothaches, etc. “That was the billion-dollar idea, the $14 billion idea, that gave the Sacklers what is likely the largest fortune in pharmaceutical history.”
Glazek said most people become addicted to OxyContin by just taking it as prescribed.
But now this drug has hit bad press driven by numerous lawsuits. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning last year that opioids are not good for long-term pain because it changes your pain threshold and, over time, it becomes less and less effective. That, according to Glazek, was a ‘death blow’ to the chronic pain market here.
So like Big Tobacco, the Sacklers are taking their drug and marketing it to the rest of the world. “They released a study in Colombia saying that we believe more than 40 percent of the population suffers from chronic pain,” he said.