How the DEA Made it Easier for Everyone to Get Opioids
There’s a very good reason why Rush Limbaugh’s favorite painkiller is so easy to get on the street, and it’s because the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has not placed opioids as a high priority on their list of drugs to crack down on.
Ten years ago the DEA launched an impressive campaign to stop opioid addiction; however after years of industry push back from companies such as McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, the DEA privately surrendered.
Distribution in the US for opioids is controlled by twenty-five corporations; including wholesalers:
• KeySource Medical
Drug companies began hiring former DEA agents and Department of Justice officials to apply pressure on governmental agencies.
Joseph Rannazzisi, former head of the office of diversion control for the DEA, explained : “Through the whole supply chain, I would venture to say no one was doing their job. And because no one was doing their job, it just perpetuated the problem. Corporate America let their profits get in the way of public health.”
Coinciding with the laxed intentions of the DEA with regard to opioids, they also “began to block and delay enforcement actions against wholesale drug distributors and others, frustrating investigators in the field.”
In addition to crippling the DEA, several pharmaceutical corporations manufacturing opioids have employed hundreds of lobbyists and invested millions in campaign contributions for the sake of taking their crisis to all fifty states.
Makers of OxyContin, Vicodin and other like them know that these drugs are highly addictive which is why they’ve spent an excess of $880 million across the nation from 2066 to 2015. These efforts to influence lawmakers have included groups including the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Cancer Action Network (CAN), privately-owned organizations that have employed 1,350 lobbyists to go to state capitals from Olympia, Washington to Tallahassee, Florida.
According to the Center for Public Integrity , Michigan saw drug corporations register lobbyists at an increase of 5.33%. In 2006 there were only eighteen lobbyists, but in 2015 that number rose to ninety-six.
For the last decade, more than $24 million has been spent on 7,100 state lawmakers and candidates for state government. This includes governors, house speakers, senate presidents and health committee chairs.
This includes Pain Care Forum who invested $740 million to lobby in all fifty states; and on top of the $140 million donated to political campaigns, $75 million to candidates on Capitol Hill, political action committees (PACs) and political parties in general.
For reference, that is 200 times more than other special interest groups spent in that same time period. However with opioid sales worth $9.6 billion in 2015, all this spending makes sense.
To expand their consumer base, Prude Pharma has had their painkiller OxyContin approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children as young as 11 to treat pain.
The FDA “requested” that Prude “ perform studies evaluating safety and other important information about oxycodone and OxyContin when used in pediatric patients” in order to support new uses of OxyContin in patients ages 11 to 16.
Before the FDA approved OxyContin for children, it was used off-label for addiction in teenagers.
In 2012, Purdue began paying doctors across the nation to document the outcomes of OxyContin used to treat children in pseudo-clinical trials.
By 2004, a US District Court in Manhattan ruled that Purdue was guilty of “of deliberately misleading federal officials in order to retain exclusive patents and prevent cheaper generic versions of OxyContin from hitting the market.”
And again in 2007, Purdue executives were court ordered to pay $634 million for misbranding OxyContin “with the intent to defraud or mislead” patients by promoting the drug as “a safer, less-abusable opioid drug”.
Elliot Krane, professor with Stanford University Lucie Packard Children’s Hospital, criticized the use of highly addictive OxyContin with pediatric patients: “[Purdue is] doing [the pediatric trial] for patent exclusivity, there’s no doubt about it in my mind – not out of largesse. That’s important for their bottom line.”
Off-label use is a practice concocted by the pharmaceutical corporation and the doctor in order to use medication for an unapproved indication or unapproved age group, unapproved dose or unapproved form of administration.
Children are a main target for off-label use. In 2008, a study produced by the RAND Corporation showed that 62% of pediatric outpatient visits resulted in the prescription of a drug for off-label use.
As a pain medication, the number jumps up to 86%.
Purdue patented OxyContin in 1996 as another pain medication to add to their array of other drugs such as:
This patent was granted because of a time-release additive, regardless of the fact that this opioid-based drug was not traditionally used for painful conditions in the past.
In order to change public perception of OxyContin, Purdue recruited 5,000 physicians, pharmacists and nurses to be well-paid speakers for the corporation.
These spokespeople were armed with coupons offering free 7 – 30 day trials which became a favorite with physicians.
This scheme assisted Purdue in earning $1 billion in OxyContin sales in 2001.
However, this practice quickly became a point of abuse when doctors began over-prescribing the drug. In fact, by 2003, OxyContin accounted for 50% of prescriptions written by primary care physicians in the US.
By 2004, Purdue had reported $2.8 billion in OxyContin sales.