The Opioid Crisis: Another Pandemic Sweeping the Nation

Karina Agarwal
Trending Writer

Purdue Pharma has been regarded as a symbol of corporations profiting from America’s deadly addiction to opioid painkillers (Photo courtesy of US News)

For quite some time, Purdue Pharma has been regarded as a symbol of corporations profiting from America’s deadly addiction to opioid painkillers. Recently, the Justice Department announced a historic $8.3 billion settlement with the company. This fine is the largest such settlement ever reached with a pharmaceutical company. As part of the agreement, Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three felonies. However, state authorities and several families who have lost loved ones to killer drugs believe that the Justice Department’s terms, including a $225 million civil settlement with the billionaire Sackler family that once ran the firm, are far too lenient.

Many families have been devastated by the opioid crisis. The announcement of the settlement delivered little comfort to the survivors and family members who lost loved ones. It has been over 20 years since the introduction of OxyContin, and nearly 450,000 people have lost their lives due to overdoses.
One of these sad cases was T.J. Walden, a 21-year-old member of the Kentucky National Guard, who died of an opioid overdose. Walden was prescribed opioids throughout his childhood to help him recover from a series of operations. He ultimately became addicted to using OxyContin, one of Purdue Pharma’s most profitable products.

T.J. Walden’s mother, Emily, has devoted herself to the sole mission of convincing the federal government to hold pharmaceutical executives accountable for their involvement in the nation’s opioid crisis. At the forefront is the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and members of the wealthy Sackler family who own the company.

Furthermore, Ms. Walden is the chairwoman of “The Fed Up! Coalition,” an advocacy group representing those devastated by the impacts of opioids. She felt little relief upon hearing the announcement made by the Justice Department. Ms. Walden stated, “Purdue, once again, played the game and won.” Though Purdue Pharma’s penalty includes an $8.3 billion settlement, it will most likely pay only a fraction since it declared bankruptcy. The $8 billion figure is mostly symbolic since Purdue Pharma is highly indebted to states, communities, and other creditors. The corporation is one among several drug manufacturers and distributors entangled in litigation over the deaths and economic devastation inflicted by the opioid epidemic.

Though multitudinous lawsuits over opioids will ensue, the Purdue Pharma settlement illuminates how the widespread problem of overprescribing, diverting, and abusing pain pills raged across America. All the while, drug manufacturers, distributors, pharmacists, and doctors profited from the problem and averted responsibility.

Federal prosecutors claimed that Purdue Pharma, which manufactured millions of opioid pills during the height of the epidemic, compensated doctors through Purdue’s doctor-speaker program. They also paid an electronic health records company to increase the number of prescriptions for its opioid products, including its top seller OxyContin. District of Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan stated, “The kickback effectively put Purdue’s marketing department in the exam room with their thumb on the scale at precisely the moment doctors were making critical decisions about patient health.”

Moreover, the Sackler family demanded in 2012 that company executives devise and execute a plan of action to generate higher revenues to boost sales. They approved a new marketing plan entitled “Evolve to Excellence.” With this initiative, the Justice Department asserted that “Purdue sales representatives intensified their marketing of OxyContin to extreme, high-volume prescribers who were already writing ‘25 times as many OxyContin scripts’ as their peers.” The government further stated that those efforts directly led to the uses of the addictive tablets that were “unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary, and that often led to abuse and diversion.”


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