Lost generation: the pharmaceutical industry is fueling an epidemic of drug use
August 30, 2015 12:00 AM
By Phil Bauer
We are losing a generation of young people to drug abuse, and it’s time to hold the drug dealers accountable. I’m not talking about the Mexican heroin lords or the cocaine producers from Colombia. Rather, I am talking about the white-collar corporate leaders of the pharmaceutical industry.
Abuse of prescription drugs has fueled this crisis, driven in large part by the opiate drugs over the past 25 years. Yes, I’m talking about drugs that are manufactured in a lab setting, sanctioned by the federal government, and prescribed by physicians. This health crisis has led to the significant influx of heroin throughout all parts of our state. Our citizens are starting down the path to dependence and addiction from the opioid painkillers, and then turning to cheaper and more pure heroin. Both the opioid painkillers and heroin are derived from synthetic opium, so it is a natural transition.
The dramatic upturn in drug abuse actually began in the mid-1990s, when opiate painkillers first started being prescribed by physicians. Today, more of our citizens are dying from drugs than at any time in our history. Additionally, more people are in need of drug treatment. There is a large gap between the number of Pennsylvanians in need of drug treatment and the resources available to provide that treatment.
The pharmaceutical industry is largely responsible for causing this epidemic — and for continuing to fuel this public health crisis. Their corporate crimes and unethical marketing practices have devastated families and communities throughout our country. These crimes include marketing drugs for off-label uses, misrepresentation of research results, hiding data about risks, Medicare and Medicaid fraud and payments to prescribers and public policy makers.
Here are just a few examples of the settlements and criminal and civil penalties assessed through the Department of Justice: Pfizer, 2009, $2.3 billion; Novartis, 2010, $423 million; Glaxo-SmithKline, 2011, $3 billion; Johnson & Johnson, 2012, $1.1 billion; Merck, 2007, $670 million; Eli Lilly, 2009, $1.4 billion; Abbott, 2012, $1.5 billion; Purdue, 2007, $634.5 million.
These crimes continue because crime pays. The settlements are just a drop in the bucket to this multibillion-dollar industry, a slap on the wrist. After these crimes are committed, the markets for these drugs have already been established. It’s just the cost of doing business. Through my eyes, these companies are just white-collar drug dealers. They have put profits above human health, and we’re left to clean up the devastation. Although these are corporate crimes, they are not victimless crimes. Their illegal and unethical marketing practices have devastated families and communities throughout the U.S.
This multi-billion-dollar industry profits from drugs which are appropriately prescribed and used — however, they also profit from drugs which are not prescribed appropriately, they profit from drugs which are diverted and used for non-medical purposes, and they profit from drugs which are never used. There are more people in need of drug treatment than ever before, yet we are not even close to being able to provide appropriate treatment for all of them. We can’t afford it.
We have to stop giving the pharmaceutical industry a pass. We need them to be partners in helping to address this crisis. They are a primary cause of the opioid and subsequent heroin crisis, and they need to be part of the solution. We should do all that we can to assure that the pharmaceutical companies market their drugs ethically, legally and transparently. Additionally, we need them to help fund the drug treatment system in our state.
The pharmaceutical industry is very powerful in Washington and in Harrisburg; however, it’s time we stand up to them and hold them accountable for their role in fueling this epidemic. They are the new drug dealers.
Phil Bauer of York County, whose 18-year-old son, Mark, died of a prescription drug overdose in 2004, is a national advocate for prescription drug safety.
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