Forum

U.S. must crack down on the true culprits of the opioid crisis

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In the next chapter of the U.S.’s drug crisis, opioids have taken center stage. What makes the opioid epidemic stand out from the other crises is that, while the others had a lot of international influence, such as cocaine from Colombia in the 1980s, the opioid epidemic has been engineered in the country itself by companies like Purdue Pharma. Since the development of Oxycontin, Purdue falsely marketed the drug by downplaying how addictive it was to drive up their profits. This led to them paying a $600 million fine in 2007, but it hasn’t really stopped the company since then.

Recently, Stat and ProPublica obtained a sealed deposition of Richard Sackler, who was president of Purdue Pharma and served on the board of the company. The deposition, as well as other lawsuits like a Massachusetts lawsuit, reveal a lot about him and the company, and it’s honestly very troubling.

The opioid crisis is primarily the fault of these large companies like Purdue Pharama and individuals like Sackler, and more has to be done to hold them accountable. They aggressively marketed to doctors and heavily downplayed the addictive properties of Oxycontin. They then had these doctors prescribe the drugs for whatever ailments they could, including basic arthritis and back pain. Their irresponsible tactics then led to Oxycontin abuse skyrocketing. Of course, since drugs like Oxycontin have only gotten more expensive, many turn to heroin as a result, which is cheaper and even more dangerous.

Several companies over the years have settled several lawsuits about their roles in the opioid crisis. But, when these companies pay settlements for lawsuits, how does that absolve them from crime? That just shows that they were guilty, but they are still allowed to continue. The fines are only a mild inconvenience for them. Purdue Pharma paid over $600 million in fines, but that’s nothing compared to the billions in revenue that Oxycontin brought them.

What’s amazing about these lawsuits and depositions is that it’s hard to even obtain these documents. The deposition that was leaked was sealed as part of the settlement agreement in 2015, and there were apparently 17 million pages of documents that were ordered to be destroyed as part of the settlement. What does Purdue not want the general public to see, and why do states agree to let them get away with destroying so much important context for the opioid crisis? These companies have so much power that they’re able to take so much advantage of the legal system to continue getting away with their crimes as they continue to profit off this crisis.

To add insult to injury, Richard Sackler himself was directly involved in these dealings. In the Massachusetts lawsuit, it was found that he was notorious for micromanaging as part of the board. At one point, he also said that the Oxycontin release would be followed by “a blizzard of prescriptions.” As the crisis worsened, he also urged the company to blame abusers of Oxycontin for the crisis to focus attention away from them. There is even more information like this that reveals just how much Purdue Pharma and Sackler knew about their role in the opioid epidemic. How he’s allowed to still walk free is baffling.

The U.S. has its priorities wrong. There is so much focus on drugs coming over the border, but when it comes to American drug cartels like Purdue Pharma, there isn’t much that is done against them. Richard Sackler should be in prison. So should several other executives of pharmaceutical companies that have mismarketed drugs and carried out egregious practices that have worsened the opioid crisis. They have the blood of tens of thousands of Americans on their hands, and they need to pay for it.