how to fix the opioid epidemic: part 3

 

Let’s talk about the opioid epidemic in the USA .

USA heroin use was dying out in the 1990s when a USA based pharmaceutical company developed oxycontin, a delayed release form of oxycodone.   Aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies in the USA led to the graph below.

That’s right, opioid prescriptions went up 2.85 x from 1991 to 2012. So US manufacturers used US doctors to get US pharmacies to increase opioid use by just under 3x.  Let’s say that again: all of these respectable businesses and professions worked together to TRIPLE consumer demand for opioids.  Doctors who did not “treat pain adequately” had multimillion dollar medical malpractice judgements and felony charges filed against them. There was an integrated marketing, lobbying, regulator-defanging, and “public education” campaign that caused this explosion of opioid use and addiction.  We tripled the number of people whose bodies were now physically addicted to opioids.

So what happened to  opioid overdose deaths? Here’s a graph from only the last half of the top graph: 2002 to 2015:

That’s right. Opioid OD deaths have TRIPLED since 2002, half the period covered in the first graph. Opioid OD’s now kill about as many Americans as car accidents. Let’s say that again: you now are as likely to die from an OD as you are to die from a car accident. We need to change our approach.

The USA is not the first country to experience an opioid epidemic. Portugal and Switzerland both had exploding use of heroin in the 1990s, just as bad as we have now.  These two countries reversed their own opioid epidemics at very low money and societal cost.

The way Portugal and Switzerland fixed their problem was by decreasing consumer DEMAND for opioids with prevention and rehabilitation programs. Policing was used but the emphasis of strategy and spending was on preventing and treating addiction.

Maybe we should be learning from them?

One reasonable part of this strategy might be to clamp down on the pharmaceutical companies and drug middlemen who are flooding our country (and now trying to flood other countries) with their opioids.  The cartels didn’t create this problem, our pharmaceutical companies created this problem. So why is El Chapo in jail while these guys are playing golf in Connecticut? Just askin’…