Part One

I wrote about the dangers of opiods 10 years ago in a newsletter. I titled it An Epidemic of Drastic Proportions. My greatest fear was that the problem would get worse in time if no one took the appropriate action. It is now 2018 and the problem is much more severe than I could have anticipated.

Opiods are an incredibly addictive and dangerous class of drugs used for pain. These drugs include methadone, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (Oxycontin). They were introduced in the late 1970’s as Vicodin and Percocet which were combined with acetaminophen (Tylenol). These drugs were sold as non-addictive, low potency, short-acting painkillers. There was even a video from one of the drug manufacturers touting its own research that it was non-addictive.

In January of 1980, medical journals such as the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine quoted ONE Boston doctor’s database of the drugs’ effect on hospitalized patients with pain. He revealed a tiny portion of addiction cases among those treated with opioids.

All of the other medical journals picked up this so-called “research article.” Doctors were then free to prescribe this class of drugs to their patients with no fear of addiction qualities. The bottom line is no one did their homework or any real research into this class of dangerous drugs. It was all based on a lie. The FDA did not do its job which was to protect the public.

Then in 1995, brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler created the first long-lasting narcotic. Oxycontin was launched with a marketing campaign that funded “research” and paid doctors to make their case that opioid addiction was overblown. Patients quickly developed withdrawal symptoms as bad as heroin addicts when they tried to stop taking the drug. Meanwhile, the FDA did nothing and doctors kept prescribing the drug.

To this day, the brothers will not speak about the pharmaceutical company (Purdue Pharma) that makes this drug or the $13 billion dollars of personal wealth they obtained from selling it. Purdue Pharma tried to do a public relations coup recently by firing all of its sales people. They will still be selling the drug however, and the FDA still does nothing to stop it.  The lie perpetuates and people keep dying.

How bad is the problem now? From 2002-2016, 267,600 Americans have died from the opioid epidemic. The reason that I call this an American catastrophe is because we consume 99% of all hydrocodone and 81% of all oxycodone sold worldwide. In a 5-year span, 780 million opioid prescription pills were shipped to the state of West Virginia. This is a state with just 1.8 million residents.

Last year alone, 10 Midwestern states saw overdose cases rise by 70% and large cities saw a 54% increase. 140 Americans die each day of opioid overdoses. It is now the leading cause of death under the age of 50. The annual death toll is now greater than the entire Vietnam War fatalities. It kills more people yearly than breast cancer. Opiods kill more Americans than guns and cars. For the first time since our country’s inception, the mortality rate is now declining the last two years due to opioid overdose deaths. This should scare all Americans because if it hasn’t reached your town or city yet, it’s coming.

Part Two of this newsletter will explain how this problem got so out of control, what the government response is, and the ultimate solution.

Dr. K