For more than a day, a 7 year-old little girl from Pittsburgh had been trying to wake her parents to no avail. She got dressed by herself and went to school that day. She didn’t speak of her dilemma until she mentioned her parents to the bus driver on her way home from school. After police were called, they found her parents (both in their mid-twenties) dead from an opiod overdose. Also inside the home were three other children- 5, 3, and 9 months old. The 7 year-old asked Officer Burton if he would sign her math homework so she could turn it into school the next day. “That broke my heart,” Burton said. “She said, ‘I did my work’ and showed it to us. I told her, ‘Sweetie, you probably won’t be going to school tomorrow.’”
In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Joe Rannazzi laid the blame for the opioid crisis squarely on the drug manufacturers, drug distributors, Congress, and the doctors who prescribe them. He led the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of Diversion Control which regulates and investigates the drug industry. “This is an industry that’s out of control,” he said. “They do what they want to do, and not worry about what the law is. And if they DON’T follow the law in drug supply, people die.”
What he means is that the drug companies ship extraordinary amounts of opioids – hundreds of millions of pills – to pharmacies across the U.S. They know full well that there are too many pills being ordered and that a lot of these pills end up on the black market. Essentially they are turning a blind eye to people dying for big profits. He also says that Congress is not only refusing to stop it, but they are actually accepting money from drug lobbyists to block DEA agents from taking action against it.
Rannazzi says the drug industry used money and influence to pressure top lawmakers at the DEA to back off. Instead of “fighting the good fight,” at least 56 former DEA and Department of Justice officials have been hired by the drug industry since 2000.
Once on the industry’s side, they predictably lobbied against and blocked the DEA at every turn. The industry wasn’t satisfied with just slowing the DEA to a crawl, however.
They lobbied Congress to the tune of $102 million to enact legislation that would eliminate the DEA’s power of enforcement. Congressman Tom Marino of Pennsylvania sponsored The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. The bill ended all of the DEA’s ability to go after anyone trying to expand the opioid epidemic. Former DEA lawyer Jonathan Novak said, “The Justice Department has been rendered toothless; I don’t know how they stop this now.”
Medical doctors are also to blame. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that more than 375,000 non-research opioid-related individual payments were made to more than 68,000 physicians. This totaled more than $46 million from 2013-2015. That’s one out of every 12 physicians and 1 out of every 5 Family Practice doctors. The top 1% of physicians are receiving 82% of the payments. The highest payments went to doctors writing the opioid Fentanyl – a drug 500-1,000 times more potent than heroin. Shockingly, there is a direct link between states with the highest rates of overdose deaths and doctors in those exact areas with the most opioid-related payment kickbacks.
If all of that isn’t bad enough, opioids don’t even work better than Advil and Tylenol. A study in the Journal of American Medical Association evaluated the effects of four different pain relievers for the treatment of acute, long bone fractures in the emergency room. Groups one, two, and three contained combinations of opioids. Group four was quite simply Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) used in combination. Two hours after the patient received the medication, there was no appreciable pain reduction difference between the highly addictive opioids and the two non-steroidal over-the-counter medications.
This is important because it is still the drug of choice coming out of the E.R. or surgery. But 4 out of 5 new heroin users were addicted first to opioids prescribed by their doctors. I have heard from many of you who read Part One of this newsletter and your heart-wrenching stories of loved ones addicted to these terrible drugs. This affects all of us in ways you may not see presently, but unfortunately you will in time. Every one of us needs to make a conscious effort not to ever accept these drugs for yourself or someone you care about. We need to stop this repulsive, odious greed from Congress, to the drug manufacturers, to the distributors, to the doctors…all of them knowingly prescribing a drug that kills people and is not any more effective than what is already on your kitchen shelf at home.
Make an effort to push loved ones to alternative treatments for pain such as chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage therapy, and natural anti-inflammatories. I have spent my career educating patients on a better way to relieve pain naturally and steer them far away from this sickening, malicious pain medication circus. We MUST do all we can before one more person dies.