Sunday, July 17, 2016

GateHouse: Opioid abuse out of control, but not new

Matthew T. Mngino
GateHouse Media
July 15, 2016

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control there were 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014.

Opioid addiction is the driving force behind the crisis. More than 194,000 people have died since 1999 from abusing opioid painkillers, including OxyContin. The prescription drug epidemic is also fueling a heroin crisis that is shattering communities, taxing law enforcement and draining local government coffers.

The opioid epidemic is not new. In 2001, as a prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, I wrote an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the scourge of OxyContin abuse. At the time, my office led a series of workshops with the manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, to educate health care providers, law enforcement and the public about the potential dangers of opioid abuse.

OxyContin was approved by the government in 1995 and launched for use in the U.S. in 1996. FDA approval was granted to Purdue because of the drug’s 12-hour time release component. At the time those suffering from chronic pain only had temporary relief every four hours.

There were also concerns at the time that pain killers were being abused. OxyContin’s time-release component would stop the drug’s recreational use by eliminating the possibility of a high.

The exact opposite occurred. Within a couple of years, OxyContin exploded on to the illicit drug scene. The time-release aspect of OxyContin was easily defeated by chewing or crushing the tablet--causing a powerful high.

As the abuse of OxyContin became overwhelmingly evident, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, began to track the surge in prescriptions, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Purdue had the opportunity to stop the supply of OxyContin to offices and clinics across the country that were serving as nothing more than pill mills generating enormous profit and providing very little medical care.

The Times investigation found that, for more than a decade, Purdue collected extensive evidence suggesting illegal trafficking of OxyContin and, in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills. A former Purdue executive, who monitored pharmacies for criminal activity, acknowledged that even when the company had evidence of pharmacies colluding with drug dealers, it did not stop supplying those stores.

Purdue knew about many suspicious doctors and pharmacies from prescribing records, pharmacy orders, field reports from sales representatives and, in some instances, its own surveillance operations, according to court and law enforcement records discovered by the Times.

The penalty for this type of conduct? The Slacker family, owners of 100 percent of Purdue Pharma, was listed in Forbes this year as one of the richest families in America. As the result of OxyContin, the Slackers are worth more than $14 billion.

What being done to combat the opioid epidemic?

This summer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to combat the opioid and heroin crisis by increasing access to treatment, expanding community prevention strategies, and limiting over-prescribing of opioids in his state.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently committed $34 million to address the state’s opioid abuse crisis. Wolf said his action is “a start” as the state begins to explore and understand the scope of the opioid epidemic.

This week, Congress gave final passage to legislation that will help communities’ combat opioid and heroin abuse. The bill will provide grant programs for addressing opioid abuse and treatment.

“This is a historic moment, the first time in decades that Congress has passed comprehensive addiction legislation, and the first time Congress has ever supported long-term addiction recovery,” Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Roll Call.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing

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