John Oliver Addresses Opioid Crisis, Takes Shots At Big Pharma
Last night on Last Week Tonight (HBO), John Oliver addressed the American opioid crisis, which is largely fueled by Big Pharma. He began by reporting on a dog who apparently overdosed after a bag of heroin was thrown over the side of a fence at a dog day care:
“Rampant heroin abuse near a doggy day care is the first case that McGruff the Crime Dog is actually qualified to solve.”
Oliver quoted research that those of us working in the addiction field have been well aware of for some time. He noted that 2.6 million Americans are opioid dependent, including those addicted to painkillers and heroin.
He also mentioned that painkiller addiction often leads to heroin addiction, because heroin is cheaper and sometimes easier to allocate. Around 75% of new heroin users report first becoming addicted to painkillers. Nearly 30,000 persons per year die of opioid overdoses.
He then talked about the 250 million opioid prescriptions that doctors have written, despite the fact that they were once wary to prescribe them – and rightfully so. Their reservations, however, were eventually beat down by Big Pharma through aggressive and misleading marketing, which eventually resulted in millions of dollars in fines.
“That discussion became dominated by the pharmaceutical industry, who started amplifying the message that opioids should not just be used for acute pain — from that of cancer or surgery — but all sorts of pain, like arthritis and backaches.”
You see, painkillers like OxyContin were once marketed as less addictive than other opioids, and doctors slowly became convinced this was true, despite their better judgment. The maker Purdue Pharma was eventually ordered to pay more than $600 million in fines in 2007.
And still, opioids are often the most effective way to treat pain, considering the lack of alternatives.
“Alternative pain treatments should be at least as easy to find as Waffle Houses, which, like heroin, are both hazardous to your health and dangerously addictive.”
Finally, he said we need solutions, but it’s going to be a tremendous undertaking and also expensive:
“But at a certain point, the question has to become less ‘What did we do wrong?’ and more ‘What do we do now? There is no one simple answer here.”
“This is going to take a massive effort and a significant investment — it won’t be cheap, it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy. And it is hard not to be angry at the drug companies, like Purdue, whose promise of cheap, quick, easy pain solution helped put us in this mess.”
Clearly Oliver is correct on pretty much everything. But it’s nothing new – its just fortunate that more and more people in the public eye are talking about this problem and bringing attention to it. It’s been years in the making.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology