The news broke just a couple of days ago that Richard Sackler of the family that owns Purdue Pharma recently received a patent for a new drug to treat those addicted to opioids. At one time, news like this would not even have raised an eyebrow. But now, it raises plenty of eyebrows.
Now, millions of people realize that granting this patent is a travesty in the making. They know this because of the excellent work of journalist and author San Quinones and a reporter from the Los Angeles Times.
Sam wrote the book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic which was the first widely broadcast report of how we got into the opioid addiction and overdose mess we are currently experiencing. The criminally negligent actions of Purdue Pharma and their contribution to this epidemic are detailed in this book.
Los Angeles Times reporter Harriet Ryan took a comprehensive look at Purdue’s involvement in putting millions upon millions of addictive pills into the illicit market without seeming concerned about anything but profits. You can read her excellent series here.
About the Sacklers and Purdue
Richard and the rest of the Sackler family (Mortimer and Emily plus their father Raymond who died in 2017) were the driving forces behind the aggressive marketing of a new formulation of painkiller oxycodone called OxyContin. This extended release opioid was designed to be taken every 12 hours instead of every 4-6 hours like other opioid painkillers. Purdue sales reps were sent out with explicit instructions to recruit as many new prescribers as possible. Bonuses were huge, perks for the doctors who started prescribing were lavish. Some doctors were hired to shill these drugs to their colleagues at meetings held at fancy resorts. Others took hundreds of thousands in fees to support the company’s claim that the drug was not addictive and so it should be prescribed freely.
Purdue’s reps repeated this claim in every doctor or dentist’s office they visited to recruit these prescribers. But it was utterly, completely and devastatingly false. How false? The medical director of one drug rehab called OxyContin “heroin in a pill.”
Fast Forward Twenty Years
The aggressive marketing of OxyContin began in 1996. Sales of these pills rocketed up over the next several years. Soon after, opioid overdose deaths also began to climb.
Between 1999 and 2016, America lost 630,000 people to drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last several years, roughly two-thirds of those deaths result from opioids. The opioids in play were prescription painkillers, heroin or the newcomer, illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.
The federal government and health officials want to treat opioid addiction with prescription opioids like methadone or the newer treatment drug buprenorphine. The patent granted to Richard Sackler and his colleagues was for a novel form of buprenorphine, a wafer that quickly dissolves in the mouth.
Treating those who are addicted to opioids with buprenorphine in one form or another is called “medication-assisted treatment.” It has the backing of the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and every other agency out there. It’s being pushed and promoted as THE solution to the problem.
Anyone who gets in on this treatment bonanza stands to make billions by selling their formula. So that takes us back to the Sackler family. Now that you have an idea of how Purdue Pharma has contributed to our catastrophic problem with opioids, you can probably see what a farce it is to grant Sackler a patent on a new form of a drug to treat addiction to the same opioids they made untold billions selling.
Make billions selling an addictive drug=Great!
Now make billions more selling a drug to treat those addictions=Even better!
The Silver Lining – If There is One
There are two plusses to this situation.
1. Purdue and other negligent/criminal manufacturers and sellers have been named in more than a thousand lawsuits that are making their way through the courts.
2. The fact of this patent is being met with screams of outrage from many quarters at the moment. Many people are angered. This increases the possibility that Purdue may not be allowed to profit from the mess they contributed to so significantly.
There’s no justice yet for the 630,000 Americans we have lost or the millions of others who are still struggling with addiction. If we can’t solve the bigger problem right away, we can and should at least forbid anyone associated with Purdue Pharma from profiting from the pain and death of their victims.