Let's Talk About The Opioid Epidemic

Let's Talk About The Opioid Epidemic
Photo by Roberto Sorin / Unsplash

Addiction is a divisive topic.

There are very few people in the world who have no experience with addiction at all, whether as an addict or as the friend or relative of someone who is addicted to something.

Every individual has their own way of dealing with it. Some are able to get clean and walk away, some struggle with self-control for their entire lives. Some people have a good support structure, and some people are thrown out to try and cope with it on their own.

Some people reject support completely for fear of becoming a burden to the people they love.

People can become addicted to so many different things, from substances to behavior like shopping or gambling. The path to addiction can look vastly different and the beginning can take you completely by surprise.

You can even wind up addicted to something that was supposed to help you heal, prescribed to you by someone you should theoretically be able to trust.

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My readers who live in North America are likely fully aware of the opioid crisis plaguing our countries. The problem is so severe that around 90 people die every single day due to opiate overdose.

Opiates are incredibly addictive, and as people are driven to abuse them and lean on them as a crutch, it's common for them to develop a higher tolerance to the drug. As such, they keep taking higher doses as a way to try and maintain a high.

See, opiates work by stimulating your brain to produce a sudden flood of endorphins, which are the body's natural feel-good chemical. When we experience pain, we produce endorphins as a way to bury those pain receptors and induce a sensation of relief and euphoria.

Endorphin highs are completely normal when we experience them as a result of injury. They're part of what's known as a runner's high, or second wind. I've had them trigger in the chair while getting my tattoos; it's a sudden rush, and it can feel like you're literally flying.

But when you abuse opiates, your body doesn't produce endorphins properly in between doses. You wind up feeling like crap when you aren't actively taking the drug. That can lead to dependency and overuse.

When you combine a highly addictive substance with poor regulation and a profit motive, you have a recipe for disaster. And that's how this whole thing started.

We can't talk about opiate addiction without talking about Purdue Pharma, and by extension, the Sackler family that owned it.

The Sacklers might be among the most hated families in the United States, which is quite an impressive claim to fame. Amongst the elite of contemptible pricks, they are the people who allegedly profited directly from the sale and marketing of their most wondrous drug: OxyContin.

The brainchild of Purdue Pharma, OxyContin is a modern-day patented version of an old opiate drug. Versions of the medicine known as oxycodone have been around since the early 1900s, but they only became regulated and controlled around 1970.

The compound OxyContin began production as a prescription painkiller in 1995. It was approved by the FDA with no long-term studies and no concern given towards the potential for addiction.

Seeing the potential goldmine for what it was, the owners of Purdue Pharma marketed it aggressively. Painkillers are popular, easy to sell, and with their addictive properties they made good money.

But when doctors started seeing their patients rush back time and time again, desperately looking for more and higher doses...well. As you might imagine, they began expressing some concern.

When people can't get their fix legally, they turn to illegal means. Without help for addiction, people turn to street alternatives like heroin. The over-abundance of OxyContin and other opiate painkillers directly contributed to the current crisis of addiction that we're seeing worldwide.

The whole crisis is more complicated than this alone, of course, but this is a big part of how it got to be so bad.

Unsurprisingly, the families of addicts and the survivors who managed to get their lives back are not fans of the Sackler family, or of Purdue Pharma. The company was driven to bankruptcy back in 2019 due to the sheer weight of lawsuits and public pressure over this one issue.

But as of last year, the Sackler family was granted full immunity from civil suits. In return, they were required to pony up a meagre six billion dollars to go towards state addiction recovery services.

Sackler family wins immunity from opioid lawsuits
The wealthy owners of Purdue Pharma will be protected in exchange for a multi-billion dollar settlement.

This is what wealth buys you. Immunity. No being held accountable, except for the requirement that you pay a chunk of your money to the government. No true consequences.

Now, the Supreme Court has paused their immunity deal in December. They're taking another look at whether the family ought to be allowed to walk away with their hard-earned billions. I'm not holding out much hope that they'll actually ding them for it.

But I'd argue that this shouldn't have been a matter for appeal. They should never have been offered this deal in the first place.

How many people have died as a direct result of Purdue Pharma and the greed of its owners? It's difficult to guess an exact number, but estimates suggest around 645,000 between the years of 1999 to 2021.

Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic | Opioids | CDC
The rise in opioid overdose deaths can be described in three distinct waves. There was an increase prescribing opioids in the 1990s; rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin beginning in 2010; and in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Over the past few years, that number has only kept climbing.

There might not be many consequences for the wealthy family who raked in cash from the sale of these drugs, but the consequences reaped by the families and friends of the addicted are immense.

The pain and suffering they went through, as well as the suffering of those who are struggling with the addiction themselves, is hard to fathom.

Greed is a poison, but it's rarely one that hurts the person who feels it. Rather, it spreads outwards from their hands and infects the world around them in the most horrible ways.

It renders us, the average people of the world, nothing more than statistics. Externalities to account for in the yearly budget.

Not people. Just figures on the bottom line.

There's not much we can do about the Sackler family, thanks to their immunity deal. But we should take things like this into consideration when the time comes to consider our options in election years.

Regulations on corporate greed and an adjustment to how the legal system works are sorely needed. We can't have people sucking up billions of dollars in profit through destructive means, only to shrug and get away scot-free by handing over a portion to the court.

There must be real, measurable consequences for ruining lives. Now is as good a time as any to ask these hard questions of those who want to lead our countries, provinces or states.

We have every right to demand better.

Solidarity wins.