Do you believe a person addicted to drugs has moral failings and society owes them nothing, or as a person recently said in my presence, “If they die, good riddance, one less problem”?
Perhaps many of us hold similar attitudes, but as the opioid crisis continues to explode, let’s consider the whole story.
Reputable organizations including the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta have evidence that the opioid/heroin/fentanyl addiction crisis started with legally prescribed drugs.
There is lots of blame to go around, but it starts with Purdue Pharma, drug manufacturer of OxyContin.
In 1996 Purdue introduced and aggressively promoted OxyContin as a miracle drug for the control of chronic pain. Based on the science provided by the drug company, Health Canada approved OxyContin.
Purdue marketed the drug as safe, effective and non-addictive. At the same time, medical doctors were being told that managing pain results in better patient outcomes, so with this “miracle” drug, prescribing became common.
Opioid drug addictions cross all ages, social status, ethnic backgrounds, education levels and geographic regions. It became the drug of choice to treat post-surgery and chronic pain and serious injuries from sports, workplaces and car crashes.
Sales went through the roof indicating that opioids were being over prescribed for lesser pain at alarming rates.
I might argue austerity-prone governments, whose policies caused extreme bed shortages, also share part of the blame. With patients discharged in a couple of days, even after major surgery, high levels of legal opioids entered homes and eventually the streets.
Interestingly, Canada and the United States are the only two developed countries in the world that are experiencing an opioid crisis of this proportion.
They also share one common feature. Neither country has universal drug coverage which enables profit-taking to drive drug usage, not patient well-being.
I spoke with a pharmacist, off the record, in 2016. He was furious and frustrated. The manufacturer, Purdue, had developed a second version, OxyNeo to replace OxyContin, but did not issue that drug until the OxyContin patent had almost expired.
The original pill could be easily crushed making it possible to use as both a legal and illegal drug. OxyNeo in contrast was a crush-proof pill that couldn’t be snorted, smoked or injected.
Opioids are essentially heroin in pill form. It alters the chemistry of the brain causing life-time dependency.
Victims who unknowingly, unintentionally and unexpectedly became drug addicts were shunned by society and often cut loose by their original-prescribing doctors.
Their only choice was to turn to the streets, first to purchase hard-to-get OxyContin pills, then the desperate last moves to illegal, fentanyl-laced heroin or suicide.
In 2007, Purdue and three executives were criminally charged for their deception but negotiated a mere $634.5 million fine. In contrast, the opioid crisis in 2015 tapped the American taxpayer for over $500 billion in direct costs.
There is little doubt, politicians, including Prime Minister Trudeau, who cozy up to plutocrats including drug manufacturers each year in Davos, will do little to tackle the real reason for the opioid crisis.
Yet at the micro level it behooves all of us to stop moralizing and instead show compassion to opioid victims and their families.
It was never their fault, but it is now their unintended life-long tragedy!