The Inside Job: Big Pharma’s Role in the Opioid Crisis
In 2011, a single pharmacy in Port Ritchey, FL ordered a grand total of 3,271 bottles of opioid medication to be distributed to users over a single month. That’s a lot for any town or community. It’s especially troubling for Port Ritchey, with a total population of just under 3,000.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid addiction-related deaths rose to 46,700 in 2017. This marks yet another incremental increase of a troubling statistic which, ten years prior, sat at a still-troubling 36,010. And all these problems also come with a tremendous cost – a group of researchers at Penn State1have reported that the crisis has incurred a loss of about $11 Billion USD from Pennsylvania’s state taxes between the years of 2000 and 2016. That’s just a single state.
With death tolls continuing to rise, many are beginning to point fingers at those who are most likely to benefit from such a massive influx in the distribution of pain medication: Big Pharma.
First published by the Washington Post, a troubling email leak detailed several brief exchanges between Victor Borelli, a National Account Manager for Irish Pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt and Steve Cochrane, the VP of sales for Keysource Medical, a pharmaceutical wholesaler. Conversations included Borelli appearing to joke about the over-prescription of the medication, telling Cochrane to “order a little more” even if the company already had a sufficient amount.
The following troubling exchange was also leaked, in which Cochrane jokes about the American opioid crisis responsible for the deaths of thousands. In reference to the shipment of the medications:
Cochrane: “Keep ‘em comin’! Flyin’ out of there. It’s like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh, wait, people are. . .”
Borelli: “Just like the Doritos people keep eating. We’ll make more.”
There is no clear resolution in sight for these issues. Although a number of pharmaceutical companies are scheduled to go on trial in October, they will see litigation spanning a total of over 1,500 court cases. Such a large number of cases may greatly slow down the judicial process, leading to further delays.
1: Zajack, G., Aveh Nur, S., Kraeger, D. A., & Sterner, G. (2019). Estimated Costs to the Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System Resulting From the Opioid Crisis. The American Journal of Managed Care,25(13), 0th ser., 250-255. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.ajmc.com/journals/supplement/2019/deaths-dollars-diverted-resources-opioid-epidemic/estimated-costs-pennsylvania-criminal-justice-system-from-the-opioid-crisis?p=3.
Written by: Joseph Detrano, CAS Science Writer
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.