By Gemma Overton, 99GetSmart
America is a nation that has been ravaged by middle-class drug addiction, and that addiction has now reached epidemic levels. If we look at opioids alone then the most recent statistics released by the American Society of Addiction Medicine in 2016 suggest that of the 20.5 million adults Americans that are categorised as having a substance use disorder, 2 million of those were abusing prescription pain relievers and 591,000 were abusing heroin (both forms of opioid). Addiction is considerably more prevelant than the statistics surrounding it suggest, with many individuals better able than others to hide their addiction: the functioning alcoholic, for example, is a well known and accepted member of society unlikely to land on any official list or statistical diagram.
Moving the Blame
The finger of blame in America’s opioid epidemic has been spread disparately amongst medical professionals, government, and the addicts themselves, but drug companies have exited the crisis relatively unscathed, until now. This year the finger of blame is pointing squarely at the pharmaceutical manufacturers who marketed those opioids and distributed them so widely: these big companies are now being held accountable in court by individual state legislators, just as Big Tobacco companies did in recent years. Since the opioid epidemic began in 1999 there have been more than 300,000 accidental opioid related deaths across the United States, and attitudes towards these deaths are changing; rather than hold the addicts responsible for their behaviour, or blame the administration that made it harder for patients to access legal opioids (leading to an increase in the number of herion addicts, and accidental heroin overdose) the companies that are manufacturing the drugs are now being held to account.
The most significant case to be brought this year comes from the state of Ohio. This high-profile case will see Ohio sue five opioid manufacturers. When announcing the state’s decision their Republican attorney general, Mike DeWine, said in a statement that they were bringing the action because they believed that the drug companies purposely mislead both physicians and they’re patients: “They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway — and they continue to do it…Despite all evidence to the contrary about the addictive nature of these pain medications, they are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and to tell the public the truth.” If Ohio win this landmark case then it is thought that the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry will face lawsuit action from both states and individuals across the nation.
As the Trump administration seeks to repel Obamacare, leaving many drug addicts and former drug addicts without health insurance or access to the health care and treatments that they rely on, it seems like an obvious financially-motivated move for states to seek to recoup some of their out-of-pocket drug treatment expenses by suing the drug companies that are, at least in part, responsible for the position they and so many of their residents find themselves in.
Changing Attitudes to Addiction
Addiction is no longer something that is associated with shame, and it is no longer something that people are burying under the carpet. If you look at the cities and states that are struggling most wit opioid addictions, it is those that would historically be considered both affluent and middle class. It is a battle that is indiscriminately affecting all members of society, and of course their family and friends. Even President Trump opened up about his brother’s battle with alcoholism, and his eventual death at the hands of this addiction, during his time on the election trail in an attempt to humanise and relate with the ordinary voters he was meeting on the road (making him one of the 40% of GOP nominees at the time who had familial stories of addiction to share and publicise).
President Trump was vocal in his opposition to the big pharmaceutical industry during his campaign and pledged to fight the opioid epidemic but, so far, he has failed to put his money where his mouth is: in fact, his planned cuts to government spending would have a largely detrimental impact on the fight against opioid addiction. Although the president has established a drug addiction task force, we are yet to see this task force have any impact.