by Elijah DeRoche, United World College Maastricht
January 23, 2019
I remember vividly the first time a boy in my community overdosed on heroin. I was shocked when I was told; somebody I had grown up around. The death rattled my town and left us wondering. How could this happen to one of our own? Sadly, this has continued, and not as a rare occurrence at that. Everybody I know at home is in some way related to and affected by each death, and this is not an issue confined to my town alone.
According to the National Survey on Drug and Health, the number of Americans who had reportedly done heroin in 2016 neared 1 million. Since the early 2000s the drug’s use has seen an upward trend, with rural areas most severely infested with addiction, and in 2017, it claimed the lives of over 70,000 Americans. The escalation of heroin use and its consequence comes with a deadly partner. The opioid.
OxyContin, one of the first prescription opioids, was introduced into modern medicine in 1995 by Purdue Pharma. It was aggressively advertised to doctors and patients as a safe, non-addictive way to effectively treat pain. And that it did. Patients found their pain next to nonexistent, and as doctors began prescribing the drug to all who asked, the industry grew by the billions, leaving pharmaceutical companies with the profits. A wave of other prescription painkillers followed, but contrary to Purdue Pharma’s assurances, the drugs were extremely addictive, and when abused, proved to be deadly.
When their prescriptions expired, patients found themselves craving the pills, and turned to the underground market for the “medicine”, and eventually, its cheaper substitute: heroin. Over the 2000s the United States has seen an increase in heroin-related deaths of over 300%. Communities saw their youths decimated by the addictive nature of the drug and rehab centers began to fill with nobody to hold responsible. That was until 2018. 27 states have actively filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma which could lead to a huge outcome. There are currently two leading legal arguments at the forefront of the case: one against opioid manufacturers and one against opioid distributors.
Firstly, opioid manufacturers are being pursued as their efforts to downplay the risks of their painkillers have led to a massive over prescription and reliance on the drug. The lawsuit argues that this can be considered false advertising with deadly consequences.
Secondly, opioid distributors are being brought to court for their role in the opioid epidemic. Opioids have been over-distributed at a disgusting level, some states having more prescribed bottles of painkillers than people themselves. Federal and State laws place a responsibility on distributors to monitor the supply chain and ensure their products are not being abused or trafficked.
A win in these lawsuits could elicit a major outcome and provide the funding struggling cities, communities and towns need to address this disease. As opioid and heroin abuse majorly occurs in poorer cities and rural areas, the problem has fallen to the bottom of city officials’ priorities, as they already lack the fund to repair their roads, bridges, and schools. Settlements won through the many cases against Purdue Pharma could ensure the construction and management of much-needed rehab clinics, and push for anti-opioid advertisement. My community, like many across the country, has seen brothers, sons, and friends taken by the opioid epidemic, but we are finally moving in the right direction and holding the perpetrators responsible for the sickness they have caused.