The Opioid Crisis, Explained
Ray called me the other day. What he shared was different than any call we’ve had before.
After our call ended, I spent some time thinking about what he said.
Then I emailed him and said he had to write the article below. You won’t see this perspective anyplace else.
I should warn you. This could challenge your opinions… but you need to see it.
The Opioid Crisis, Explained: It’s Profits Over People
By Ray Blanco
On June 5, The New York Times ran a short piece that put the opioid abuse crisis in perspective.
Gun deaths per year in America peaked in 1993, just shy of 40,000. HIV deaths peaked in 1995, around 45,000. And car accident deaths per year peaked in 1972, around 55,000.
Last year in America, 59,000–65,000 people died from drug overdoses.
Yes, that’s correct. Last year more Americans died from drug overdoses than have EVER died in a single year from gun violence, HIV or car accidents.
As recently as 2005, drug overdose deaths were HALF what they are today.
Opioid addiction is the leading driver of this horrific rise in overdose deaths.
The Times article even said, “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.” Think about that for a second.
This isn’t about cities versus rural areas. This isn’t about income inequality or education. And this isn’t about age, race, sex, social status or history of addiction.
Americans of all walks of life are dying. In numbers we’ve never seen before. Moreover, there’s no end in sight to the escalating deaths from opioid addiction.
Chances are good someone you know has been touched by this epidemic. You are not alone.
Go to rural Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Vermont or Arizona. Talk to cops and EMTs.
Go to the posh suburbs of Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis or Boston. Talk to emergency room doctors and nurses.
Go to south Florida, the Texas Panhandle, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest.
Talk to counselors and treatment center workers.
The story is the same.
Americans are dying. People who don’t know what they’re getting into are hooked on drugs they’ll do anything to get.
Now, here’s the thing.
When you see this story on the news, everyone laments the fact that opioid addiction has such a terrible grip on America.
Everyone agrees the problem is severe. Everyone agrees we need more treatment options.
What you don’t hear is how we got here. And what it could mean for the opioid crisis going forward.
“Porter and Jick” — January 1980
On June 2, The Washington Post featured a story about a January 1980 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
This study, conducted by two researchers with the last names Porter and Jick, looked at 12,000 hospital patients treated with narcotic pain medicines.
What the study sought to find out was how often patients became addicted to these medicines.
Out of the 12,000 patients, the researchers found four (yes, that’s right, FOUR) cases of addiction.
Over time, this study would become one of the most widely misinterpreted, misquoted and misunderstood studies in American medical history.
A recent follow-up, also published in the NEJM, found almost 500 articles or citations that failed to examine the real findings of the “Porter and Jick” research.
Namely, Porter and Jick studied hospital-setting administration of pain medication, not take-home pills. But this sentiment was lost. Over and over again.
Quoting the follow-up study, The Washington Post article included this citation of Porter and Jick’s work from 2002: “Medical opioid addiction is very rare.”
And from a 1998 paper, “This pain population with no abuse history is literally at no risk for addiction.”
Sloppy research, bad conclusions and lazy citations in the wake of Porter and Jick’s work provided cover for pharmaceutical companies and doctors.
Pharma formulated, tested, marketed and sold dangerous, ruthlessly addictive drugs.
Doctors, “safe” in the knowledge that the addiction profiles of these drugs were of little consequence, prescribed freely.
And a crisis was born.
I’m not suggesting the opioid crisis is some kind of collusion or conspiracy.
What I am suggesting is you take it for what it is. It is another example of profits over people.
It’s an example of how scientific studies in prestigious, rigorously reviewed journals can be twisted, misinterpreted and used for specific purposes.
It’s an example of how doctors, even with their patient’s best care in mind, can blindly follow consensus and the status quo. With devastating effects.
And it’s an example of how the pharmaceutical industry, never short of drugs that “work,” rarely examine what a drug “working” really means to a broad spectrum of patients.
Now, what do I want you to take away from this?
The Road Ahead
As you may know, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently filed suit against five manufacturers of opioid painkillers.
DeWine, quoted by CNBC, said that in 2016, 2.3 million people in Ohio were prescribed opioids.
That’s one Ohio resident in five. 20% of the state’s population. Prescribed opioid pain medication. In the course of one year.
Ohio’s only the beginning.
Mississippi has legal action pending also. Counties or cities in West Virginia, Washington and New York have also filed lawsuits against drugmakers.
My takeaway for you is this: The breaking point in the opioid abuse crisis is nearly here.
There’s a major political storm coming.
The race, I predict, for safer alternatives to opioids that still relieve patient pain will be the pharmaceutical boom of the decade ahead.
I predict this for a simple reason. Opioids have failed. They have destroyed lives. They are a national crisis of the highest order.
To solve this, it’ll take doctors, researchers, pharma companies and the government working together. Let’s hope they work quickly.
As always, I’ll be on the lookout for the best pharma solutions to the biggest problems, and I’ll write to you with ways you can act on what I find.
To a bright future,