Deconstructing the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is a two-fold problem that includes illicitly-acquired fentanyl and legally-prescribed oxycontin. 


On one hand, the pharmaceutical industry is completely corrupt. There are private interests making healthcare decisions. There are lobbyists and creative salesmen making sure pharmacies and doctors continue stocking and prescribing addictive medications. 


On the other, you have the cartels, as well as ethically questionable Chinese laboratories run amok. Underground labs produce fentanyl that’s cut with coke, meth, dope, and every marketable street drug you can imagine. It’s a scene right out of Breaking Bad. 


Under those auspices it seems that no matter what we do, we’re on a disturbing trajectory.


We’ve seen this before when there was a prohibition against alcohol. When you look at the massive black market that fills the void left by prohibition, it’s no wonder cartels and similar operations thrive. The drug laws left a dark stigma around a certain series of substances. 


By and large, illegal drug use is a consensual crime. Excusing its illegality stems from puritanical rhetoric that has been passed down from generation to generation. That, in turn, has created an entire bloated system of lawyers and judges and prisons run based on an idea that they should be able to tell you what drugs you can and cannot take. 


I personally see getting intoxicated as part of human nature. People are going to experiment with altered states of consciousness, period. They’ll do it even more so if you tell them they can’t do it at all. So why leave all that money on the table for crooks to grab? Legalize it and treat drug addicts as mentally ill instead of criminalizing them in our corporate penal system.


I also want to preface any further information with this idea; that letting people die is uncivilized. Leaving people adrift who you happened upon during their worst lapse in virtue is doubly so.


Addiction is, in fact, a mental illness and should be treated, not punished. The commodification of our health care system and the drug laws have created two completely different kinds of crooks that are working side by side. Both factions take advantage of the same impulses in people to make tons of cash money. 


They’re hungry rats at a feeding frenzy. Peering into this dark abysmal world of level one narcotic production is grotesque… 


…so let us continue.




In 1996 the Sackler family introduced Oxycontin through their company Purdue Pharma, a private, mid-size pharmaceutical company. They knew about the drug’s intensely addictive properties and aggressively marketed it to the public and pharmacies as completely safe. 


They blatantly lied. That stuff is as addictive as any other opioid. It’s a level one narcotic, volatile and dangerous when improperly used.


For going on twenty years Purdue Pharma made billions in profits from the introduction of Oxycontin. This particular business, unlike most drug companies, is one hundred percent privately owned. As owners and decision makers, the decision to introduce and market Oxycontin falls solely into the laps of the Sackler family, as did all the profits they made. During the bankruptcy filing, a figure of 12 to 13 billion dollars in profit was mentioned(1). Apparently the Sacklers also took the opportunity to questionably withdraw $10 billion of that money.


Recently, a deluge of lawsuits hit Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers, approximately 2600. The company filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy to deal with the burden of so much debt. Purdue Pharma estimates it’ll have to pay out approximately $10 billion in damages for which the Sackler family are responsible(1). 


Some of the Sacklers have been individually named as defendants in some of the proceedings as well. (2) Even as early as the early 2000’s, members of the family were repeatedly called into court to defend themselves in the proceedings.


The tactics they used in court, repeatedly, show an underhanded approach to their misdeeds. From the Washington Post: ‘ “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals,” Richard Sackler wrote in the email, which was cited in a January lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the family by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. ‘


It’s doubtful that you’d be able to name another single family as responsible for so much death and destruction. They knew the drug was addictive. They marketed Oxycontin with effective aplomb. They reaped titanic benefits. They pressed a militant agenda towards addicts for harsher penalties in court. 


But what are Opioids?


Oxycontin is analgesic medicine, a pain reliever. There is merit in its purpose. For people who genuinely need it that’s fine, but in the hands of an addict it’s dangerous. For a long time it was central to an entire generation’s experience with opioids. 


For some context, the three most popular forms of opioids are prescription, fentanyl, and heroin. All fundamentally different drugs deriving from myriad sources, although Oxycontin and similar drugs are prescribed by professionals.


In 2016, synthetic opioids (primarily the illegal drug fentanyl) surpassed prescription opioids (Oxcontin, et al) as the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the United States. It’s a tremendous turning point in drug culture. Drug cartels and poorly moderated Chinese laboratories are now directly responsible for more deaths in the US than pharmaceutical companies.


According to the CDC, more than 399,000 people died from overdoses involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids, from 1999-2017. 




Like Oxycontin, Fentanyl is a pain reliever, an analgesic medicine.


It was synthesized by Swiss Scientist Paul Janssen in 1960. His company developed a barrage of anesthetic drugs to aid in medical procedures. Medically, it comes in patch form, injection form, or as a nasal/mouth spray. It’s the most widely used synthetic opioid on the market. 


This is not the type of Fentanyl that’s killing all these people though. From this article:


“Mexican drug trafficking organizations smuggle fentanyl into the U.S., and China’s pharmaceutical and chemical industries are inadequately regulated, allowing producers to advertise and ship synthetic opioids to buyers anywhere in the world.


While traditional criminal organizations play a role in the spread of fentanyl, the internet also has made it easier to traffic these drugs and to share information about their synthesis.


Overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have increased from about 3,000 in 2013 to more than 30,000 in 2018. These deaths have remained concentrated in Appalachia, the mid-Atlantic and New England.”


The article impressed me. This opening statement is amazing:


“This crisis is different because the spread of synthetic opioids is largely driven by suppliers’ decisions, not by user demand,” said Bryce Pardo, lead author of the study and an associate policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Most people who use opioids are not asking for fentanyl and would prefer to avoid exposure.”


Like Oxycontin, it seems that industry, not consumers, are pushing for fentanyl. It’s a top down thing, not from the bottom up. There are plenty of factors that make it beneficial; it’s cheap to make, getting cheaper by the year, and very efficient as a tool in the medical world


For addicts, those facts are in direct conflict with Fentanyl’s volatile and powerful nature. Some strains of Fentanyl are said to be more than 100 times stronger than Morphine. Even experienced heroin addicts can easily overdose under those circumstances.


The issue has gotten so severe that it’s now officially considered a major crisis by the CDC. According to the CDC, 70,000 people died in 2017 from overdose alone, and of those 68% died from opioid overdose, which amounts to roughly 47,600 people overdosing on fentanyl in one year


According to the results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health


“In 2018, an estimated 10.3 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year, including 9.9 million prescription pain reliever misusers and 808,000 heroin users. Approximately 506,000 people misused prescription pain relievers and used heroin in the past year.” expands upon this issue


“Based on data from the National Vital Statistics System, 599,255 drug overdose deaths occurred from 1979 to 2016 in the United States, and the overall mortality rate has seen exponential growth. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths predominantly occurred in the northeastern United States, mostly affecting younger people (20–40 years of age), and grew sharply since 2013.”


They go on to further expand on Fentanyl’s ubiquitous and versatile usage: 


“Analysis of a sampling of 1 million unique patients’ urine drug test (UDT) specimens showed that positivity rates for fentanyl have increased by 1850% among cocaine positive UDT results and increased by 798% among methamphetamine-positive UDT results between January 2013 and September 20185. This mixture may lead to the increases in cocaine-related and methamphetamine-related overdoses. Moreover, the number of fatal overdoses from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and its analogs, was 19,547 in 2016 in the United States, and this rate increased by 88% per year from 2013 to 201613,14,15,16.”


I didn’t want to simply rewrite what this article has already said so expertly, but I did add the bold emphasis in the above paragraph myself. Please excuse me quoting so much of their original piece, give it a read if you have a chance. It’s sobering.


None of the information here is encouraging, regardless of the specifics.


A disproportionate amount of the people are dying from Fentanyl overdoses each year. As noted, there are several factors involved in the meteoric rise of this synthetic drug from a sidelined, level one narcotic to an official “best-selling in the street and the pharmacy” champion killer from coast-to-coast. 


The thing that is so scary about fentanyl to drug addicts is that any level one narcotic can be laced with it. Even just a discussion of the usage of any of these drugs comes with possible consequences of overdose and death attached to it. Such things are rarely mentioned anyway, but it’s the elephant in the room that has users crossing their fingers at times.

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