America’s Drug Crisis Happened Because We Let It Happen

Here’s some good news. Last year, for the first time since 1990, deaths from drug overdoses actually dropped in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control reports it wasn’t a big drop – about 5% fewer deaths – but might this indicate a trend?

Let’s hope so, because even with that decline a staggering 68,577 Americans died from overdoses in 2018.  Some died from street drugs like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine but a majority of the dead OD’d on prescription opioid painkillers. Last year’s death toll was higher than all the U.S. fatalities during the Vietnam War.  

While we may have the worst of this public health crisis behind us the devastating aftereffects continue to plague communities nationwide.  Now nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties are fighting back, joining together in a federal lawsuit which seeks to lay blame for the opioid epidemic and, in the process, determine how they will be reimbursed for the astronomical costs associated with the decades-long scourge.

Are Pharmacy Corporations to Blame for Opioid Crisis?

The lawsuit targets major drugstore chains like Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS and Walmart for fanning the flames of the prescription drug plague. Court documents quote employees from several of those corporations who claim there was never any meaningful oversight when obviously huge amounts of opioids were being routinely shipped out to their neighborhood pharmacies.

A Walgreens corporate employee, for example, says she questioned why one of its stores, in tiny Port Richey, Florida, was ordering 3,271 bottles of oxycodone — each month. After she sent up a red flag nothing changed. The massive monthly orders continued to be delivered to that store and others across the country.

Pills Makers Accused of Caring More About Money Than People

The class action lawsuit also blames the manufacturers of narcotic like OxyContin, Roxicet, Percocet and Opana – both big and smaller generic brand manufacturers – of churning out multiple billions of opioid pain pills with no regard to the damage being done.  The companies are accused of questioning almost nothing and failing to act upon or report suspiciously large orders. According to the lawsuit, the prevailing attitude seemed to be: ship out as much product as possible, rake in colossal profits and ignore the human consequences.

But wait a minute. While it might be fashionable to go after deep-pocketed corporations (there is also a $17 billion opioid drug lawsuit currently playing out against Johnson and Johnson in Oklahoma) aren’t there other blameworthy players in this deadly drama? A wider look at the problem reveals several other entities charged with drug control responsibilities obviously failed in their duty to protect the public and helped create this sad state of affairs.

Where was the Food and Drug Administration, with its mission to “protect the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy and security” of drugs, as pill makers, doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies and others apparently turned a blind eye to the ever-increasing use of prescription narcotics?

Where was the Drug Enforcement Administration as more than 700,000 Americans overdosed between 1999 and 2017? The DEA is responsible for enforcing the controlled substances laws and is supposed to concentrate on the “investigation and preparation for the prosecution of major violators.”

What about those doctors who so freely put pen to prescription pad and made it possible for addicts to get their next fix?  Let’s agree that most physicians have their patients’ best interests in mind, but to date only a relative few over-prescribing doctors have actually been identified, stopped and imprisoned for their part in creating this tragedy.

More Americans Die in the U,S. Every Year Than Died in Vietnam

If government agencies felt they lacked authority or manpower to act against this deadly epidemic their leaders should have marched to Capitol Hill and demanded the power to complete their missions.

Surely leaders of congressional health and public safety committees noticed that a record 72,000 American succumbed to the epidemic in 2017, some from street drugs like heroin but 49,000 of them died from overdoses of prescription drugs. You’d think the fact that 130 Americans pass away from opioid overdoses each day would have spurred politicians into action.

Why wasn’t there a coalition of government and industry leaders convened, the best and brightest from, say, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and mental health and addiction experts to try to find real solutions to this deadly problem?  There has been a lot of study and talk but no definitive results. A 5% reduction in deaths is a tiny improvement. The failures to act abound.

This drug crisis festered for so long because we let it.  This is a nation of intelligent and innovative people. As divided as we seem these days can’t we find a way to enforce drug laws, expeditiously prosecute those who act in criminally negligent ways and provide meaningful help for the addicted and their struggling families? The answer is, of course we can, if and when the tragedy of drug overdose deaths is made a priority.

That time is now. Time for a Manhattan Project type approach to this deadly epidemic.


  1. Diane Dimond on July 29, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Reader Bob Hughes writes:

    I have an orthopedic cousin that has been in the field for 35 years in his own practice and at has in ny. He throws the blame on doctors, ins. Companies and the govt. Many actors involved.

  2. Diane Dimond on July 29, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    Reader Natalie Fido-Kennedy writes:

    That’s so true lots of players in this epidemic

  3. Diane Dimond on July 29, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Dan Dominick Mahan writes:

    Doctors !!

  4. Diane Dimond on July 29, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    Reader Cliff Darnell writes:

    Sadly much of this problem has little to do with pain and more to do with currency. When a person goes to the carnival with twenty dollars in their pocket it is the carnies job to get the twenty. If a patient is eligible for a $4.00 script he or she can sell for $120.00 that is pretty easy math. If the doctor can then charge back to the government for the visit that is pretty easy math.The government deals out the dough , the drug companies make a killing ….. Not much incentive for oversight , after all the people are killing themselves …..sad deal …and the news will be about gun violence.

  5. Diane Dimond on July 30, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Reader Ana Paz writes:

    Some people are afraid of the doctor and or the doctor bill and they self medicate. America needs a better healthcare system and get over the mental health stigma.

  6. Diane Dimond on July 30, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Reader Ron Jackson writes:

    Pharmaceutical companies make drugs. Doctors prescribe drugs. People take drugs.
    People are the problem.

  7. Diane Dimond on August 19, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Q: Who do you blame for the opioid epidemic?
    Reader Dave Imbriaco writes:

    Mainly the pharma companies. They knew it was addictive and still pushed it anyways and then lied about it when confronted. Send the entire Sackler family to prison.

  8. Diane Dimond on August 19, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Q; Who is to blame for the opioid epidemic?

    Reader Gutsy writes:

    And what about those that kept putting the stuff in their mouths ?

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