The mass marketing campaign has led to an unprecedented flow of painkillers into the American health care system, which has spilled over into the black market and heavily influenced the heroin epidemic. Americans, who constitute less than five percent of the world population, consume about 81 percent of the global supply of oxycodone products (the active ingredient in OxyContin) and nearly 100 percent of hydrocodone (the active ingredient used in brands, such as Vicodin). Many heroin addicts begin using the drug after abusing prescription opioid painkillers, which have an almost indistinguishable effect on the brain as heroin.
For years, many politicians simply punted on the role of the drug industry. The Senate Finance Committee pledged to investigate the role of opioid industry front groups pushing the claim that the drugs weren’t addictive, but the committee mysteriously never released its findings. Under pressure to challenge health care distributors responsible for supplying known opioid pill mills, Congress moved to make it even more difficult for federal agents to halt the flow of addictive drugs.
In state after state, pharmaceutical painkiller companies, using lobbyists and industry-funded patient groups, have killed bills designed to curb the overprescribing epidemic. Though state attorneys general have increasingly taken the lead in filing lawsuits against opioid drug firms, the industry’s influence is still apparent. In West Virginia, one of the states hardest hit by the addiction crisis, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey ended several state lawsuits against drug distributors that allegedly supplied opioid pill mills. Morrisey, it turns out, is a former lobbyist and attorney who had previously represented a trade group for the largest opioid distributors, including Cardinal Health. His wife has also worked as a lobbyist for Cardinal Health.