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Opioid Epidemic: US Pays Dearly for Painkiller Revolution

CC0 / / Drugs
Drugs - Sputnik International
New York City has filed a lawsuit against seven pharmaceutical companies and three prescription drugs distributors, seeking to hold them accountable for igniting the deadly opioid epidemic that has swept the country, not sparing the Big Apple. The city demands a compensation of $500 million to cover addiction-related expenses.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has claimed that more people die in the city from overdoses, most involving an opioid, than from car accidents and homicides combined. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that more than 27 million US citizens abuse opioids, with almost 50 percent of deaths by overdose in 2015 linked to consumption of painkillers.

Argentinian journalist Nicolás Ayala, who conducted an in-depth analysis of the heroin epidemic in the US, told Sputnik that, just like any other social phenomenon, this problem has to be looked at from different perspectives. However, he admitted that the pharmaceutical industry played a fundamental role in igniting the epidemic in the 1990s.

"Back then, this sector of industry was regulated by virtually no one. They were promoting the ‘revolution of pain.' When someone twisted an ankle and went to a hospital, he was prescribed lots of pharmaceutical opioids, which caused addiction."

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The journalist noted that for many heroin addicts, addiction began through prescription drugs. The US government realized its mistake and attempted to regulate the sales of those pills, but that only made things more complicated, Ayala said.

"There was a whole generation addicted to pills and suddenly those pills were taken away. That resulted in the emerging of a black market on the city streets, where you could find something cheaper; for example, heroin."

In October 2017, US President Donald Trump declared a health emergency over opioids.

"Trump sidestepped declaring a national emergency over the opioid crisis that would give him access to a federal fund of $23 billion. Instead, he declared a public health emergency and gained access to a small $53,000 fund. He signed the document to look good on camera, nothing more," Ayala said.

“Foreign sources of opium are responsible for the entire supply of heroin consumed in the U.S.,” says the White House webpage on “The International Heroin Market.” - Sputnik International
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The US pharmaceutical industry spends the most on lobbying in Congress. In 2016 it invested almost $250 million to push for its interests. Insurance is the second largest spender, but it lags behind at $150 million.

"As long as corporations continue to dictate laws, deaths will not stop. Political parties retain power due to funding. This is a formula for catastrophe," the journalist asserted.

The nationwide crisis led to 50,000 deaths from drug abuse annually and a great economic cost — $500 million per year — according to the New York mayor. Notably, in the 1980s, most heroin addicts were black and Latin American urban residents. Today, the victims of the epidemic are mostly white and rural.

"This fact made the problem a centerpiece in the political agenda. When it wasn't about white people, there was no discussion about solving the problem on a national level," Ayala pointed out.

Research by the CDC has found that doctors are more inclined to prescribe opioids to white people than to Latinos or blacks.

"It is all about race-related prejudice. They believe that [white people] will take drugs medicinally, while [people of color] will sell them on black market. It's like a reverse racism, when white people suffer because of discrimination against other races," the journalist concluded.

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