In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses. The misuse of and addiction to opioids is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.
What is The Opioid Crisis?
Over the last two decades, the United States has faced a growing epidemic of substance abuse and addiction, as evidenced by the surge in drug overdose deaths. The annual number of drug overdose deaths has nearly tripled since 2000, rising from 17,500 in 2000 to 67,400 in 2018. Most of these deaths involved opioids, including heroin, prescription painkillers, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared overdoses from prescription painkillers an “epidemic”.
The emergence of the opioid epidemic is widely ascribed to an increase in the prescribing of opioid painkillers, which was driven by a confluence of several factors, including multiple journal papers published in the 1980s that marketed opioids as an effective painkiller with a low risk of addiction. his was followed by an increase in urging health professionals to recognize and treat pain more effectively in the 1990s and 2000s, and the Food and Drug Administration's approval in 1995 of the blockbuster prescription opioid painkiller OxyContin, which the FDA has since called a “focal point of opioid abuse issues.”
The Opioid Crisis in California
The number of Californians affected by prescription and non-prescription opioid misuse and overdose is substantial, with rates varying significantly across counties, and even within counties. The number of deaths from fentanyl overdoses alone has risen by over 2100% in California in the past 5 years. Overdoses caused by synthetic opioids killed almost 4,000 Californians in 2020, according to the most recent figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thousands of lawsuits have arisen against Purdue Pharma, the creators of the painkiller OxyContin in the 1990s, on the grounds that this drug contributed to the opioid crisis that has killed nearly 500,000 people over the past 20 years.
At the end of August 2021, a federal judge approved a controversial bankruptcy settlement for Purdue Pharma that would shield the owners of the company from future opioid-related claims. In return, the owners of the company - the Sackler family - have had to give up ownership of the company and pay over $4 billion in instalments over the course of the next 9 years. The point of this settlement is to ensure that the billions of dollars will go towards helping people and communities that have been hurt by the opioid crisis.
However, much of the Sackler fortune was parked away in unobtainable off-shore accounts. Many have criticised this judgment as Purdue Pharma and the Sackler's misled physicians, pharmacists, patients, and the public. It seems unfair that they are allowed to walk away with billions in profit that they made by exacerbating the opioid crisis which has destroyed hundreds of thousands of families and communities across the country.