In efforts to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in America, the US House of Representatives is currently working to push through dozens of bills that many believe could help curb the rising overdose death rates and give the country a fighting chance. However, some have pointed out that Big Pharma MAT drug makers are spending millions lobbying Congress, and those same companies stand to bank big money off these new laws.
So, while we want to believe that new laws supporting Medication Assisted Treatment or “MAT” could help with harm reduction efforts, it is also good to point out that the drug companies who are positioned to benefit substantially are also those who have been racking up a lot of influence in Washington through huge donations.
In just a two week period, the House has already cleared several measures that would soon launch these MAT drug manufacturers into a sales spike.
Top MAT Drug Makers Lobbying Congress
So how much are these Big Pharma companies spending?
This biopharmaceutical company focusing mainly on central nervous system disease has already spent $1 million in lobbying. Part of that money went to support a bill that would fund full-service centers where people can:
This MAT drug maker is poised to cash in on this law because it could bolster the sales of anti-addiction injection Vivitrol. This is currently Alkermes best-selling product. However, the need for patients to fully detox before taking the drug is a limitation.
The aggressive marketing tactics this company is using, on top of their big budget for trying to influence Washington is already gaining them some attention. One thing that draws some of that attention is that the main focus of Alkermes lobbying was the bill presented by Representatives Brett Guthrie and Gene Green. Coincidentally, one of Alkermes main lobbyists served as Guthrie’s chief of staff, and another was Green’s former legislative director. Yet another example of people working in Congress making a jump to rallying government officials behind drug companies.
Guthrie and Green both reject any implication that they drafted the bill to support Alkermes. It is true that by several MAT drug makers also support their proposal.
This UK based specialty pharmaceutical company spent $180,000 on lobbying Congress. Indivior’s money went to support a bill easing restrictions on certain controlled substances used in injectable anti-opioid treatments.
Indivior rivals Vivitrol with their own product, Sublocade. This anti-addiction treatment is a once-a-month injection to fight opioid cravings. The bill they are bidding for would make it much easier for doctors to buy Sublocade for addiction treatment.
Sublocade was approved back in 2017 as an extended release buprenorphine compound. It became the first once-monthly injectable buprenorphine formulation for treating opioid use disorder (OUD).
Braburn Pharmaceuticals is an MAT drug maker from Pennsylvania that dropped a cool $100,000 along with Indivior to support the same bill for easing restrictions on controlled substances.
Braeburn is also developing a competing injectable MAT drug. But back in January, the FDA sent a complete response letter to the company. In the letter the FDA requests more data to be compiled for the therapy. The product was previously recommended for approval by the FDA’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee in November 2017.
As of May 2018, Braeburn announced Phase 3 of testing on CAM2038- the buprenorphine weekly and monthly injectable- had some positive developments. The results we published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.
If this MAT drug does get approval, it will be the first and only injectable opioid use treatment that healthcare professionals can administer from Day 1 of patient’s treatment.
But let us not forget that each of these injectable MAT drug treatments says they should only be a part of a complete treatment program that includes counseling and psychological support.
Big Pharma Supergroup
That may not be the actual name, but it is essentially what we are talking about. A group of non-opioid pain relief drug makers has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying. This Big Pharma “supergroup” aims to push for legislation that will allow for additional Medicare payment for non-opioid pain drugs. One such drug company is Heron Therapeutics out of California.
Heron alone spent $40,000 from January to March lobbying on the issue of setting rates for post-surgical non-opioid drugs.
Pros and Cons
None of this is to say the MAT drug makers should not support more options for addiction treatment. There should always be support for establishing more comprehensive and inclusive treatment opportunities. In the midst of one of the most devastating drug epidemics in American history, every little bit counts. MAT programs and harm reduction can save a life and give someone an opportunity to get treatment.
But we should also be aware of how much money any drug maker is pouring into the political system in hopes of greasing the wheels of the legislative branch. When the opioid crisis became a major campaign issue, Congress used February’s budget deal to authorize $6 billion in spending to address the epidemic. That is what suddenly inspired over 300 drug companies and interest groups to rush to Capitol Hill and lobby.
Overall, the House package is something that many anti-addiction advocates and other lawmakers see as only minor progress toward addressing such a massive public health crisis. Most agree that it is important to take what steps you can. Still, many agree these efforts fall far too short of what is truly necessary in order to make an impact.
These proposals can be a good step in the right direction. MAT drug programs can be useful in giving people a chance at getting off illicit drugs. However, MAT is only one element to treatment. It is not a sustainable substitute. Hopefully, more energy and funding in the future will help create detox and treatment expansion programs. Then more people can get the help they need instead of depending on drug companies to provide them with a temporary solution to such a complex issue.
Palm Partners Recovery Center believes in providing personalized and holistic treatment options. That is why we also offer MAT programs for those in need. Recovery is never one-size-fits-all, and we strive to help each individual find the recovery plan that is right for them. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?
Author: Justin Mckibben
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself sitting in front of a tough crowd on Capitol Hill for 2 days of questioning that covered various topics about the social media empire. The testimony covered how Facebook influences politics, handles user data, and what steps are being taken to prevent abuse of the massive tech companies international platform.
During the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, the topic came up of drug trafficking, specifically opioid sales, through Facebook.
Is Social Media Enabling Illegal Activity?
The line of questioning concerning opioids came from David McKinley. McKinely is the Republican Representative from West Virginia. On day two of the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about opioid dealers abusing the social media space in order to distribute their drugs. During the conversation, McKinley states,
“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,”
The Congressman went on to ask,
“With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?”
“Congressman, I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job of policing on our service. Today the primary way that content regulation works here … is that people can share what they want on the service, and then if someone sees an issue they flag it to us, and then we will review it.”
During McKinley’s comments, he actually shows Zuckerberg with images on a screen that opioids and other prescription narcotics are still actively being sold via Facebook. Later in McKinely’s statements he adds,
“That was just from yesterday. It’s still up. So my question to you is- when are you going to take down these posts that are done by illegal digital pharmacies?”
“Congressman, when people report the posts, we will take them down and have people review them.”
When the congressman continued to press Zuckerberg on Facebook taking responsibility for the posts made on the platform concerning illegal drugs, Zuckerberg replied,
“Congressman, I agree that this is a terrible issue and respectfully, when there are tens-of-billions or a hundred-billion pieces of content shared every day… even 20,000 people reviewing it can’t look at everything. What we need to do is build more AI tools that can proactively find that content.”
- AI referring to artificial intelligence.
This is not the first time critics have called out tech companies for falling short on policing illicit drug sales through their platforms.
In 2011, search-engine giant Google agreed to pay $500 million to the Department of Justice for showing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. consumers. Only a week before Zuckerberg sat down to speak with Congress, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had already called on social media platforms to root out and exterminate the online opioid trade. Gottlieb stated,
“We find offers to purchase opioids all over social media and the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But when it comes to opioids, we haven’t seen meaningful, voluntary actions.”
Some of the posts McKinely flagged to Facebook have already been taken down. However, McKinley still says that Facebook’s internal controls “don’t seem adequate” in regards to detecting and removing illegal drug posts.
Are Zuckerberg and Facebook Responsible?
The biggest theme- whether it came to Cambridge Analytica, censorship of political views, selling consumer data or illicit opioid marketing- was accountability.
The question throughout the testimony is- are Zuckerberg and Facebook responsible?
Some have argued that if Facebook intends to censor things like hate speech or political interference, then they should also be responsible for monitoring and shutting down any illegal activity happening on the website. Some people believe that if drug dealers are posting on social media, their posts should be automatically removed. That is a good goal. Others might even insist that Facebook should report these profiles to law enforcement to help investigate dealers and make more arrests.
But should Facebook be mandated and regulated to enforce these ideas? Moreover, should they be punished when people manage to cheat their system or slip through the cracks?
Many might argue Facebook should not be punished for the posts individuals make. One comparison might be that we do not prosecute cell-phone service providers when their products and services are used in illegal activity. And if we expect Facebook to thoroughly monitor all activity and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities, should cellular services be held to the same standard?
While private phone-calls are a far cry from public posts to the internet, what is the best way walk this line of privacy and security in the digital age?
Is it fair to say that Mark Zuckerberg is himself hurting people because his company is unable to police the hundreds of billions of posts made to their site every day? Or is it true that the company is slacking when it comes to addressing these issues promptly and effectively?
Social media is changing a lot of the way we communicate, and like any other advancement, it can be taken advantage of. One thing is certain; if we want to fight the opioid epidemic we have to put more research into prevention, and more focus and support into safe and effective treatment. Technology can impact drug use, but it can also connect people and help them get on the right path toward recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Earlier this week we talked about a story that shook things up in politics as a former DEA agent threw some serious accusations at the Big Pharma industry, Congress and a number of key officials for their involvement in policies some believe helped create the enduring opioid crisis in America. Among those accused of tipping the scales in favor of Big Pharma and stripping power away from those charged with regulating the industry was Republican Representative Tom Marino.
Of course, we know that Tom Marino was President Donald Trump’s top nominee to be the nation’s drug czar.
Now, after withdrawing from the nomination to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Tom Marino says he is proud of his role in writing a 2016 law that many critics say paved the way for the current epidemic.
The Tom Marino Factor
What kind of role did Tom Marino have in the creation of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act? Why is it that so many are up in arms about the bill in the first place?
To recap- Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a bill to the House. It was advertised to officials as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. In a statement released by Marino’s office, he claims the law would help “facilitate a balanced solution” by ensuring access to certain medications while allowing the Drug Enforcement Administration to prevent the sale and abuse of prescription drugs.
In essence, Tom Marino was supposedly pushing for a way to let pain management patients still get the useful medications they needed, without impeding on the process of curbing abuse.
But that isn’t how everyone sees it, especially after the 60 Minutes story.
Why it Matters
According to the opposition, the bill ultimately did little else besides weaken the DEA and the government’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids in suspicious shipments.
For years prior to the passage of the “Marino Bill” some big-time drug distributors were getting fined thousands of dollars for repeatedly ignoring DEA warnings to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills. These companies were racking up billions of dollars in sales while turning a blind eye to obnoxious overprescribing of dangerous drugs.
Back then the DEA was able to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street by freezing suspicious shipments. If the DEA judged that the drugs posed an “imminent danger” to a community, they could take action to prevent the flood of powerful narcotic medications from overwhelming the area.
However, the Tom Marino bill is argued to make it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies. Now, the agency is required to demonstrate that a drug distributor’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” which officials say is far more difficult criteria to meet. The report against the Tom Marino bill even cited internal DEA and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge.
The DEA even fought the bill, according to people within the agency, but in 2015 the law gained momentum again when the Justice Department named a new chief of the DEA- Chuck Rosenberg. After some reluctance, the report on 60 Minutes that included exclusive insight from Joseph T. Rannazzisi states the DEA ultimately took a deal they did not want.
Champion for Big Pharma
Marino disputed that, calling the reports “false accusations and unfair reporting.”
Tom Marino spent years pushing versions of this bill through Congress. He argued that it was to put an overly-aggressive DEA in check and protect drug companies from what he believed was unfair or misguided federal interference. In other words, he spent a lot of time fighting for Big Pharma’s ability to send millions of pills to communities that didn’t have half the population to justify them. All because the DEA was being aggressive?
The irony here is that the same people who pushed so hard for drug distributors ability to traffic obscene among of pills without the pesky DEA would probably be the same people demanding mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenders on the streets.
And again, many are still suspicious of those involved in pushing for this kind of legislation because of their connections to Big Pharma industry. The Post reports that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Tom Marino.
Some reports indicate the Big Pharma industry poured more than a million dollars into election campaigns, including Marino’s, who received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees supporting the drug industry.
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch calls the report “complete baloney” after it gained serious momentum earlier in the week.
Why are we not surprised? Because Hatch himself has received hundreds of thousands in donations from Big Pharma companies and health contributors over the years.
Holding Big Pharma accountable for their contribution to the opioid epidemic has become an increasingly popular cause. Lawyers and politicians at all levels have been pushing to put a spotlight on the shady side of the pharmaceutical industry. Now it seems that spotlight may extend more and more to exposing the politics that allow these issues to spread.
Another crucial element to putting an end to the opioid epidemic is providing safe and effective treatment for those who need help the most. A lot of people are still out there suffering because of prescription drug abuse or other dangerous substances. But we want to help. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Back in March we talked about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and how Republicans had been less than willing to vote for additional funds to be added to the legislation. In the face of an overwhelming outbreak of heroin and opiate addiction some would say it still falls short. However, as of Wednesday the Senate will advance the legislation forward.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is a critical piece of policy for fighting addiction in America. While it may still be an imperfect reform, it is still something to work with. Thankfully, life is about progress not perfection.
A Victory for Fighting Addiction
Some of the primary purposes of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act are to:
The whole intention, as we have stated before, was to formally authorize the federal government to utilize a more compassionate response system in address addiction. This would replace relying on prison and a cycle of punishment that only feeds into the problems so closely connected to drug abuse such as poverty. The bill is a product of:
- Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio
- Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island
Despite concerns over funding, Democrats in the Senate decided not to block the measure. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed with a rousing 90 votes for and only 2 against.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, stated:
“By increasing prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement tools, CARA can help prevent more people from struggling with addiction to begin with, and it can help foster long-term healing for those already struggling with addiction,”
It is more than logical to attack the issue with addiction on the back-end while also address the root causes. Hopefully this new legislation can follow through.
Money Makers Make It
As far as objections go, there were plenty despite the Democrats being willing to pass the act anyway. When the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act had pushed through the House last week in a nearly unanimous decision there was already concern. Democrats had offered up and amendment to provide $920 million to fighting opioid abuse. Republicans shot this proposal down. The emergency funding provision would have allocated additional financial backing for various innovative programs including:
- $230 million to law enforcement initiatives, including treatment alternatives to incarceration
- $10 million would have gone to state and local law enforcement units that oversee communities with high levels of drug use
- $300 million for state programs focused on prevention, treatment and recovery, and for improving treatment for pregnant and postpartum women dealing with heroin or opioid addiction.
Consider all the work that needs to be done in order to support these initiatives. Why doesn’t more money make it through? Regardless, Democrats recognized the severity of the situation and voted to pass the bill. During the floor debate in the Senate it was noted that more money is needed to provide support for:
- Mental health workers
- Law enforcement
- Addiction beds at addiction facilities
Still, there is some hope for more funding. Republicans have assured they will work to include additional funding in 2017 appropriations legislation. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer stated,
“Until we pass the increase in resources for both law enforcement and treatment, we cannot say Congress has done what is necessary to solve and fight the opioid crisis,”
This is absolutely true. Without putting your money where your mouth is it will be far more difficult to fight this fight. Providing lasting and diverse support for addiction treatment means investing in it. With the prominence of addiction in this country, it is an investment in our own future.
Reforms aimed at addressing addiction and supporting recovery are no walk in the park, but the fact that addiction is being viewed as the health issue it is, not the moral failing people once assumed it was, shows progress. Hopefully support for addiction treatment will grow and more lives will be saved. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
It is honestly refreshing to see so many changes being made recently to the countries policies on tougher issues; history truly is made every day. And a historic legislation was passed by U.S. Congress late this past Thursday that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration from carrying out any raids, arrest, or prosecutions of patients using medical marijuana, this takes affect by no longer allowing the law enforcement agencies under the Justice Department to consume federal dollars in efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana.
Advocates for Innovation
The amendment which was originally introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher was pushed through with a resounding 219-189 vote. The bipartisan-backed amendment was openly sponsored by Representatives from several states including Texas, Michigan, Tennessee and Nevada along with members such as Earl Blumenauer, Barbara Lee, and Tom McClintock of California. Paul Broun Democratic Rep of Georgia and Jared Polis of Colorado also stood in support of the bill, which altogether established support from a record-high 49 Republicans as well as 170 Democrats.
In a press release Representative Farr said “This vote showed that Congress is ready to rethink how we treat medical marijuana patients in this country,”
The New Amendment
Representative Sam Farr pointed out during the same press release that states with medical marijuana laws are now the majority, and no longer outnumbered in the debate for creating a new system recognizing the drug in medical terms. It was explained that the new amendment gives states the right to determine their own laws for medical marijuana use; free of the fear that federal government would step in and enforce law against it. The hope is that is this will provide patients with the comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care legal in their state without the fear of federal prosecution.
Advocates for medicinal marijuana said it appears Congress is finally ready to end the war on drugs that is burning through money on something that is a complete waste to the average American. Another great change is that federal tax dollars will no longer be wasted arresting patients who are seriously ill and who use medical marijuana. It will also avoid the cost of investigating and prosecuting those who provide to them with medicinal marijuana. It is believed to be a huge victory for patients nation-wide struggling with serious health issues.
The Senate and DEA
At this time the Senate has yet to pass its account of the legislation, but there is little doubt that the Senate, currently controlled by the Democratic Party, would put down the bill. However the law is still clear that until the Senate passes its version the federal government can continue to prosecute medical marijuana patients. Are the days of pot prohibition coming to a complete end?
One concern held by some advocates is that on the same day the House voted to restrict DEA spending in states that have legalized medical marijuana or the production of hemp, the House also approved a budget of $35 million more than what the agency itself has requested in its initial spending plan. While the budget increase for the DEA should not have any effect on the new protections granted to patients and hemp production in a handful of states that have legislation protecting medical marijuana patients, there is still a hint of concern that by accounting for additional funds to the DEA is Congress is not entirely ready to end the war on drugs? Many still hold out hope that this new piece of legislation will only be a catalyst for a wave of reforms to create a better system of law built around the medicinal marijuana industry.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135