Years ago if you asked the average American what fentanyl was, odds are they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Most would probably assume it was some important medical compound found only in hospitals. It almost sounds like the name of some edgy chemical you’d associate with either Breaking Bad or the Unabomber. Sadly, gone are the days of such blissful ambivalence.
Today, America has a more realistic idea of what fentanyl is.
Most adults and young people have at the very least heard the horror stories about this now intensely infamous drug. If you have a television or a smartphone, odds are you have at least glimpsed the headlines. Because in the last few years the devastation caused by this powerful synthetic drug has spread all over the country, and cost countless lives.
Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, researchers have shown an involvement of fentanyl in opioid overdose deaths has quickly skyrocketed:
- 2010- 14.3% of opioid overdoses involved fentanyl
- 2016- 46% of opioid overdoses involved fentanyl
With nearly half of opioid-related overdoses, fentanyl is now involved in more deaths than:
- Prescription opioids- 40 % in 2016
- Heroin- 36.6 % in 2016
More than one drug is commonly involved in many of these deaths. Therefore, in some cases heroin and fentanyl are both accounted for. However, we can see how fentanyl has a growing presence that can definitely be felt, as dozens of thousands of Americans are dying every year due to exposure to this deadly drug.
So if you’re still unclear as to what exactly fentanyl is, let us look at how to better understand where it comes from and why it is so lethal.
Pain Medication Origins
Some people were indeed ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding fentanyl because it has actually been around for a very long time. The synthetic opioid is used as a pain medication, and in some cases combined with other medications for anesthesia. It has been used for years by hospitals, doctors, and even veterinarians to treat patients and puppies.
- 1960- Fentanyl was first created by Paul Janssen
- 1968- Fentanyl was approved for medical use in the United States
- 2015- 1,600 kilograms/3,500 pounds of fentanyl were used globally
- 2017- Fentanyl was the most widely used synthetic opioid in medicine
On its own, the substance typically looks like a white powder. As a medicine, fentanyl is available in a number of forms, including:
- Skin patch
And it may be hard for some to believe, but it’s true that one of the deadliest chemicals on the street today can actually be found in lollipop form for medical use.
The drug is such an effective painkiller because it is typically considered to be approximately 75% stronger than morphine for a given amount. However, there are fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil (carfentanyl) which can actually be as much as 10,000 times stronger than morphine. When translated to the illicit drug world, that means fentanyl and its derivatives blow heroin out of the water when it comes to potency and risk.
As a medication, fentanyl can be useful in treating chronic pain patients when utilized correctly. Pre-surgical and post-surgical use of powerful pain management medications is sometimes a necessary step to helping patients recover. In fact, fentanyl patches are on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, meaning it is considered one of the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.
Black Market Poison
Despite the seemingly altruistic intentions behind the invention of fentanyl, it has been used illicitly since the mid-1970s. Now, there are more than 12 different analogs of fentanyl that have been identified as being illegally made and used recreationally. The synthetic opioid is used through:
- Taken orally
Some people who abuse opioids do seek out fentanyl. Fentanyl is sometimes sold on the black market after being diverted from legitimate medical supplies. Recently drug manufacturers have also been accused of racketeering in order to boost sales of fentanyl. Even the gel from inside the transdermal patches may be ingested or injected. Those fentanyl lollipops have also made their way into the illegal drug trade.
But a large number of people who end up using fentanyl do it unintentionally. It has been used to adulterate or ‘cut’ heroin, and it has been pressed into counterfeit pain pills and sedatives sold on the illicit drug market. More recently there has been a rise in overdose deaths among cocaine users involving the drug, which suggests that fentanyl is being heavily cut into cocaine as well.
So why are dealers using it? To name a few reasons:
- As mentioned before, it is extremely potent
- It is easier to smuggle into the U.S.
- The drug is very cheap to produce
In China, carfentanil was not a controlled substance until March of 2017, meaning it had been legally manufactured and sold over the internet up until barely a year ago.
While it is a profitable move for drug traffickers, it is a life-threatening variable for drug users. Variations of the compound can be so strong they are incredibly poisonous. Simply breathing air with atomized fentanyl in it, or touching a contaminated surface can kill you.
Because of the massive reach of the outbreak, it is important than ever to be aware of the symptoms of fentanyl overdose. These warning signs can include:
- Difficulty thinking, speaking, or walking
- Excessive drowsiness
- Frequent fainting spells (nodding off)
- Throwing up
- Pale face
- Blue- or purple-colored lips, fingernails, or extremities
- Choking sounds
- Pupil size reduced to small black circles in middle of eyes
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Hypoventilation (slow, shallow breathing)
- Respiratory arrest
Adding to the terrible risk of coming into contact with illicit fentanyl or one of its derivatives is that opioid overdose antidotes like naloxone are not as effective when trying to reverse the effects. Sometimes an individual will require multiple doses of naloxone to be revived, ance revived a new overdose can actually occur when the initial dose of naloxone wears off. It is critical that someone who experiences an overdose received medical treatment immediately.
The nation has been caught up in a growing opioid crisis for years now, serving a shock to the healthcare system and public health officials everywhere. As the death toll climbs and more people are suffering and dying every day it is crucial that we raise awareness and take action to address drug abuse and addiction. One of the essential tools to fighting back is effective and innovative treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Why are more kids than ever before overdosing on ADHD drugs in America?
Did you know that the number of U.S. children unnecessarily exposed to powerful medications meant to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has gone through the roof over the past few years? In fact, over a 15-year period, unnecessary exposure to ADHD drugs has increased by more than 60% according to reports!
Study on ADHD Drug Exposure
Recently there was a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on ADHD drug exposure and reports to poison control centers indicate:
- In the year 2000, there were 7,018 calls to poison control centers related to an ADHD drug
- In 2014, there were 11,486 calls to poison control centers related to an ADHD drug
The study defines “exposure” to an ADHD drug as “unnecessary ingestions, inhalation or absorption” of ADHD medications. This includes when the exposure to the drug is both accidental and on purpose.
The study examined data from approximately 156,000 poison center calls made over the course of 15 years. Another disturbing aspect of the data they collected showed:
- 82% of the calls were “unintentional exposure”
- 18% were “intentional exposure”
When taking a closer look at the ADHD drug exposure statistics, the researchers focused in on four of the most common medications used to treat ADHD, including:
Ritalin was the ADHD drug with the highest number of exposures.
One of the lead authors of the study is Dr. Gary Smith. When discussing the conclusions made during the study, Smith states:
“What we found is that, overall, during that 15 years, there was about a 60% increase in the number of individuals exposed and calls reported to poison control centers regarding these medications.”
Smith also concludes that one of the more troublesome findings in the study is the severity of the exposures among the adolescents due to intentional exposure. So essentially, 18% of the calls coming into poison centers concerning an ADHD drug were due to kids taking the medications on purpose.
The study also compared these medications across three different age groups:
- 0-5 years
- 6-12 years
- 13-19 years
In the 0-5 year age group, they discovered that unintentional exposure was due to “exploratory behaviors”. However, with children 6-12 years old, exposure was due to:
- “Therapeutic errors”
- “Accidentally taking multiple pills”
Sadly, among the group 13-19 years old, more than 50% of exposures to an ADHD drug were intentional. Researchers note that many teenagers will use these stimulants because.
Even worse is, of all the poison center calls, around 10% resulted in a serious medical outcome. 10% may not seem like a lot, in regards to poisoning from medications any number is too many.
Ups and Downs
Smith did note that there were some ups and downs in the trends concerning ADHD and complications from the medications. For instance, the study notes:
- Between 2000 and 2011- ADHD drug exposures increased by 71%
- Between 2011 and 2014- ADHD drug exposures dropped by 6.2%
It is unclear why there was this decrease in ADHD drug exposure rates. However, some believe it may be due to the fact that warnings from the FDA about the adverse side-effects of ADHD medications could play a big part in it.
Another thing that stands out about this study is that we have also seen a steady increase in the rate of ADHD diagnosis. Case in point, according to new reports:
- 14% of all American children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2014
- Between 2005 and 2014 the number of ADHD diagnoses more than doubled
While it is important to note that these medications can be helpful for some, they can also be extremely dangerous. According to Dr. Benjamin Shain of NorthShore University HealthSystem and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine,
“Adverse effects of taking too much stimulant medication include fast heart rate, increased blood pressure, tremors, and agitation. Worse case scenarios include schizophrenic-like psychosis, heart attack, stroke, seizures and death,”
Shain adds that adverse effects are the same if you do or do not have ADHD, or if you take too much of the medication. So people who are prescribed an ADHD drug still run the risk of suffering through some of these side-effects.
Making Safer Choices
At the end of the day, it is all about making safer choices for yourself or your loved one. When it comes to treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, there are other important elements. Various therapies can be helpful in creating a more comprehensive treatment plan, such as:
Ironically, these same therapies are also extremely helpful for those who may find themselves abusing these kinds of prescription medications. People suffering from substance use disorder can benefit greatly from these opportunities.
Because these ADHD drugs are stimulants, they also have a tendency to be abused. Either by those with a medical prescription who use too much of the drug or by those with no medical need who use them for the feelings of energy and focus they get. Again, in the case of prescription stimulant abuse, the beginning of a path to recovery means making safer choices. One of the best choices you can make is to seek professional and effective treatment options.
Palm Partners Recovery Center believes in providing innovative and personalized treatment options to anyone battling with substance abuse or addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can understand the desire to find something that can help protect yourself from haunting feelings of dread that cripple your peace of mind. Anxiety is a complicated condition that can creep in from the most unexpected places, and people experience it in many different ways. While some may think it’s based in fear or weakness, the reality is far more complex. Those people may say all you need to overcome anxiety is a more grounded and positive outlook. But the truth for most people with an anxiety disorder is that battling anxiety goes a lot deeper than promoting optimism. Especially when your condition convinces you that all levity is just you lying to yourself. Sometimes, you need a little outside help, and anti-anxiety drugs can be very useful when a physician and an individual decide on the right route to take.
However, anti-anxiety medications can also be dangerous. These anti-anxiety drugs may not be in the spotlight the way opioids are, they are commonly abused, extremely addictive and can be just as lethal.
With recent reports showing a rise in deaths associated with anti-anxiety medications, some experts are saying there is a hidden epidemic being overshadowed by the opioid crisis.
Anti-Anxiety Drugs Underestimated
It is true that opioids are doing massive damage all across the country, but that doesn’t mean the death rates due to anti-anxiety drugs should be ignored. While focusing on prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids is important, we should also keep in mind the other dangerous medications out there.
The usual suspects are benzodiazepines, which include drugs like:
While these anti-anxiety drugs may be useful in helping some people, they still carry their risks, which can be devastating and even lethal.
According to the director of the Scripps Mercy Hospital emergency department Dr. Roneet Lev, benzodiazepines are responsible for more drug deaths in San Diego County than people may expect. She says,
“That comes from people who come into our trauma center from car accidents because they’re on benzodiazepines, people who come in because they’re falling down because that affects their balance and coordination on benzodiazepines,”
“We’ve seen terrible withdrawals, when they’re used to having it, with seizures, that end up in the ICU.”
And it isn’t just people who are buying these drugs off the street. Concerning drug-related deaths by legal prescriptions, benzodiazepines are not as far behind opioids as people may think. Dr. Lev adds that while oxycodone is the number one prescribed drug associated with death, hydrocodone is second, and benzodiazepine is in third place.
But San Diego County is definitely not the only area experiencing a surge in benzodiazepine-related deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths involving these anti-anxiety drugs have more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2015.
Something that does make these medications even more treacherous is when they are mixed with opioids.
Mixing Meds Causing More Deaths
As if opioids or anti-anxiety drugs weren’t hazardous enough on their own, the fact that many people mix these two medications makes them even more deadly. The San Diego County Medical Examiner has concluded that 83% of benzodiazepine-related deaths also involved opioids. Nathan Painter is an associate professor in pharmacy at UC San Diego. He explains how the chemicals interact with the body, and how mixing them only amplifies these effects.
“The benzodiazepines themselves can cause respiratory depression, or your breathing slow down, and so can opioids. So when you combine them, especially in the case of not using them on a regular basis, or being new to the benzo or the opioid, if you give too much, or combine it with other things like alcohol or other medications, then it can cause that breathing to slow down, or even stop.”
What could make this even worse? Well, many of the people mixing these medications may have just been following instructions as prescribed by their doctor. Painter notes that sometimes the prescribing physicians aren’t necessarily aware of all the drugs that someone is taking, and may not be as conservative or as slow in starting the medicines as they could be. So some people may be unknowingly consuming dangerous amounts of these drugs.
Sadly, there are areas of our current culture that put people at elevated risk of death by anti-anxiety drugs.
One of the more vulnerable populations is our veterans. In fact, the Veterans Association Healthcare System has to deal with the issue of mixing medications in particular, as many veterans end up using both benzodiazepines and opioids. Dr. James Michelsen is a physician at the VA. According to Michelsen,
“Anxiety related to their combat time, problems with sleep, post-traumatic stress disorder. And traditionally these conditions benzodiazepines have been used to treat. Additionally, many of our veterans came back with physical wounds, as well.”
This becomes a serious issue when there is a lack of communication between networks of doctors, which can happen if a veteran visits a non-VA doctor and receives a prescription.
It’s not just veterans and hospitals that have problems with benzodiazepines. In fact, benzodiazepines are some of the most prescribed medications in the United States. But it has gone beyond that and even made it into pop culture.
Drugs have always been part of the music industry. History shows us how hallucinogens like LSD influenced rock like the Beetles, and how cocaine coexisted with disco, or how heroin lingered along with jazz and blues over the years. It’s still hard to find a country song that doesn’t glorify good ol’ boys with whiskey and beer. Now, pill-popping in hip-hop and pop music is so mainstream it can be unsettling.
Along with that spotlight came greater influence. Some musicians try to paint that pretty picture with abusing anti-anxiety medications, but these drugs have taken the lives of some of the great artists of a generation. In the last several years alone we lost:
There are even others like Chris Cornell, who’s wife believed that the anti-anxiety medication he was taking is partly to blame for his suicide. Even with all the death caused by these drugs, some still glamourize prescription drug abuse in our culture. Not to mention the issue of mental health and substance use disorders already growing across the country.
Fighting Anxiety and Addiction
Personally, the risks involved with anti-anxiety drugs is troubling because a lot of my anxiety is rooted in health. It manifests at times in the side-effects of even the most mundane of medicines. Some days I can’t take an Aspirin without a secret part of me wondering if my kidneys will shut-down (which is ironic considering the years I spent polluting my body with hard drugs and excessive drinking). So while everything is going fine on the outside, my inner dialog is trying to measure and analyze every muscle movement or twitch as an indication of a terminal illness.
In reality, anti-anxiety drugs can be the difference between an everyday struggle to endure the rush of nameless terror and a window into serenity and stability. For people who can take advantage of the opportunity, it can be life-changing.
However, these drugs are nothing to take lightly, and plenty of people develop severe addictions to these drugs. Anti-anxiety medications can be fatal. Some might think they are an easy way to get a rush, they can be just as lethal as opioids. Just because they are not painkillers doesn’t mean we should underestimate their capacity to do harm.
Fighting anxiety is extremely important for people with anxiety disorder. But we have to remember the risks that come with these drugs and find a way to stay safe. This is especially true for those of us in recovery from addiction. Dual diagnosis treatment is a way to create comprehensive and holistic recovery that addresses both anxiety and addiction simultaneously in order to help people overcome their anxiety in the healthiest way possible.
If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, or any mental health disorder, please seek help. If you struggle with substance use disorder, drugs or alcohol is not the answer. There is real help out there. Please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Overprescribing of powerful prescription medications is just one part of how the current American opioid crisis came to be. While incredibly dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl came pouring in from across the globe, the pharmaceutical industry right in our own backyard thrived off of the devastation it was helping create. And as more people became aware of how prescription drugs were contributing to one of the worst drug epidemics in the country’s history, Big Pharma has come under fire for a number of things over the years. To name a few, we’ve seen arguments against drug companies for:
With recent reports, such as the explosive piece of 60 Minutes last month, we have also been exposed to the corruption, greed and a disregard for the well-being of the consumer.
The Big Pharma propaganda machine has paid out countless dollars for criminal and civil settlements over the years. Now even state officials are resorting to lawsuits against drug manufacturers in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis.
So how did all this happen? How deep does the Big Pharma propaganda go? Some of this you might already know, but some of it might actually surprise you.
In case you didn’t know, the pharmaceuticals and health products industry spends the most money on lobbying politicians. And not even by a little.
Big Pharma and Health Products spent $3,714,580,815
That means that Big Pharma spends:
- $1,134,783,913 more than 2nd place- Insurance Companies
- $1,717,237,691 more than Oil/Gas Companies
The pharmaceutical industry, including dealers of medical products and nutritional/dietary supplements, is consistently a top contributor more to federal campaigns than any other industry.
In essence, drug companies spend big money on politics.
Whether we can always see it or not, this kind of financial incentive is more than likely playing into our current work on policy. For example, moves to pass legislation earlier this year were called into question by one source who pointed out 13 senators who were trying to push through a bill that would benefit the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from these companies between 2010 and 2016, including:
- Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led the way with more than $471,000
- Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell with over $433,00 in donations
FUN FACT- Many lobbyists working on behalf of Big Pharma companies have previously held government jobs.
Truthfully, drug companies spend several years before a drug even makes it to the market on planning a strategy for selling it to you. Part of that strategy is proving drugs have value for treatment. However, according to some industry insiders, a lot of the time there is not enough comprehensive data to prove that value.
What you might also find surprising is that some of the earliest information drug companies have published about their products aren’t actually from credible sources. Ad agencies will hire writers to produce articles on behalf of the drug maker highlighting benefits of a drug. But the data is often cherry-picked and incomplete.
These articles are then sold to the public as ‘scientific’ because they are printed and published by some of the biggest scientific and medical publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Those articles are then picked up by television and other news sources.
So essentially, drug companies often team up with marketing companies to fool not just doctors, but the public into thinking their product provides something that has yet to be proven. Big Pharma propaganda corrupts the research into their drugs and makes people believe their products are safer and more effective than they are.
For more important information on the dangers of prescription drugs, download our FREE E-BOOK “Big Secrets of Big Pharma: Why They Secretly Hope You Get Hooked”
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Big Pharma’s Billions in Ads
It isn’t just behind the scenes that Big Pharma propaganda takes place. Drug makers spend around $21 billion a year just to pedal products through advertising. One big problem for Americans is that many of their promotional techniques have been called out for being false advertising or misleading, to say the least.
- 2015, the industry spent a record-breaking $5.4 billion of direct-to-consumer ads alone.
- The same year, Americans spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs.
Some sources indicate there are about 80 drug advertisements per hour. While drug companies want people to think it is raising awareness, it is most definitely a commercial to sell you something.
Many pharma companies even have deep financial ties to medical communication companies (MCC) like WebMD or Medscape. This is just one more way they can influence physicians and consumers without people realizing the drug makers are funding the information.
Doctors Recruiting Doctors
But the drug makers don’t stop with recruiting politicians to support them. They also utilize doctors to help them push their products. The main target audience in most of the campaigns pushed by Big Pharma propaganda is not necessarily the consumer as much as it is the person who writes the prescriptions.
Drug companies giving kickbacks to doctors is nothing new.
So drugmakers create an advisory board, where some of the most successful and well-respected doctors are put on the payroll with huge payoffs to help drug companies design a marketing campaign that will help promote the drugs to other doctors. Once these doctors have helped highlight the best ways to convince other physicians these drugs work, they themselves validate the drug in a way that encourages other doctors to prescribe the drug.
Drugs to Treat Drugs
A while back there was an ad that ran during the Superbowl that caught the attention of a lot of people. It was an ad selling an anti-constipation drug for those so dependent on prescription opioids that they were suffering from constipation as a side effect.
This is another huge problem with how drugs are marketed to us… in tandem.
Instead of suggesting an alternative treatment, drug companies want to give you more drugs to combat the effects of other drugs. Doctors will often prescribe a second medication for no other purpose than to treat the effects of the first medication. Big Pharma propaganda can literally sell you the illness and the medicine in the same marketing campaign. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine describes this as “prescribing cascade”.The study indicates that the practice of using drugs to treat problems with other drugs is a key component to the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals in healthcare.
Another devastating way this has taken place is when doctors prescribe powerfully and potentially habit-forming narcotic medications to combat illicit drug use and substance use disorder. Heroin addicts are being treated with other strong narcotics, which can actually have their own withdrawal symptoms and side effects. They even highjacked the opioid overdose antidote and several makers gouged the prices to offensive new heights during the rise of the opioid epidemic.
Drug Companies Abuse of Americans
Now let us be fair; modern medicine does provide us with some life-saving resources that can be paramount to the health and wellness of our population. Thanks to great strides in medicine doctors are able to treat some conditions or illnesses that were once thought of as a death sentence. Today, we have some of the greatest opportunities to receive quality care with innovative and well-researched treatments.
However, the fact remains that drug companies have been caught red-handed more than a few times misrepresenting their products, hiding the side-effects, falsely advertising their benefits and even recently some huge names in pharmaceuticals have been accused of bribery and racketeering to sell potent and extremely dangerous drugs.
So, what can be done?
- We can take a closer look at how Big Pharma propaganda influences or elected representatives and their decisions on policy.
- We can pay attention to how the information provided by pharmaceutical companies or marketers is not always as reliable as it may seem.
- Look into excessive advertising for potent drugs
- Do more to combat drug makers from paying doctors to promote their drugs to other doctors.
- Pursue other forms of treatment that don’t require expensive and powerful drugs.
When it comes to drug abuse, maybe we shouldn’t let the drug companies continue to make massive profits from a problem they have a large hand in creating. There needs to be more commitment to finding alternative treatments that don’t rely so heavily on drugs in order to help people get healthy.
Holistic drug addiction treatment is a unique and effective way of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. The fact that powerful drugs help cause addiction, let us not forget the value of offering healing options that don’t require more drugs. Building a strong foundation with personalized therapy and innovative treatment opportunities helps thousands of people all over the nation overcome addiction. Palm Partners Recovery Center is committed to providing quality care for those dealing with drug abuse, whether it is illicit drugs or prescription drug dependence. 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
Ever since the true nature of the opioid epidemic in America began to come to light, and people started to see the gravity of its impact in communities across the country, there have been plenty of efforts to find out how we ever got this far. We continue to ask who should be held accountable. Was it the black market drug trade? Was it the synthetic opioids coming from overseas? How did it get this bad?
Just this past week 60 Minutes and The Washington Post joined forces to interview Joe Rannazzisi, who is said to be the most important whistleblower ever on 60 Minutes.
Joe Rannazzisi is a former agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who ran the Office of Diversion Control; the department in charge of regulating and investigating the pharmaceutical industry. He is a former DEA deputy assistant administrator with a law degree, and a pharmacy degree, who believes the great injustice done to the American people cannot go overlooked.
Bad Business with Big Pharma
Through this inside look with Rannazzisi, he implicates Big Pharma drug makers in willingly distributed hundreds of millions of drugs to rogue pharmacies and pain-clinics-turned-pill-mills for over two decades.
Rannazzisi believes that the Big Pharma companies, some even multi-billion, Fortune 500 companies, have contributed to the problem by ignoring the truth; that powerful prescription pain medications were being diverted from doctors, clinics and pharmacies for illicit use. In the interview, Rannazzisi calls out a number of key drug makers, including:
He also calls out the three largest drug distributors:
- Cardinal Health
Saying they control probably 85%- 90% of drugs “going downstream.”
In fact, Rannazzisi said the way pain clinics seemed to pop up overnight all over the country made the whole crack-cocaine epidemic look like nothing, saying he had never seen anything like it, adding:
“These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.”
Rannazzisi says after prosecuting pain doctors and pharmacists didn’t seem to put a real dent in the problem, he knew he had to work his way up; they went after distributors.
While drug distributors tried to defend themselves saying it was all on the doctors for over-prescribing medications, Rannazzisi says they know exactly how many pills are being sent out. Under the Controlled Substances Act, these distributors are required by law to report and stop what the DEA refers to as “suspicious orders”.
So what might “suspicious orders” look like? Probably something lie unusually large and/or frequent shipments of opioids being made to a location. Kind of like what was happening all over the nation for years and years.
For example, just one pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia ordered 9 million hydrocodone pills in just over 2 years. That’s for a town of only 392 people. That’s over 11,479 pills a person each year! Almost 1,000 pills a month! From only one of the town’s pharmacies.
DEA investigators say many drug distributors ignored the DEA requirements and shipped anyway.
DEA Fighting Back
Rannazzisi wasn’t the only DEA agent to speak up about Big Pharma’s bad business. Several other DEA veterans say they saw thousands of suspicious orders and tried to fight the growing problem. Others said they tried on multiple occasions to get these companies to fix the issue, but they did nothing.
Eventually, in 2008 the DEA was able to hit some distributors with hefty fines for filing hundreds of suspicious orders, including:
- $13.2 million fine against the country’s largest drug distributor, McKesson
- $34 million fine against second-largest distributor, Cardinal Health
The fines for drug distributors over the last 7 years add up to around $341 million.
The High Rollers
In 2011, Cardinal Health attorneys called Rannazzisi’s boss at the Justice Department, who called Rannazzisi and pressed for an explanation for his policies. Rannazzisi believes that even after they had gone after small companies hundreds of times before, as soon as they went after the Fortune 500 drug makers, their power and influence started getting in his way.
Rannazzisi says that with these massive Big Pharma empires there was now money and influence being used to pressure top lawyers at the DEA to pursue a softer approach on penalizing drug distributors who broke the rules.
Former DEA attorney Jonathan Novak noticed that shocking shift in the way these kinds of cases were handled. Stating:
“These were not cases where it was black — where it was grey… These were cases where the evidence was crystal clear that there was wrongdoing going on.”
But suddenly the higher ups started to demand more and more evidence to stall the system. Fewer cases against Big Pharma companies were being approved, and road-blocks from Novak’s bosses seemed to pop up everywhere.
Novak also said he saw a huge migration of DEA lawyers switching sides to defend the drug industry in higher paying positions.
Taking it to Congress
While drug distributors started successfully stalling the progress of cases against them from the DEA, they also began to lobby Congress to get legislation that would destroy the DEA’s power over them.
Then one day Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a bill to the House that was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. However, Jonathan Novak, who worked in the DEA’s legal office, claims that what the bill really did was strip the agency of its ability to immediately freeze suspicious shipments of prescription narcotics to keep drugs off U.S. streets.
The bill’s author… Linden Barber, a former employee of the DEA.
Congressman Tom Marino, along with Congresswoman Blackburn, later wrote the inspector general for the Justice Department, demanding that Rannazzisi be investigated for trying to quote “intimidate the United States Congress.” Even though this went nowhere, Rannazzisi was stripped of his responsibilities soon after.
Some former DEA agents believe that the Big Pharma industry not only used lobbying groups to donate money to politicians to get laws passed in their favor, but also to try and push Joe Rannazzisi out of his office.
In the end, the DEA signed off on the final version of the “Marino bill.” A senior DEA representative claiming that even though they fought to stop it, growing pressure from Congress and industry lobbyists forced them into a deal it did not want.
The bill was presented to the Senate in March of 2016.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the legislation in the Senate.
It passed by unanimous consent with no objections and no recorded votes.
It passed the House the same way, and President Obama signed it into law.
Where Are We Now?
This whole thing reminds you of the saying- if you can’t beat em, join em.
It would seem that’s exactly what a lot of DEA agents did after fighting a losing battle against powerful Big Pharma companies.
Since it all began, the pharmaceutical industry and law firms that represent them have hired at least 46 investigators, attorneys, and supervisors from the DEA, including 32 directly from the division that regulates the drug industry.
Remember that guy Linden Barber, who authored the bill that many say stripped the DEA of the power to go after Big Pharma companies? Well 3 months ago Cardinal Health, that second-largest drug distributor we were talking about that went after Rannazzisi through his boss, hired Linden Barber as the senior vice president!
Other former DEA agents and lawyers have gone on to take up so pretty prestigious positions working for drug companies, or law firms and other organizations working in the pharmaceutical industries best interest.
Joe Rannazzisi now consults with state attorneys general who have filed suit against distributors for their role in the opioid crisis.
Oh… and let us not forget Congressman Marino, who was just nominated to become President Trump’s new drug czar.
Remarkably, there are a lot of instances of people in the DEA being influenced by pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists to stand up for drug companies instead of the tens-of-thousands of Americans dying from opioids each year. In many of these instances, the individual’s go on to get high-earning jobs defending the interests of the Big Pharma industry.
So is it a made-up conspiracy? Or are pharmaceutical companies buying their way out of trouble at every turn and pushing out people like Rannazzisi who stand up to them? Is it really that hard to believe when you connect the dots?
With an ongoing opioid epidemic doing major damage to the country, we have to acknowledge everything that has contributed to this issue. Even if we set aside the idea of placing blame, we cannot prevent it from getting worse or happening again if we don’t acknowledge what helped cause it. Every drug company, policy maker, pharmacy, crooked doctor and individual should be accountable to taking action to make things better. It starts with accepting the issue and building a foundation to recover. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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