I very rarely ever watch television. For the most part, I find it boring, useless and in some cases poisonous. But every now and then I hear about a show or interview that I feel compelled to see. Last Sunday on “60 Minutes” they had a segment about the pharmaceutical industries role in the current opioid crisis. “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker interviewed former DEA agent Joseph Rannazzisi, who minced no words as he explained how Congress and the pharmaceutical industry colluded to help fuel an epidemic of death.
Last Man Standing
Former DEA agent Joseph Rannazzisi began the interview by proclaiming “16,651 people in 2010 died of an opiate overdose, ok? Opiate-associated overdose. This is not a game.” Rannazzisi built a reputation for himself as a passionate agent with a short temper, thick skin and a high propensity for stubbornness. When Agent Joseph Rannazzisi was on your case, you knew you had a problem. Which is precisely why Rannazzisi has now become the highest-level agent to blow the whistle on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s handling of the illegal opioid abuse epidemic.
Agent Rannazzisi’s enforcement strategy consisted of zeroing in on the pharmaceutical distribution firms. Firms that were targeted filled suspicious orders for opioid narcotics such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone to various doctors’ offices, clinics, and pharmacies throughout the US. He figured if he could utilize his authority under the umbrella of the DEA and choke off the supply of these potentially deadly narcotics, addiction rates and death would decrease significantly. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine what constitutes a suspicious order; in one year a pharmaceutical wholesaler filled orders for a total of 9 million opioid painkillers to a single pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, population 406. Yes, you read that right; nine million pills to one pharmacy in a town with 406 people living in it. If that’s not suspicious then I’m a ballerina.
Companies such as McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen made $17 billion between the years of 2007 and 2012 by shipping 423 million opioid painkillers to the state of West Virginia alone. Not so coincidentally there is a positive correlation between the number of opioid painkillers being prescribed and shipped to local pharmacies and the number of opioid overdoses and deaths. Six of the fifty-five counties in West Virginia have the highest death tolls resulting from opioid addiction in the country.
Politics as Usual During the Opioid Epidemic
Perhaps by now, you’re asking yourself how these pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and wholesalers get away with such a blatantly obvious violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The short answer is politics as usual. The long answer is that the government isn’t doing its job. Here in the United States, we have a private healthcare system that follows the same exact rules of capitalism that every other industry follows. Normally this is a good thing because capitalism beats the heck out of socialism, communism or any other system humans have conjured up over the course of humanity, and it comes with increased efficiency among other benefits. But healthcare is an industry in which life and death scenarios are a daily occurrence, and we can’t simply allow the market or the almighty dollar determine each and every outcome. The government is supposed to function as the safeguard or the buffer between firms and their consumers.
Opioid Epidemic Greed is the Motivating Factor
Greed is an obviously significant motivating factor for firms within a capitalist economy, so safeguards such as legislation and regulatory agencies are an absolute necessity to ensure ethical business practices are always used. In a perfect utopian society, we would benefit from the cheaper prices, increased efficiency and wealth creation that capitalism provides, while the government uses their authority and force when necessary to make companies play fair so to speak. This would be an example of having your cake and eating it too. Unfortunately, this is precisely where our elected officials came up short with regards to the opioid addiction
Fox in the Henhouse
Congress seems to have no shortage of elected officials willing to craft legislation that benefits their real masters. Getting elected to Congress requires a great deal of money, so firms such as pharmaceutical companies make it their business to fulfill this demand for capital. Political Action Committees donated millions of dollars to 23 different members of Congress who were responsible for one piece of legislation in particular. This bill, The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, is the piece de resistance for the pharmaceutical lobby. It essentially makes it next to impossible for the DEA to use its authority in limiting opioid prescriptions and shipments that seem suspicious. The chief advocate for this bill was Tom Marino (R) of Pennsylvania. You might ask why an elected representative for a state that has been hit extremely hard by the opioid addiction epidemic would push so hard for such a bill. Tom Marino (R) was given $107,000 by the pharmaceutical lobby for his election campaign, maybe that explains it? Unfortunately for us, there is no good ending to this story. None of our other members of Congress fought valiantly against the bill and it was eventually passed and signed into law on April 19, 2016.
Money in politics isn’t the only issue we’re dealing with here. As Joseph Rannazzisi described it in his “60 Minutes” interview, there is a revolving door that exists between the DEA and the pharmaceutical lobby. Anyone with experience at the DEA has a cushy job with a great salary and benefits waiting for them in the pharmaceutical lobby. Hiring these people allows the lobbyists to remain several steps ahead of the DEA and gives them insight into the way they think and operate. This is a major issue because it ultimately undercuts any efforts made by the DEA to choke off the supply of these dangerous opioid painkillers.
Joseph Rannazzisi saw the Opioid Epidemic coming from a mile away; he noticed that his superiors in the DEA began stalling investigations, asking for more and more to proceed with certain cases and they kept setting the bar just a bit higher so that they knew Agent Rannazzisi could never reach it no matter what he did. We have a body count of addicts that just continues to rise on a daily basis. We are losing more people to drug overdoses than to automobile accidents or gun violence. It’s difficult to say what it will take; we have the DEA in a chokehold, unable to do their job. We have a revolving door that allows former DEA agents to keep the pharmaceutical lobbyists on their toes and well informed regarding the DEA’s tactics. We have members of Congress whoring themselves out to the highest bidder, willing to allow the lobbyists to write the bills themselves. Nothing will ever get better with this epidemic until we fix these issues. The entire system has colluded against us, and it all comes down to money on all sides. As Joseph Rannazzisi mentioned over and over during his interview; “people are dying”.
Don’t worry though, this cake comes with special icing; who has President Donald Trump nominated for Drug Czar? That’s right, none other than Tom Marino (R). Doesn’t this stuff just make you sick?
Freedom From Addiction
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, understand that you are not alone in your struggles! If you are ready to change your life and finally be free of your addiction, then FindAddictionRehabs.com can help. We can give you the jump start you need in order to experience the recovery you have always wanted. Our holistic programs are unique in that they don’t just treat the addiction, but rather they treat the whole person, so if you are interested in finding out more information, please do not hesitate to give us a call today at 1-877-959-7271.