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In 1995, Purdue pharmaceuticals introduced Oxycontin – and totally swore it was, like, not addictive at all. The FDA-approved label literally read “addiction to opioids used for legitimate pain management is ‘very rare.’”
It’s not. Every 11 minutes, an American dies from an opioid overdose. Since 1999, that adds up seven times more than died in the Vietnam War. And the reason it's happening isn’t bureaucratic, scientific, or economic: it's because of corruption.
Here’s why you can blame politicians, the pharmaceutical industry, and corruption:
It started when the FDA – the people who are supposed to make sure our food and drugs are safe — approved Oxycontin for market, despite the fact that it's glorified heroin. Over the next few years, opioid addiction and deaths skyrocketed. Pharmacies were filling enough opioid prescriptions to dose everyone and then some, fueling the black market drug trade. A single county in West Virginia with a population of 25,000 received 11 million doses of opioids.
And the distribution of these prescription painkillers seemed a bit sketchy… But don’t worry, we have a government agency for that! Thankfully, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stepped in, stopped these obviously illegal drug distributions, and that was that!
Psych. Instead, the DEA actually stopped intervening in these cases. In 2011, there were 65 “immediate suspension orders” to stop drug companies from filling these suspiciously high orders. By 2016, there were only 11.
And they didn't just stop intervening – they actually switched sides. The same report found that between 2001-2010, an astonishing 58% of FDA drug assessors left their jobs at the FDA to go work for pharmaceutical companies. And since 2000, at least 56 DEA and Justice Department officials left the fight against opioids and joined pharmaceutical companies and the law firms representing them.
That’s right. During the nation’s largest drug epidemic in decades, the people in charge of overseeing pharmaceuticals and protecting our health and safety… went to work for the companies destroying American lives for profit.
Why did the FDA and DEA fail Americans so badly? Because our politicians have their own crippling addiction – to money.
In 2016, Congress passed a law making it nearly impossible for the DEA to deploy its most powerful weapon in the fight against the opioid epidemic – stopping those massive, suspicious prescription orders from flooding our streets with narcotics.
Why? Well, it's a little technical and complicated, so I’ll let Joe Rannazzisi, the former head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, explain it:
“The drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores, have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before.”
Turns out it's actually as simple as a few greased palms and a couple million dollars. Or to be more accurate, hundreds of greased palms and hundreds of millions of dollars. Nine out of ten members of Congress take money from pharmaceutical lobbyists. Pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers have spent a quarter billion dollars lobbying lawmakers since 1990.
In particular, the two cosponsors of the 2016 bill to hamstring the DEA, Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, are some of Big Pharma’s best friends. So close, in fact, the drug dealers companies literally helped write the 2016 law that got the pesky DEA off their backs. The same year, pharmaceutical companies were some of the Congressmen’s top donors.
Americans are fighting back to protect our country
The story of the opioid crisis is really a tale as old as time: Lobbyists give their friends a few million dollars and a trip to the Bahamas, and in exchange, these lawmakers turn around and sell out the taxpayers — whether that’s in healthcare, education, or the economy. This is not a partisan issue; it's a societal rot that is sinking the entire country.
But we have a plan to end this corrupt cycle.
We’re going around Congress to pass common-sense, bipartisan reforms at the state and local level to break this cycle and unrig our political system. Things like: closing the revolving door that lets lobbyists use future job offers to bribe politicians, making it illegal for lawmakers to accept money from lobbyists, and other common sense, popular reforms.
We’ve already won over 100 victories, but we’ve got a lot more to do and we need your help. Join the movement below, or get involved right now with our national online team, the Action Brigade, to respond to the most urgent needs of the movement around the country.