As we reported on this blog in the past, the rise of the opioid epidemic has long gone unchecked with more financial incentives to push these dangerous drugs than to provide access to safer, less-addictive alternatives for pain management. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a preliminary report on 2017 deaths from drug overdose – over 72,000, up 12.5% from 2016. People are demanding a national response and the sheer number of lawsuits pending against big pharma at many levels (state, municipal, employer) cannot be ignored.
Last week, the President signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a bill created to give addicts more access to the care they need, bolster research on non-opioid pain management and prevent further addiction by cracking down on illicit drugs and the overprescription of opioids. This bill had overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, a testament to the gravity of the opioid epidemic. But experts point out the bill does not call for enough government spending to effectively tackle the problem.
Many experts say tens of billions (not the few billion in play now) will be needed to turn the opioid crisis around. Policies involving addiction factors such as socioeconomic and mental health issues need to be integrated into this approach, not to mention a complete overhaul of the current system and how addiction as a disease is viewed in this country.
Other efforts are being made to take a more proactive approach towards the out-of-control pharmaceutical industry. Earlier this month, the HHS finalized a rule about pharmaceutical advertising and pricing – a stab at creating more transparency in this very opaque and obscenely lucrative market.
So as our nation struggles to clean up one mess left behind by our broken system, we need to realize what it took to get there. Pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurers and doctors prioritized making money over the health and safety of American citizens.
With more transparency and a call to uphold the intrinsic values of healthcare I hope we can break this cycle of greed, painfully evident in the fallout from the ongoing opioid crisis. Stay tuned.