Our healthcare partners failed us all

SUMMARY: The opioid crisis is a picture of a healthcare system that failed us all. Drug companies, distributors and retailers put sales above people and we are all paying the price.

According to an article in the Times, “the Walgreens employee was bewildered by the number of opioids the company was shipping to just one store. Its pharmacy in Port Richey, Fla. (population 2,831) was ordering 3,271 bottles of oxycodone a month”.

For years, long after the opioid crisis began, the giant pharmacy chains, including Walgreens and CVS, and Walmart did almost nothing to fulfill their legal duty to monitor suspicious orders, the plaintiffs’ lawyers claim. While they were supposed to block such orders and alert the Drug Enforcement Administration, they did so rarely.

The opioid epidemic has cost the U.S. more than a trillion dollars since 2001, according to a new study and may exceed another $500 million over the next three years.

The statistics regarding the opioid crisis in the United States are staggering, have been the focus of the media for more than a decade, and show no signs of improving. In 2016, 2.4 million Americans were estimated to have an opioid use disorder, ranging from the misuse of prescription opioids to the abuse of heroin and other illicit opioids. This includes 0.6% of adolescents 12 to 17 years of age and 1.1% of young adults 18 to 25 years of age. In 2015, 50 000 Americans died of an overdose, of which 33 000 (63%) were from opioids. Despite policies to regulate drug supplies and increase access to treatment, overdose death rates have doubled in the past 10 years and have continued to rise for adults.

As the financial muscle behind the opioid epidemic, drug distributors rank among the largest American companies by revenue, with the three leading companies distributing more than 90 percent of the nation’s drug and medical supplies. They’ve faced numerous accusations that they deliberately circumnavigated regulators in favor of profit. Now, in what could be a test case, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the DEA are wrapping up an investigation that appears likely to result in the first criminal case involving a major opioid distributor.

It would have been say for a system to flag large shipments of certain drugs to retailers but that would have stood in the way of profits. Because this system failed we are all paying the price for the opioid epidemic. Now people who really do need opioids are having trouble filling their Rx’s.

What about the fines? They are nothing more than an expense line item of a very profitable category.