2019 Has Been A Busy Year For Everyone Involved In The Opioid Crisis

By Dr. John Rosa

opioid crisis

2019 has been a busy year in the fight against opioids.

Looking back over the year and taking in all that has happened in the epidemic that has come to be known in the U.S. as the opioid crisis, all I can say is that it has been a very busy year. I hope that we have made some headway, and I do believe we have, in curtailing the distribution through doctor prescribed sources. Next comes the challenge of curtailing availability over the Internet.

I’m providing a review of some of the year’s highlights and pray that next year sees greater strides being made toward bringing the tremendous sufferings and tragedies caused by this treatment created just for use by those suffering from the unbearable pain of cancer to an end.

January 14, 2019

The beginning of the year brought tragic news. For the very first time on record the odds of dying from an opioid overdose in the U.S. was greater than the odds of dying in an auto accident.

Those findings from the National Safety Council are actually considered preventable injury and fatality statistics. Meaning that they are not “accidents.” An overdose or an automobile accident is often described as an “accident” as if it could not have been prevented. But the fact is that overdoses as well as many vehicle crashes are the result of careless behavior. According to a spokeswoman for The NSC, “The Council calculates the Odds of Dying not to scare Americans but to empower them to make safer decisions and improve their chances of longevity.”

May 2, 2019

In the spring of this year, five executives from Insys Therapeutics, a company that makes a version of the deadly opioid fentanyl called Subsys, were found guilty for bribing doctors to prescribe the opioid to people who didn’t need it. According to what an FBI agent told CNN, “These executives exploited vulnerable patients and cashed in on dishonest doctors by bribing them to prescribe one of the most powerful, addictive opioid painkillers to patients who should never have received it.” There appears to have been “lap dances” involved in the bribery scheme.

Subsys is a rapid-onset opioid intended only for cancer patients with intense breakthrough pain. Prosecutors said the defendants conspired from May 2012 to December 2015 to bribe doctors, including many who ran pain clinics, to give the drug to patients who should never have received it. The drug is about 100 times more powerful than morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The opioid epidemic has killed nearly 400,000 Americans since 1999.”

July 17, 2019

Opioid prescribing has dropped since the CDC issued opioid prescribing guidelines in early 2016, which resulted both in doctors prescribing fewer opioids as well as insurers providing less coverage for opioids. Even so a CDC spokesperson told CNN, “There’s certainly nothing to celebrate because even with the slight reduction we’re still experiencing an enormous death toll.” However, it is the first time in 25 years there’s been a decline instead of an incline in the number of deaths.

September 15, 2019

With the change of season, came some long-awaited big news. We saw the company primarily being held responsible for creating the opioid epidemic file for bankruptcy. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy as part of a $10 billion agreement to settle opioid lawsuits including settlements with 24 state attorneys general, five US territories and attorneys in multi-district litigation.

September 30, 2019

The end of September wraps up with the FDA And DEA announcing that they “sent warnings to four online networks, operating a total of 10 websites, which are illegally marketing unapproved and misbranded versions of opioid medicines, including tramadol.”

A Newsworthy Year with Words of Caution

While the opioid prescribing habits of doctors has decreased slightly we need to be careful the pendulum doesn’t swing too far. People who have been on opioids for several years are now being denied their medication causing them to hit the streets and we all know how that story ends. The prescribing habits need to decrease not slightly but substantially for any new patient prescriptions while those who are dependent are slowly decreased in opioid strength over time.

Another word of caution is that while the overdose deaths are showing a slight decrease in the hardest hit counties and states across the country the addiction/dependency/usage rate has not decreased. With an 500% increase in Narcan (the overdose reversal drug) distribution, a decrease in death is expected but we stills need to stop people from becoming addicted in the first place.

Without question it has been a newsworthy year in dealing with the opioid epidemic and positive change is welcome news. I am thankful for the progress made and am looking forward to even greater progress to be made in the coming year.