In 2016, 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, with roughly 80 percent of those deaths connected to opioids, according to a new report. The level of addiction has increased by almost 500 percent over the last six years.
However, the question hanging on every concerned parent’s lips is where so many people could possible access that amount of drugs. Attorney Mike Papantonio believes the answer is as close as neighborhood clinics.
In an exclusive interview with Abby Martin, the law professional — who made his name with triumphant lawsuits against big tobacco, chemical corporations and more — said he plans to take the United States' opioid crisis by the horns.
Statistics show that 95 percent of suboxone sold in the world is sold in the United States and that one week of opioid use is enough to kick-start a severe addiction. With support from major distributors, pharmaceutical producers like Purdue Pharma were able to get their products into every hospital in the nation.
Cleverly-crafted informative pamphlets describing addiction-free painkillers as well as pressure from federal health departments for critics was all it took to introduce dangerous substances such as Oxycodone into a patient’s daily prescription.
Papantonio said that companies like Purdue are not the only corporations at fault. Major distributors like McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen kept the lie alive when training new doctors.
These distributors specifically targeted the nation’s poorer areas, former industrial towns with high unemployment, like Detroit, and poverty-stricken mining sectors in West Virginia.
“They had done their homework and they figured out if somebody’s out of a job or somebody’s moved from the middle class to barely staying alive, that there’s despair that follows," he said, adding that investigations show that these sections are booming with distributors.
The lawyer pointed to the growing number of sales, saying that in a town with a population of three million, distributors might sell as many as 700 million opioids.
The addiction rate in these lower-class sectors has rocketed, transforming what began as a US$500 billion company into a US$500 billion industry almost overnight.
“What they did, is they made this addiction issue part of their business plan,” Papantonio said. "They internalized what was happening out there on the street to become part of their business." He added that opioids then become a gateway drug for heroin. The pattern between former distribution hubs and spikes in heroin overdose admittances provide ample proof.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Well, is this bigger than tobacco?’ This is much bigger than tobacco. This targeted our children,” Papantonio said.
Although medical professionals are now taking action, the damage has already been done and only taking down these major corporations will make a difference for future generations, he added.
“My goal and what I’m doing nationally, I want to get all these cities and states, I want to get their money back for them, but I really want to make sure that some of them (corporate leaders) go to prison.”
Papantonio explained that if they’re caught, the only regulation in place able to punish a corporation is the 1970s-era Substance Act, which only requires companies pay a fine for misdemeanors.
Frequently, however, these same corporations will turn around and write off the fine as a business expense, leaving the federal government and taxpayers to “flip the bill.”
The attorney said he’s hoping to take these companies to court with separate cases for each entity, adding that unlike other lawyers before him, he has no intention of settling. In the past, attorney generals have walked away from their cases after a US$50-$100 million settlement, a menial sum to a major corporation.
“Yeah, they wear Armani suits and they have Rolex watches and they drive Bentley’s around. They come from great schools and live in Hamptons, and so we don’t look at them like criminals, so we don’t put them in prison.”