John Oliver VS Big Pharma
This is definitely not the first time John Oliver has taken on Big Pharma and the issues with the opioid crisis in America. In fact, at the start of this recent segment, he acknowledges his previous episode before setting his focus on the changes since then, or lack thereof. On another hard-hitting episode of Last Week Tonight the well-known English comedic commentator takes on the Sackler Family, Mckesson Corporation, and the failed attempts to curb the influx of prescription opioids into an already volatile environment.
A Comedian on a Mission
As a writer for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart John Oliver won an Emmy for his work with taking a comedic yet impactful look into important political and social issues. As a host on his own HBO series, Last Week Tonight, Oliver has made a name for himself by taking deeper dives into the details of certain issues. Each moment of troubling truth or eye-opening examination is balanced with jokes that are either intensely ironic or ridiculously abstract. For instance, in this latest episode, Oliver steps off the serious discussion of Big Pharma corruption to deliver a few bits about the true nature of bears, with comical and cartoon-ish visual aids.
Moreover, Oliver tends to deliver some relatively detailed arguments, regardless of the topic at hand. While some may consider him a more liberal voice in the media, with open criticism of the Trump administration and other prominent conservative voices, he also criticizes other media outlets also considered to be more liberal. Recently, we questioned CNN for their coverage on the arrest of Julian Assange.
Needless to say, his take on the opioid crisis is a sound and even hilarious dissection of everything wrong with Big Pharma and the policies that allowed them to flourish.
Taking on Distributors
First, Oliver took on companies that are responsible for dispensing drugs from manufacturers to hospitals and pharmacies. These companies are supposed to alert authorities in the event that they notice suspicious quantities of control substances being ordered. However, several have been called out in recent years for failure to fulfill that responsibility.
John Oliver begins his take on distributors by talking about the story of Kermit, West Virginia. In the year 2016, more than 3 million doses of hydrocodone were ordered in one year, by just one pharmacist, in a city of only 400 people. That is around 7,500 doses for every resident!
For some background, McKesson Corporation is an American pharmaceutical distributor based out of San Francisco. In 2018, the company revenues were counted at $208.4 billion. In 2008, the DEA claimed that McKesson had failed to properly control their controlled substances. At the time, the Big Pharma distributor was allowed to avoid any admittance of wrongdoing as long as they agreed to pay a fine of $13,250,000. They were also required to develop and implement a controlled drug monitoring program.
However, by many accounts, McKesson failed to live up to that pledge. Oliver points out that one DEA agent wrote of the company:
“Their bad acts continued and escalated to a level of egregiousness not seen before.”
John Oliver points out how the strategy of expecting pharmaceutical companies to monitor themselves seems to consistently fall short of effective. In the case of Kermit, the McKesson Corp was responsible for distributing over 5 million doses of opioids in only two years.
In 2017, McKesson ended up having to make another settlement of $150 million. However, as Oliver points out,
“Which yes, sounds like a lot… until you realize that it is less than 1/1,000th of their revenue for one year.”
Which brings around Oliver’s point about how companies who profit from the opioid crisis are dealt with. He notes that for Big Pharma giants like McKesson, paying a fine is “just the cost of doing business.”
Trouble for Purdue Pharma
Kicking off the piece of the segment about the infamous opioid empire of Purdue Pharma, Oliver notes the history of Purdue’s aggressive and egregious marketing tactics for OxyContin. The company faced massive backlash after years of marketing the opioid painkiller as a less addictive painkiller that was safe to use for the treatment of common conditions like backaches.
Here, Oliver hits us with one of the clever comparisons, reminding us that once upon a time companies used to marketing cocaine for toothaches.
Next, Oliver takes on the Sackler Family, citing a 2017 article from The New Yorker stating the family has a collective net worth of $13 billion. As the battle against corporations tied to the opioid crisis intensifies, this family name has been pulled into the fray with protests and lawsuits calling out their involvement in Purdue Pharma’s business plan. On Last Week Tonight, Oliver also takes a look at one individual from the Sackler Family in particular.
Actors Try on Richard Sackler
Richard served as President of Purdue Pharmaceuticals from 1999 to 2003 and spent several years on the board with seven other members of the family. Overall, he was with the company throughout the opioid crisis. Richard Sackler is named in several lawsuits brought by different states.
In Massachusetts, one lawsuit asserts that Richard demanded to be sent into the field with sales reps on visits to doctors. This is something John Oliver believes is in correlation with a very specific purpose. He cites statements made by Richard at a company event that the launch of OxyContin would be followed by “a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
Even as the imminent threat presented by OxyContin became apparent, Oliver adds that Richard Sackler pushed forward with this attitude of selling more opioids, with very little concern for the impact. In an attempt to make the points of this segment feel more meaningful, John Oliver even enlists the help of several actors to deliver quotes attributed to Richard Sackler.
First, there is the American actor and 1989 Batman, Michael Keaton. Oliver points out that when evidence was mounting that OxyContin was causing widespread addiction, Sackler urged the company to blame people suffering from addiction to take the focus off of their product. When quoting the actual words of Sackler, the amazing Michael Keaton states:
“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
Here John Oliver acknowledges that the Sacklers and Purdue vigorously deny these claims. They insist that these quotes are being taken out of context and that they did not cause the opioid crisis.
Probably one of the most troubling revelations to come from the segment is Oliver’s argument that the Sackler family has fought hard to avoid true transparency regarding their involvement in the opioid crisis. More specifically, how the company has settled many of the lawsuits against them by demanding the stipulation that evidence is sealed and unavailable to the public. For instance, one lawsuit against Kentucky was settled on the condition that the states Attorney General destroy 17 million pages of documents pertaining to the allegations against Purdue.
A leak from this case actually included the transcript from a video deposition with Richard Sackler. While the video itself is unavailable, John Oliver again found a way to make a powerful statement by having Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston get in on the action. Suffice it to say, the dramatization of that interview does not play very well for the Sackler in question. One part they highlight was a speech given by Sackler supposedly bragging about how quickly they had gotten the DEA to approve OxyContin. And as Oliver says, Cranston goes “full Walter White” on this video.
The segment also enlists Michael K. Williams, who famously portrayed Omar Devone Little on The Wire, to give an intense reading of the transcript. And finally, Richard Kind from Spin City and A Bug’s Life gave some goofy “I don’t know” answers from the over 100 times it was mentioned in the real deposition.
At the end of the day, John Oliver and Last Week Tonight make a call for transparency with Big Pharma companies. He acknowledges that while his show tries to find some way to laugh through the pain of the opioid crisis, it is important that more be done to hold opioid makers and distributors accountable. This seems to be a growing sentiment, as the Sacklers prepare to face numerous lawsuits. More lawmakers, public health officials, and advocacy groups are calling for transparency and culpability for any business that profited from the opioid crisis. Meanwhile, the fight against addiction and overdose death rates continues.
For those who are struggling, comprehensive addiction treatment is a vital resource to overcoming opioid addiction. If you or someone you love is suffering, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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For the first time in six years, the DEA has ordered a suspension on a pharmaceutical wholesaler, and it’s a Big Pharma opioid distributor- Morris & Dickson.
We now know that officials all over the country, both at the state and federal levels, are joining forces to go after Big Pharma companies for pushing powerful opioid painkillers that contributed to one of the greatest addiction outbreaks in American history. While not everyone agrees on the role prescription drugs played in the opioid crisis, many believe the questionable marketing and distribution practices is reason enough for real intervention.
Lawsuits against opioid makers are taking place all over the US, and distribution companies are finding themselves in the hot seat.
DEA vs Opioid Distributor
This latest news comes following an investigation into Morris & Dickson. Allegedly, the investigation uncovered evidence that the Big Pharma opioid distributor neglected to inform the DEA about large quantities of addiction painkillers being bought up by independent pharmacies.
This is a problem because, according to The Hill, reporting such information to the DEA is a requirement.
Back in October of 2017 the investigation into the opioid distributor out of Shreveport, Louisiana got kicked off after reports came in that Morris & Dickson had sold narcotics to five of the state’s top 10 drug-purchasing pharmacies, but never filed any suspicious activity reports in any of these cases. In a statement Friday, the Justice Department revealed that according to the DEA investigation, independent pharmacies were allowed to purchase six times the amount they would normally order from the opioid distributor.
For the record- pharmaceutical distributors like Morris & Dickson are legally required to report unusually large shipments of narcotics to the government as a safeguard against prescription medications from making their way to the illicit drug market. DEA Acting Administrator Robert W. Patterson said in a statement:
“Distributors have an obligation to ensure that all pharmaceutical controlled substances their customer’s order are for legitimate use, and it is their duty to identify, recognize and report suspicious orders to DEA,”
“This is another reminder that DEA will hold accountable those companies who choose to operate outside the law.”
The Big Pharma opioid distributor will have the chance to appeal the suspension during an administrative hearing.
Morrison & Dickson Fight Back
Let the record show that Morrison & Dickson are definitely not taking these charges sitting down. The opioid distributor has struck back against the suspension with a federal lawsuit. They adamantly hold that they will fight the suspension. Company president Paul M. Dickson released his own statement, saying:
“Sadly, in this case, the DEA has gotten it wrong. We would’ve proved that to them had they given us the chance.”
They already asked a judge last Thursday to overturn the DEA suspension. In the legal claim against the DEA order the opioid distributor states:
“Make no mistake—this is a life and death situation. Morris & Dickson services 30-40% of the hospital drug market in Louisiana and Texas alone. If Morris & Dickson cannot ship needed medications to these hospitals, these hospitals may face immediate drug shortages.”
The company president also maintains that the opioid distributor has already greatly reduced its circulation of opioids. Dickson emphasizes that the company provides medications that many patients do desparately need. He also acknowledges the devastation caused by the opioid crisis, saying:
“Everyone in the Morris & Dickson family has been touched by the opioid crisis. That’s why we’ve taken aggressive and effective voluntary measures against any potential opioid diversion from medical use. We have reduced our opioid distribution dramatically. And it’s why we’re so proud of our history of 177 years with no outside enforcement actions against us.”
At this point, only time will tell if the company will have to adhere to the suspension for much longer.
Some people argue that moves like this from the DEA are too aggressive or an over-reach. However, given the circumstances, this seems like a logical response. Looking at the massive shipments of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, it seems like it shouldn’t be too much to ask they notify the DEA.
What is Next?
Big Pharma executives testified for Congress yesterday, answering questions about their role in the prescription drug problem. The Washington Post reports that this could be a defining moment for the opioid industry. Witnesses for the hearing included high ranking executives from:
- Miami-Luken, INC
- McKesson Corporation
- Cardinal Health
- AmerisourceBergen Corporation
- HD Smith Wholesale Drug Company
During the hearing, Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi states:
“We have learned much from the investigation but still have many questions,”
“Why did the distributors repeatedly fail to report suspicious orders of opioids or exercise effective controls against diversion?”
He goes on to explain that the DEA identified opioid distributor companies as a key element to combating the diversion of drugs to the black market. He states that distributors have often claimed that they were too limited to properly address these issues, as they do not understand the whole scope as the DEA does. However, he argues that distributors do have a great deal of data collection, and should be aware of their impact.
According to Congressman Harper, distributors also frequently argue that they are simply providing a service. They do not control the demand, but simply offer the supply based on the prescriptions from physicians. This argument seems a bit of a cop-out, and almost sounds like something a street-level drug dealer would say.
The committee also adds that over the course of 6 years, opioid distributor companies filled the state of West Virginia with over 780 million Hydrocodone and Oxycodone pills, while 1,728 people in West Virginia fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.
In their opening statements, each Big Pharma distributor representative acknowledged the devastation of the epidemic. However, when asked by Chairman Harper if they believed their companies contributed to the opioid epidemic, except for the chairman of the board for Miami-Luken Dr. Robert E. Mastandrea, they all said no.
In fact, Dr. Mastandrea seemed to be the only one consistently willing to admit that Miami-Luken had made mistakes that helped create the opioid crisis.
While it will take time to determine the impact of these testimonies, one thing we can say now is that drug distribution companies are quickly finding themselves on the chopping block when it comes down to the efforts to curb prescription opioids abuse.
For now, a crucial part of fighting the opioid epidemic is going to be providing safe and effective addiction treatment. It may not be easy to put a stop to the spread of addiction, but there are programs that can help you break out of the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement at a news conference Tuesday that the Justice Department will be creating a new task force to pursue the makers and distributors of prescription opioids. It seems that beyond pursuing new restrictions being put on prescriptions, there will be a more intentional focus on Big Pharma and those who many believe have made the opioid crisis possible.
Jeff Sessions said the task force will “examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance.”
Meanwhile, Sessions also included the Justice Department is going to be backing a lawsuit in Ohio against major prescription opioid makers.
Ohio VS Opioid Makers Lawsuit
In truth, this lawsuit isn’t just about the state of Ohio. It consolidates more than 400 complaints by cities, counties and Native American tribes nationwide. Buckeye Nation has definitely been hit hard by the opioid crisis, but for now, the stage is set here for a massive effort against questionable practices from opioid makers.
The lawsuit that solicits the Justice Departments attention is pending in Federal District Court in Cleveland. It goes after various companies for using misleading marketing to promote prescription opioids, including:
The lawsuit also accuses the defendants of:
- Downplaying the risk of addiction to these drugs
- Failing to report suspicious orders by consumers, which would indicate the drugs were being abused
Furthermore, there are some big names in Big Pharma being listed as defendants, including:
- Johnson & Johnson
- Purdue Pharma
- Teva Pharmaceuticals
The suit is also going after large distributors, such as:
Not to mention pharmacy chains like:
So how will the Justice Department be engaging in the current lawsuit? How will this new development impact the outcome of the case?
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Statement of Interest Against Opioid Makers
During the press briefing, Sessions explained that the Justice Department plans to file what is called a “statement of interest” in the Ohio lawsuit. This is a technique that past administrations typically would only resort to in cases that directly affect the federal government’s interests, such as diplomacy and national security.
However, with the intensity of the opioid crisis being what it is, it is perfectly understandable to make it such a high priority for the current administration to get involved with. So far, recovery advocates have been largely unimpressed with the half-measures that have been presented thus far with the Trump administration to address the issue.
By invoking the statement of interest, the attorney general is legally able to argue on behalf of the government’s interest in any court in the country. However, it does not make the government a plaintiff. All things considered, Sessions said his department will use criminal and civil penalties. He states,
“We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws.”
Which is quite a statement, considering it isn’t at all common for criminal charges to be brought against Big Pharma.
The Devil Is in the Data
What brought the Justice Department into this began with a discussion on access to certain data. This past Monday, lawyers for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came to the Ohio courtroom to discuss how much data they would share about the national distribution of painkillers.
The DEA said it would only provide two years of information in the case, asserting that the agency did not want to compromise ongoing criminal investigations. However, Judge Dan Aaron Polster’s request is to provide the sides with nine years of data. He said the agency has until next Monday to decide whether it will comply. This data can assist in determining:
- The number of pills distributed
- The locations
- The distributors
This information could be crucial in allocating liability.
Richard Fields, a lawyer who represents state attorneys general and sovereign Native American nations in opioid litigation, predicts that the statement of interest from the Justice Department “will help unlock this data so that we can hold manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies accountable for flooding communities with pills.”
Therefore, it appears Sessions is going to be taking some big steps toward calling out Big Pharma for their involvement in the opioid crisis. Sessions says the government will be taking a hard look at doctors who overprescribe prescription painkillers. Even legal drugs like these too often lead to addiction and abuse of illegal drugs like heroin.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he believes this is a game changer. With all the suffering communities in Ohio have seen over the past several years, we can only hope.
Holding Big Pharma accountable is a huge step. Nevertheless, we should also highlight the need for state and community officials to promote safe and effective addiction treatment. Innovative and holistic recovery programs can make a dramatic difference in helping heal communities. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398