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John Oliver Calls Out Sackler Family on Episode of Last Week Tonight

John Oliver VS Big Pharma

John Oliver Calls Out Sackler Family on Episode of Last Week TonightThis 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!

McKesson Corporation

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.

Michael Keaton

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.

Bryan Cranston

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.

Conclusion

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.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Opioid Makers Will Soon Face New Justice Department Task Force

Opioid Makers Will Soon Face New Justice Department Task Force

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:

  • Manufacturers
  • Distributors
  • Dispensers

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:

  • McKesson
  • Cardinal Health

Not to mention pharmacy chains like:

  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Rite Aid

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

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