Opiate abuse has become such a spectacle of American pop culture that President Obama even dedicated a portion of his final State of the Union address to the issue on Tuesday. In a plea to Congress, Obama said he hopes “we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.”
Federal lawmakers are concerned that the United States painkiller epidemic is destined to continue driving tens of thousands of citizens every year into an early grave because the national agencies responsible for controlling this madness are being paid by the very industries they are supposed to be regulating.
While it was once considered a bit of a conspiracy theory to suggest the federal government was bought by the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, it has become increasingly evident that part of the reason why the addiction problem in America continues to worsen is due to the power of Big Pharma. Its influence on officials with agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made it possible for dangerous drugs like children’s OxyContin to be made legal, while even non-intoxicating forms of cannabis remain an enemy of the state.
Earlier last year, President Obama recommended Dr. Robert Califf for deputy commissioner of the FDA. By September, Califf had been nominated by the president to oversee total operations of the agency, putting his hand one step closer to holding the regulatory leash on food, drugs, tobacco and other products sold across the nation. However, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, a number of lawmakers, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, criticized Califf over his ties with a number of drug companies.
It was eventually revealed that Califf’s salary was mostly underwritten by a number of pharmaceutical giants, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Novartis. A 2014 conflict of interest disclosure showed that Califf earned more than $100,000 between January and September of that year working as a consultant for these organizations.
Senator Joe Manchin, the former governor of West Virginia, recently told The Huffington Post that the Obama Administration’s dedication to controlling the national painkiller and heroin epidemic is a joke because the president continues to employ people who are quite obviously receiving substantial earnings from the same drug companies responsible for manufacturing these dangerous medications.
Manchin said the president should not wait for Congress to act on this issue—he should find an immediate replacement for Califf, because it can be difficult for a person in his position to remain objective about serious health issues when the targeted enemy is an industry that has contributed to his well-being for more than two decades.
"Get somebody in the FDA that’s basically conscious about what’s going on and not married up to large Pharma," Manchin said. "We’ve got more products coming onto the market than ever before, and they know that these opiates are addictive. And they’ve just ruined and destroyed lives."
For the past couple of years, the FDA has approved a number of dangerous painkillers, including Zohydro—also know as the "heroin pill"—which Senator Manchin attempted to have banned back in 2014. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called his effort to block the drug “commendable,” but argued that it was ludicrous not to give any drug a stamp of approval simply because it posed a threat for abuse and addiction.
Some of the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 44 people die in the United States everyday from opioid overdoses. Furthermore, over half the drug overdose deaths in the entire nation are a result of prescription painkillers.
Still, even though the FDA acknowledges that people “are turning to marijuana in an attempt to treat conditions such as seizures and chemotherapy-induced nausea,” the agency has refused to approve the herb as a “safe and effective drug.” Nevertheless, GW Pharmaceuticals, which is in its final stages of clinical trials for it cannabis-based medication Epidolex, is expected to receive FDA approval later this year.
(Photo Courtesy of Sound Recovery Solutions)