Push­ing pills

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - This ed­i­to­rial orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Tele­gram

A s fen­tanyl deaths spike in Bri­tish Columbia — and as use of the of­ten-fa­tal drug moves from west to east across the coun­try — it’s tempt­ing to lay blame on drug abusers and wash your hands of the prob­lem. You know, the old “they made their bed, they can lie in it” ar­gu­ment.

But one thing worth keep­ing in mind is that there’s plenty of blame to go around, and the cul­prits aren’t al­ways who you think they are.

Fen­tanyl is only tak­ing up the man­tle of the last syn­thetic opi­oid to rav­age lives and, too of­ten, to kill.

Re­mem­ber the toll that OxyCon­tin took on the At­lantic prov­inces sev­eral years ago? In New­found­land and Labrador, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment or­dered a re­view af­ter pre­scrip­tions in­creased by 400 per cent for opi­oid painkillers. In Nova Sco­tia, there were 295 deaths con­nected to pre­scrip­tion drugs like OxyCon­tin be­tween 2007 and 2010.

In all four prov­inces, opi­oid ad­dic­tions and the need for money to buy the drugs is a com­mon thread in court cases in­volv­ing both vi­o­lent and non-vi­o­lent crime.

But while fen­tanyl deaths now are be­ing con­nected pri­mar­ily to il­lic­itly man­u­fac­tured drugs made with Chi­nese in­gre­di­ents, there are plenty of dirty hands.

New re­search out of West Vir­ginia — tracked down and pub­lished by the Charleston GazetteMail af­ter years of ef­fort — shows that the prob­lems with the sale and dis­tri­bu­tion of hy­drocodone and OxyCon­tin, and their pre­scrip­tion to pa­tients who shouldn’t have been on opi­oids at all, was some­thing that drug man­u­fac­tur­ers had to have de­lib­er­ately ig­nored.

The Gazette-Mail has ob­tained doc­u­ments show­ing that, over a span of just six years lead­ing up to 2012, drug whole­salers sold a whop­ping 780 mil­lion hy­drocodone and oxy­codone pills in the state. In that pe­riod, 1,728 West Vir­gini­ans died from over­doses of those pills. How stag­ger­ing are the num­bers? Well, the town of Ker­mit, W.Va., has a pop­u­la­tion of 392 peo­ple. The news­pa­per’s re­search shows that drug com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing out­side of West Vir­ginia shipped al­most 9 mil­lion doses of hy­drocodone to a sin­gle Ker­mit phar­macy in just two years.

For drug com­pa­nies, the huge sales meant mil­lions of dol­lars in prof­its, and for their ex­ec­u­tives, huge bonuses.

Drug whole­salers in West Vir­ginia are re­quired by law to re­port sus­pi­cious or­ders for con­trolled drugs — but they didn’t re­port any prob­lems, and it’s easy to un­der­stand why. Money.

Right now, deaths in Van­cou­ver from fen­tanyl are spik­ing — his­tory sug­gests that the drugs in­volved are mak­ing their way east, and emer­gency ser­vices are al­ready plan­ning for the im­pact. It’s sim­ple enough to merely blame the users. But there’s al­ways some­one — some­times, a huge, oth­er­wise-le­git­i­mate drug com­pany — stand­ing by to profit.

Peo­ple who are ad­dicted to drugs are pay­ing with their lives. Other, per­haps far more blame­wor­thy, are merely paid.

Who’s stand­ing on the moral high ground again?

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