Doctors graduating this spring from the medical schools at Harvard, Tufts, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts are among the first fully trained to recognize and treat addiction. Notably, many are prepared to prescribe buprenorphine, considered a critical but underused tool in combating opioid addiction.
Medical schools historically regarded addiction as someone else’s problem, not the job of medicine, said Sundaram, who is heading to a residency in psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. “For my generation of students, we feel a great sense of opportunity to do things better,” he said.
Purdue Pharma, the drug manufacturer that kickstarted the US opioid epidemic, corruptly influenced the World Health Organization in order to boost painkiller sales across the globe, according to a report by members of Congress.
An investigation by Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers, who represent districts in Massachusetts and Kentucky hard hit by the US opioid epidemic, accuses Purdue of replicating its false marketing claims about the safety and effectiveness of opioids to change WHO prescribing guidelines in an attempt to expand foreign markets for its drugs.
“The web of influence we uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been corrupted by the opioid industry,” said Clark. “The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility, and as a result, a trusted public health organization is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic.”
In a dungeon-like jail in the center of this depressed farming town, 18 women in orange-and-white-striped prison uniforms are crammed into a two-story cellblock. Many of them are withdrawing from fentanyl.
The jail, built in 1884 to hold 24, now houses 55 men and women, a number that can swell to as many as 90. The inmates are sprawled on metal bunk beds and mattresses that line the floors as they wait for court appearances or serve time on low-level drug offenses.
The medical exam room, used to treat minor ailments, is tucked into a broom closet beneath a concrete stairwell. With few drug treatment options, prisoners strung out on fentanyl go through days of withdrawal with little help, shivering and curled up on the beds and floors of the jail.
“It’s definitely our detox center right now. They just sit there, and they withdraw there,” Fayette County Deputy Health Commissioner Leigh N. Cannon said. “Treatment is where we need help. We keep hearing that money is coming, but we haven’t really seen it.”
“I got stuck with, because I was chairman of the [Senate] Judiciary Committee, writing most of the drug legislation that occurred in [the 1980s and ’90s],” Biden said while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on April 11 as part of a panel on the opioid crisis. “Big mistake was us buying into the idea that crack cocaine was different that powdered cocaine and having [different] penalties.”
The reality of Biden’s long career as a drug warrior, however, suggests something different: That he didn’t get “stuck with” writing drug legislation; he chose to make it a priority of his 36-year tenure in the Senate. In the War on Drugs, Biden was the “tough on crime” face of the Democratic Party, used his legislative skills to forge a bipartisan consensus for severe anti-drug legislation and specifically wrote or sponsored several laws that public health experts believe have, over the course of the opioid crisis, made it far deadlier than it has to be.