A Tough Week in the Fight Against Substance Use Disorders

There are no easy weeks in the fight against substance use disorders, but this week was particularly tough.

As part of their investigation into the opioid crisis, The Washington Post and 60 Minutes released another explosive story about the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) failure to aggressively pursue alleged wrongdoing from McKesson, the largest distributor of opioids in the country. It confirmed what many of us already knew instinctively – that McKesson flooded our communities with pills and purposely ignored clear signs that the drugs were being illegally trafficked.

“We would have a pharmacy in a small town out in Colorado, 200 miles from Denver, that is getting the same number of pills or perhaps exceeding a pharmacy that is located next to a medical center in the city of Denver,” said Kaupang, the DEA investigator who worked on the Colorado case. “There was no legitimate reason for that pharmacy in that little town in remote Colorado to be getting hundreds of thousands of pills over a several-year period. None. There was no justifiable reason.

“And yet, the pills kept coming.”

The story also revealed how internal politics within the DEA and Department of Justice prevented our government from holding McKesson accountable, despite compelling evidence that the company committed wrongdoing. This new report comes on the heels of an earlier expose from the same outlets in October that highlighted how the pharmaceutical industry pressured the government to weaken enforcement actions or stop the flow of drugs into the country.

This week gave us a clearer picture of what all this has led to: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that 63,600 Americans lost their lives to overdoses in 2016. That's a 21% increase over 2015. The government’s inaction is contributing directly to skyrocketing death figures.

We deserve greater transparency from our government about how it will hold drug companies accountable. The public needs to increase pressure on members of Congress to step up their oversight over the drug industry. The public can also push their state attorneys general to investigate the companies that are driving the growing crisis and begin filing lawsuits against the industry.

Shatterproof will continue using our business-like approach to take decisive action. The Substance Use Disorder Treatment Task Force will forge ahead with our work to implement our National Principles of Care. The federal government should take note and follow our lead.