Newly released data demonstrates the troubling rate at which drug makers distributed opioid painkillers during the years when addictions to these pharmaceuticals, as well as overdose deaths, hit record numbers. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released statistics covering the period of time from 2006-2012; during this time, opioid prescriptions reached a peak of 282 million per year, enough to supply every American adult with a month’s worth of pills. Also during this time period, sales of narcotic painkillers surpassed past $8 billion a year.
A federal district judge in Ohio is currently hearing around 2,000 civil cases brought by cities and counties across the United States against opioid manufacturers and distributors. These governmental bodies allege that manufacturers “grossly misrepresented the risks of long-term use of those drugs for persons with chronic pain, and distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of those prescription drugs–all of which contributed to the current opioid epidemic.”
The publication of the Drug Enforcement Administration statistics has been described as “a blow to some of the country’s biggest pharmaceutical firms that have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in out of court settlements in part to keep sealed evidence that they profiteered from escalating demand for opioids even as public health officials were declaring an epidemic.”
These pharmaceutical firms have faced a harsh tide of public criticism as more details emerge about their role in the opioid crisis. The Sackler family, whose members are known for founding and owning the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, has faced particular scrutiny this month. Purdue paid out one of the largest fines ever levied against a pharmaceutical firm for mislabeling OxyContin, claiming that it was less addictive and less prone to abuse as compared to similar painkillers.
Members of the Sackler family formed the Sackler Foundation, which has donated to arts and education organizations across the world. Many museums and universities bear some form of the Sackler name. However, there has been mounting pressure for organizations to refuse donations from the Sacklers, due to protests from activists who object to the association of these institutions with a group who, they claim, derived a significant portion of their wealth from fueling the opioid epidemic. The latest target of such activism has been the Louvre, which removed the Sackler name from its wing of eastern antiquities. This week, the Louvre confirmed that the Sackler name had come down from the wing, but attributed this to the ending of the legal time-period of name-rights rather than the campaign from the activist group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN), members of which waded into the fountains beneath the Louvre’s pyramid carrying red banners reading “take down the Sackler name.”