A report by The Financial Times revealed Friday that billionaire pharmaceutical executive Richard Sackler, whom some people blame for causing the U.S. opioid epidemic, now stands to profit from it after patenting a new treatment for drug addicts.
Sackler’s family owns Purdue Pharma, which developed the painkiller OxyContin which sparked the opioid crisis in the U.S., The Financial Times reports.
The newly patented drug is a reconstituted version of buprenorphine, a mild opiate that quells drug cravings, and it’s often given as a substitute to heroin users or those hooked on opioids. It blunts the symptoms of withdrawal, and competing variants of the same drug have pulled in a whopping $900 million in U.S. sales, Alternet reports.
Sackler made profits spiraling well into the millions off of a drug that’s largely responsible for the major opioid crisis; now he stands to profit again by selling the public a solution to the problem he’s instrumental in causing. Amazing!
And no, I don’t mean that in a good way.
Purdue Pharma, along with numerous other companies, has pushed for decades for opioids to be prescribed liberally, and now it’s facing a wall of lawsuits. And prosecutors in several states allege Purdue Pharma knew all about the risks of addiction and overdose but duped doctors and patients and downplayed the drug’s risks in order to boost sales. As can be expected, the company and the Sackler family deny this. However, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has named several family members as defendants.
“It’s reprehensible what Purdue Pharma has done to our public health,” said Luke Nasta, director of Camelot, an addiction treatment center in Staten Island, in New York.
He added that the Sacklers “shouldn’t be allowed to peddle any more synthetic opiates — and that includes opioid substitutes.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, estimates suggest up to 12 percent of patients who receive prescribed opiates develop an addiction, and up to six percent wind up switching to heroin. And opioid overdoses kill 115 people daily.
And even though it’s a good thing that addiction treatment is becoming increasingly available, it does little to solve this ongoing disaster — created by the company that helped spur it in the first place. Opioids are beneficial for treating pain caused by surgery, cancer, and a number of other serious conditions, but quite obviously they need to be used with caution.
One possible benefit of using the reconstituted version of buprenorphine is that it may prevent drug abusers from stockpiling the pills to sell or to get high later on. Buprenorphine is supposed to be dissolved under the tongue, and in the past, that’s taken several minutes. The newer form dissolves in a matter of seconds:
“Drug addicts sometimes still try to divert these sublingual buprenorphine tablets by removing them from the mouth,” the application states. “There remains a need for other … abuse-resistant dosage forms.”
As someone who formerly counseled drug addicts and the mentally ill, I can tell you that people regularly hid medications in their cheeks, only to place them on the door frame or behind a headboard when one of us wasn’t looking. We had to ask them to open their mouths when they took their pills. Really, it’s a thing, so they have a point here.
The original patent application was made by Purdue Pharma and lists Sackler and five others as the inventors. Some of the others were employed by the Sackler family’s group of drug companies.
Andrew Kolodny, a Brandeis University professor who supports the increased use of buprenorphine to battle the opioid crisis said he thinks the idea that Sackler “could get richer” from this new patent, is “very discouraging.”
“Perhaps,” he suggests, “the profits off this patent should be used to pay any judgment or settlement down the line.”
Indeed, profits should go to people ensnared in the trap of addiction but it does nothing for those 115 people who have died every day since this crisis began. All thanks to a group of people, and one man in particular, who spurred the epidemic to begin with and now stand to profit even more from it.