Epidemic of Profiteering from “Opioid Crisis”

If We’re Really in the Midst of an “Opioid Epidemic,” We’re Reacting in Just the Wrong Way | TheInfluence

Is There Really a Growing Epidemic?  No and yes.

No, there has not been an increase in drug use overall, with the exception of marijuana (which is not implicated in drug deaths).

But yes, there has been an increase in the number of drug-related, and particularly opioid-related, deaths.

At this time, it is unclear to what extent that uptick is caused by bad drugs, stronger drugs, lower tolerances in people who cycle in and out of detox, or other factors entirely.  

What we do know is that, according to researchers at the CDC, the primary culprits are prescription pain medication and poly-drug use:

[Our study highlights] the predominant role opioid analgesics play in pharmaceutical overdose deaths, either alone or in combination with other drugs. It also, however, highlights the frequent involvement of drugs typically prescribed for mental health conditions such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics in overdose deaths.

The issue, then, is not more drug users but rather higher rates of death from particular drugs and drug combinations.

That distinction should be critical in terms of policy, yet typically is overlooked. Take for instance, an article in the Boston Globe: “Boston Globe Game Changers: Four Innovative Ideas for Fixing the Opioid Crisis.”

Three out of the four “innovative ideas” are aimed at helping individuals stop using drugs and assume that “treatment” (whatever that means) is effective—an assumption that, as I have argued on The Influence, has little basis in evidence-based research.

Follow the Money

There are huge profits to be made in drug treatment, though there is very little rigorous evidence showing that addiction treatment of any sort actually works.

Not so much money, however, to be made in changing social values.

Given the public consensus that addiction is a manageable yet essentially incurable disease (“once an addict, always an addict” is a mantra promulgated by the 12-step movement; there is no actual evidence for this notion), the treatment-industrial complex stands to be even more profitable than the prison-industrial complex.

Prison sentences and parole eventually end, in most cases; the treatment of chronic disease can go on forever.

Fortunately for their stockholders, private prison companies are moving into the lucrative treatment field.

Take a look at this excellent article by Deirdre Fernandes in the Boston Globe:

“The $35 billion-a-year addiction treatment industry is gaining more attention from investors of all sizes, including private equity giants like Boston-based Bain Capital, which owns the largest chain of detox clinics in Massachusetts.

Large investors are capitalizing on the increasing demand, changes in health care law, and opportunities to scoop up smaller facilities, reduce their costs, and sell them at a profit.

American Addiction Centers, a Nashville addiction treatment company, went public in late 2014, raising $75 million. Its profits climbed from $871,000 in 2011 to $11.2 million last year, a more than twelve-fold increase.

So it’s no surprise that individual investors are piling in, too, said Philip Levendusky, the director of psychology at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. ‘Everybody is chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of the opioid issue,’ Levendusky said. ‘There’s an epidemic of opioid abuse, so there’s a tremendous demand.’”

A Real Response to an Epidemic

Imagine if efforts to stop the Zika virus were limited to offering individual treatment (the treatment consists of rest, water and Tylenol, since there is no known cure for the Zika virus) and counseling sufferers about the importance of staying away from mosquitoes (where exactly does one go to hide from mosquitoes in the tropics?)!

Imagine if there were no efforts to assist communities in removing stagnant water from yards and streets, or to encourage governments to build systems that distribute safe water (so as to minimize mosquito larvae survival as well as the need for households to store water in buckets and pools)!

Yet that essentially is how many states are tackling their “opioid epidemics.”

For instance, just a week ago, Marian Ryan, district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts issued a press release addressing the epidemic by offering a list of resources for people struggling with addiction and for “their loved ones.”

The list turns out to be a hodge-podge of treatment and support agencies and organizations, many of which are not licensed by any local, state or federal office and some of which are for-profits corporations (LLCs or others).

Others still are entirely lay-led, quasi-religious 12-step groups. (The statuses of the agencies and organizations are not indicated on the list.)

Pools of Stagnant Water in Which Mosquitoes Breed

To be clear, I am not suggesting that drug users who wish to stop using should not receive appropriate, evidence-based support and treatment. I am, however, pointing out that giving people with drug issues the equivalent of rest, water and Tylenol will not protect them—or anyone else—from our stagnant pools of poverty, sexism, racism and hopelessness.


10 thoughts on “Epidemic of Profiteering from “Opioid Crisis”

  1. Jaykay

    Thank you, thank you for this thoughtful essay.
    The REAL victims of this profiteering in misery are those who need opioids and who, studies show, are careful with them: chronic pain patients.
    We are in the Dark Ages of pain care, friends. It’s a shame that we are all so blasted from pain that we can’t do much besides write letters and grouch…that’s what I’m doing, anyway. Truth.
    Yet I AM concerned–and frightened–I just have no spoons to spend!
    I have no brilliant idea of what to do. Anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Good point. Now that I’m no longer middle class since I can’t work (and I was the breadwinner) I’m learning what a precarious situation it is to be poor.

      Every problem is worse when you can’t ease it with money.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hoosiers 1st

        Money doesn’t have anything to do with healthcare dear…..the poor get healthcare for free and i had to drop a $1000+ per month “health insurance” plan because I can’t afford it—and I am too “rich” for obamacare…….if i divorce my husband and lose my job I can have ALL KINDS OF OBAMA GOODIES …….just have to be “poor”…..btw…..all the people I know who are “poor” and sucking on the gov’t tit or in reality, my paycheck, have two cars, a house they own, multiple flat screen tvs, and vacation every school break…….their nails are spa nails and their kids all have expensive phones……so, I guess I’m trying to find ANY truth in your comment.


        1. Zyp Czyk Post author

          That’s why the middle class is disappearing: too rich to get assistance and too poor to pay for the services needed.

          With the proposed new healthcare bill, the assistance for the poor will be cut, but there will still be no help for the folks in the middle. It’s a VERY frustrating position to be in.

          One “solution” is to pay the full price until you become so poor you qualify for assistance. Just one serious medical crisis, which the rich can easily afford, can force a middle class family into poverty.

          I was making huge $$ as a high tech worker until I could no longer work. Then the medical costs of finding the right diagnoses and enduring all the suggested ineffective non-opioid treatments for pain (not covered by any insurance) used up most of my savings, so now I qualify for Obamacare assistance to pay for health insurance .

          That’s the only way I can afford it because the insurance companies are bleeding us dry. Their executives get huge bonuses for raising premiums while limiting services (they call it cost-cutting) – they are as bad as the pharmaceutical industry, the hospital industry, the medical device industry…

          They are all competing for the deepest reach into our pockets. Patients are the ones supporting this whole giant medical-industrial complex getting rich from our suffering.


  2. Carol Kennon

    Many opioid related deaths are due to illicit fentanyl. Fentanyl has been available through illegal sources for an unknown period of time. It has been sold in disguised forms including mixed with heroin and in fake percocet and Oxycontin pills. News reports and clinical updates cite exposure to fentanyl products on many occasions throughout the so called opioid crisis. The actual number of deaths from illicit fentanyl is unknown but almost certainly vastly under reported because until recently it was not specifically identified through lab tests.

    The CDC has been reporting this problem in various publication but in a consistently dishonest and misleading way. They still emphasize that prescribed opioids have played the most prominent role in deaths until very recently. In reality the situation is sufficiently unclear to require retesting lab samples ( whatever is still available) from the start of this situation. Of course the CDC wants to preserve the guilty physician over-prescribing narrative to ever seek clarification on cause of deaths.

    I wonder if enough concerned citizens could do something about this.

    Carol Kennon
    New Mexico


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      You are absolutely right. We know the overdoses aren’t by pain patients from their own prescribed medications. It’s outrageous how the government refuses to distinguish legal and illicit opioids in its statistics. Likening our use of opioid medication to eased our physical pain with someone injecting themselves with heroin to get “high” is ridiculous.

      Yes, there are indeed citizens fighting back: https://rallyagainstpain.com/ But that’s happening in Wash DC and many of us can’t get ourselves there.

      You can also use this USPain site to write an opinion piece and have the site send it to dozens of media contacts and/or politicians: http://www.peoplewithpainmatter.org/


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  4. Hoosiers 1st

    What a complete load of nonsense the opioid crisis is…..heroine is the problem and synthetic drugs from other countries like China….yes, addicts and stupid teenagers are dropping like flies from fentanyl laced heroine…..we left the poppy fields alone in the middle east and do nothing to stop drugs from entering the country….now we blame prescription pain medications and the responsible patients who need them to work and function every day as if they are the problem. They are suffering and being treated like dogs. How utterly ignorant Americans are due to their laziness and pathetic willingness to give up what was once a solid, reputable public education for the pipe dreams of the NFL, NBA, etc. The AstroTurf and semi-pro sports arenas/stadiums even for the schools with the ever losing teams but with the super-hyped parent -coaches trying to relive their own unrealistic, lost dreams of pro sports. So, no homework as it interferes with sports and sports and sports and the curriculum country-wide is still geared to the graduating class of 1945 because sports need the money. So, let’s get some cheap laptops and foster the appearance of “caring about technology” while the curriculum and the teaching staff stagnate in mediocrity at a time when teaching has all the tools via the internet alone to be nothing short of magnificent……..public schools, public crises, public medicine, public shame (not for illicit drugs but for legitimately necessary pain medication for responsible, productive people) all controlled and manipulated by…….your government that you vote for without ever understanding anything that you are supporting or anyone you are voting for short of my parents voted for that person and i just don’t vote and …….are you talking to me?….wait…..what?????


  5. Pingback: What We Mean by Evidence-Based Medicine | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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