Once wealthy and proud, Portsmouth, Ohio — a major steel and footwear manufacturing center in the mid-20th Century — became a shipping hub for illegal opiates in the 21st.
As many as 3.8 billion doses of opiates were distributed in Ohio between 2011 and 2015 — many of them through Portsmouth.
Sam Quinones, author of the book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” told the Los Angeles Times that the town and its economy was so hooked on prescription painkillers that Oxycontin and Vicodin became currency — literal currency, traded for food, clothes and baby formula.
“People would rob drug dealers and not take their money — they would take their pills,” he said.
And pill mills — the offices of unscrupulous doctors willing to prescribe addictive pharmaceuticals by the handful — “were like the central banks.”
The pill mills are largely gone, shuttered by law enforcement, the doctors’ licenses to prescribe revoked — that’s made things worse: People dependent on opiates turned to heroin, which in turn has been adulterated with stupendously powerful, seriously deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl and its stronger cousin carfentanil.
Cannabis has serious potential as a harm reduction tool for communities struggling with opioid addiction, and while Ohio’s medical cannabis system is still taking shape, it offers real promise for reducing the death toll associated with opioid abuse.
Meanwhile, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the state. According to news media, 4,100 people died from drug overdoses in 2016 — a 36 percent increase from 2015.
And the problem — acknowledged by President Donald Trump as a major national crisis — is getting worse.
Who is to blame? Where did it all begin? Well, you can’t have pharmaceuticals without pharmaceutical companies…
The Columbus Dispatch reports that five have been sued by Ohio Attorney General, Mike DeWine, on Wednesday for their roles in this “human tragedy of epic proportions.”
In his suit — filed in a state court in Chillicothe, one of the areas hardest hist by the epidemic — DeWine blames pharmaceutical companies and their aggressive sales tactics for creating the pill mills.
In 2014, for example, with the crisis well underway, pharmaceutical companies spent $168 million on an aggressive marketing campaign to “deny and trivialize” opiates’ addictive qualities and risk to patients.
“The companies knew what they were doing was wrong but did it anyway — and continue to do so,” DeWine said.
Other drug companies followed this disastrous script in other states — drowning neighboring West Virginia with 780 million doses of opiates, despite similar clear signs of a public health crisis.
The firms being sued are Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin; Endo Health Solutions; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries of Israel (and subsidiary Cephalon); Johnson & Johnson (and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals) and Allegran. DeWine is seeking unspecified damages from the companies, but he wants them to help shoulder the cost of treating and fighting the epidemic — a bill that has run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Drug companies acknowledged the seriousness of the opiate crisis, but played down their role in creating it (of course). Resolving the lawsuit could take years. In the meantime, DeWine is expected to run for governor.
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