The Imperative of Regulation (Article)

The Co-Creation of a Medical and Non-Medical US Opioid Crisis
Date November 3, 2023
Authors Toine Pieters
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The ravaging COVID-19 pandemic has almost pushed into oblivion the fact that the United States is still struggling with an immense addiction crisis. Drug overdose deaths rose from 16,849 in 1999 to nearly 110,000—of which an estimated 75,000 involved opioids—in 2022. On a yearly basis, the opioid casualty rate is higher than the combined number of victims of firearm violence and car accidents. The COVID-19 epidemic might have helped to worsen the addiction crisis by stimulating drug use among adolescents and diverting national attention to yet another public health crisis. In the past decade, the sharpest increase in deaths occurred among those related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (illicitly manufactured, synthetic opioids of greater potency). In the first opioid crisis wave (1998–2010), opioid-related deaths were mainly associated with prescription opioids such as Oxycontin (oxycodone hydrochloride). The mass prescription of these narcotic drugs did anything but control the pervasive phenomenon of ‘addiction on prescription’ that played such an important role in the emergence and robustness of the US opioid crisis. Using a long-term drug lifecycle analytic approach, in this article I will show how opioid-producing pharmaceutical companies created a medical market for opioid painkillers. They thus fueled a consumer demand for potent opioid drugs that was eagerly capitalized on by criminal entrepreneurs and their international logistic networks. I will also point out the failure of US authorities to effectively respond to this crisis due to the gap between narcotic product regulation, regulation of marketing practices and the rise of a corporate-dominated health care system. Ironically, this turned the most powerful geopolitical force in the war against drugs into its greatest victim. Due to formulary availability and regulatory barriers to accessibility, European countries have been relatively protected against following suit the US opioid crisis.

Imperative of Regulation