Big Pharma finds a new way to profit off addiction, says Hill.TV's Krystal Ball

By Krystal Ball
Opinion Contributor

For most Americans, the opioid epidemic has been a disaster.

It is the worst addiction crisis in our nation's history – 72,000 died from drug overdose last year alone and 70% of those were opioid related. Parents are burying their children. Babies are losing their parents.

But for at least one family, it's been a bonanza of wealth. A real American capitalist success story.

The Sackler family owns Purdue pharmaceuticals and they have become wildly rich off of their drug Oxycontin. When they were first testing oxy in the 90's doctors expressed concern that it may be addictive. Rather than do anything to actually address those concerns, Purdue responded by adding a line into the package insert that downplayed those fears and indicated oxy carried little risk of addiction.

There was only one problem, literally zero clinical studies backed up this claim. It was pure speculation. Speculation that turned out to be false.

As if that wasn't enough, as it became clear to anyone who bothered to notice that oxy had sparked a crisis that there were pharmacies in tiny towns of hundreds of people, receiving millions of pills. As the true dangers of oxycontin became abundantly clear, Purdue did nothing. Well, nothing except continue to aggressively market the drug, plying doctors with meals and trips and golf outings in the typical disgusting legal bribery in which big Pharma engages. From a bottom line perspective it all worked beautifully. Purdue reportedly generated $35 billion in oxy sales alone.

And now, now that we have a full-blown epidemic, what does Purdue Pharma want to do? It wasn't enough that they profited off death and addiction. Now that they've profited off the poison, they want to also profit off the antidote. Richard Sackler has just been granted a patent for a new form of Buprenorphine. It reduces cravings for the drugs that Purdue said weren't addictive. Isn't that a lovely full-circle American dream kind of story? Make money off the crisis and then make money off trying to address the crisis and round and round we go. This crap ought to be illegal but it's not. In fact, it's celebrated. Just another glory of free-market capitalism.

If you want to understand why something is happening in America just follow the money. As long as there's money to be made in addiction, we will have people like the Sacklers are willing to mine the depths of despair in service of the almighty dollar.

Once upon a time, Congress might have actually done something about it but not now – not when the money of the prosperous few is the lifeblood of political power.

Unimaginable riches for the few, disaster for the many – that's the new American way.

Krystal Ball is the co-host of "Rising," Hill.TV's morning news show.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.