The Politics of Drugs: Purdue & the DOJ

(Seventh in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

When public health is at risk, one can only wonder about the motives behind politicians’ decisions – our “public servants” as they used to be referred to – regardless of what they may say. But we don’t have to guess their motives because actions speak louder than words and the actions of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week regarding Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are unconscionable. This deal is not justice for the victims and their families for this pervasive and criminal corporate greed.

On the surface, the announcement of an $8.3 billion settlement sounds great. The company that aggressively started the opioid crisis and purposefully continued it in order to profit from it for two decades should have to pay until it hurts. They filed for bankruptcy last year – how can we squeeze more blood out of this turnip? But it’s what the DOJ isn’t saying that is important for we – the parents and families – whose loved ones were swept up into deadly addictions and those who are continuing their life or death struggle with opioids. Take a moment to consider some of the highlights of this deal:
 although they admitted to multiple felonies, neither the Sackler family, who own Purdue, nor company officials, will serve prison time
 in reality, Purdue and the Sackler’s will each only pay out $225 million since they are in bankruptcy
 the company will operate as a public trust under government control, continuing to manufacture opioid medications in order to give the Sackler’s a family legacy
 25 state attorneys general urged the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company” – and to not make this deal, but to no avail
 the personal assets of members of the Sackler family could be protected from future liability for their role in the opioid crisis – their personal fortunes are estimated at $13 BILLION
 the DOJ requested the judge to protect Purdue and the Sackler’s by keeping secret certain disclosures that Purdue made about company activities
 parents’ w/children killed by OxyContin wrote to Attorney General Barr asking for one hour to meet with his lawyers investigating Purdue and the Sackler’s. The DOJ never replied.

Why are we protecting this criminal enterprise? This secrecy is eerily similar to a deal the DOJ made with Purdue the first time they were prosecuted in 2007. That settlement was a slap on the hand with about $650 million in fines over illegal opioid marketing practices but with no criminal charges. Purdue paid up and then continued on their merry way with the same targeted marketing of OxyContin along with other addictive meds. This went on for another 10 years raking in billions of dollars for the Sackler family, while young people like my son became irreversibly hooked on Oxy’s and then – due to the high cost of having to buy them on the street – switched to heroin. The rest is history, our history, hundreds of thousands of other family’s histories.

Science Fiction and Self-Protection

(Sixth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

I have always loved Star Trek. From the early 1960’s shows with the corny scripts and goofy hairdos to the 21st century high-tech and high-stakes extravaganzas. Science fiction envisions the future for us and pushes inventions and technology from getting “beamed-up” in a flash to having a force field to deflect foreign objects.

The concept of a force field would be an incredible tool to have at our disposal – to be able to switch it on and off at will. And I can think of no better time to employ an emotional force field than during the early days and weeks after a sudden death. When it takes all your energy just to exist, to wake up and to face the next moment. An invisible barrier for self-protection.

Continue reading “Science Fiction and Self-Protection”

Separation Anxiety

(Fifth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

After many years of not having a dog, we decided to adopt one from our local shelter. We found a beautiful German-shepherd/wolf mix who was 18 months old. Bella was docile, sweet and quiet. The next day, as I headed out to the grocery store, I gave her a hug and saw her watch me through the window as I got into the car.

            When I returned an hour later, I was met with a shock. I found her, panting rapidly and pacing nervously in our bedroom where our wooden shutters were open and had bite marks. She had tried to escape while I was gone. I had no idea why. I immediately called the shelter. “She is having separation anxiety: she needed to escape being left alone.” We found out that she had been with two families previously when she was dumped at the shelter because she continued to try to escape when she was left alone for hours on end. They gave us the name of a dog behaviorist and we started down the long road of helping Bella manage her fear when we had to leave her at home.

            Children and adults can experience separation anxiety when someone they are attached to leaves them. They can have recurrent and excessive distress just anticipating being separated from loved ones and the anxiety can be so intense that it is hard to function in everyday life. Panic attacks and physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches can occur. For me and my husband, on the morning of our son’s death from overdose, standing over our son in that body bag we experienced the ultimate separation anxiety. The overriding emotion we felt was fear: fear of the unknown future we were facing. We couldn’t visualize how we would survive without our son as part of our lives and the future we thought we all had together. He had not only been an integral part of our lives for 25 years but he was literally a part of us–the combination of our DNA that formed him as a particular and unique human being. To say that it was like having part of you taken away doesn’t describe it. This was having our hearts torn out.

            We would never embrace or kiss or stroke the cheek of our son again. We were facing an existential crisis, shaken to the core, questioning our reason for living. Regardless of our strong faith that had seen us through many other deaths in our families, this separation seemed incomprehensible and cruel. It was only by falling down on our faces and waiting for Mercy to gradually pick us up that we were able to survive this traumatic separation from our son and move forward again in life.