Commentary: Delaware must hold pharmaceutical industry accountable

The opioid epidemic that continues to plague our state stems from the grossly aggressive marketing tactics employed by the pharmaceutical industry.

This industry took a medication that was originally intended to decrease pain in terminal cancer patients and advertised it as a safe all-purpose treatment for every type of pain, from arthritis to the common back ache.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers used multi-million dollar marketing campaigns to encourage physicians to change their opioid prescribing practices, knowingly mis-marketing a highly addictive drug as a safe, everyday option for pain management. Taking a drug meant for end-of-life care and making it one of the most prescribed medications across the nation for all types of acute and chronic pain.

Physicians were wined and dined by the pharmaceutical industry. The more opioids they prescribed, the better their perks became.

My question to you is why are we allowing the pharmaceutical industry to continue to get away with murder without being held accountable for the damage done to the families of our state?

Every industry has been held accountable when their faulty product caused harm or death to an individual. Both the automotive industry and the airline industry have paid restitution when brakes and engines failed. Why should the pharmaceutical industry be treated differently?

Pharmaceutical manufacturers knowingly ignored their legal obligation to exercise reasonable care in the marketing and sale of their highly addictive, deadly drug. Opioid manufacturers breached their duty by misstating facts and failing to disclose the risks of being prescribed and using their drug, especially the high risk of addiction and subsequent abuse with long term use. I’ve never seen a prescription bottle with a label warning notifying you of the risk of addiction with use.

Since 2014, Delaware families have buried 1,425 of their loved ones. So far this year we are at 70 overdose deaths.

According to the John Hopkins report, “Delaware is in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis.” “There are indicators that both prescription pain reliever and illicit opioid misuse is much higher in Delaware than the national average.” “Despite crackdowns on drug prescribers, researchers indicate that Delaware continues to have the highest rate of all states in the country for prescribing high-dose and long-acting opioids.”

Our state ranks No. 5 in the nation for death by overdose.

After testifying before the Joint Finance Committee, and listening to parents who have become financially devastated while trying to save their children who suffer from Substance Use Disorder, I’ve come to realize that Delaware’s budget allowance for treatment will never be enough to provide the life-saving, long-term treatment recommended by scientific research.

With profits in the hundreds of millions, these opioid manufacturers have yet to accept responsibility for the pandemic or to offer monetary assistance for treatment for the disease they created.

This is why Delawareans must stand together against this unscrupulous industry and demand accountability. Sen. Stephanie Hansen has done just that.

Sen. Hansen is sponsoring a bill that would generate the necessary revenue to provide treatment to those in our state fighting for their lives.

Senate Bill 34, the Opioid Impact Fee Bill, charges the pharmaceutical manufacturing company a minimal “fee” on each opioid coming into Delaware by each manufacturer. This fee will be paid for by the manufacturer at the time of distribution into our state pharmacies.

The expected revenue from this fee in the year 2020 is $2.8 million, $2.7 million in 2021 and $2.5 million in 2022. This revenue is strictly earmarked for providing prevention and treatment services in our state for the uninsured and the under insured. Can you imagine the impact this bill will have on the ability to provide comprehensive, long-term treatment for our residents? Can you imagine being that parent who can finally take that breath knowing their child is able to receive the treatment necessary to save their lives?

It’s time the opioid manufacturing industry be held to the accountability standards of every other industry. Some 1,425 Delaware families have paid the ultimate price. We buried our children. It’s time to say enough to an industry that put profit over social responsibility.

EDITOR’S NOTE: MaryBeth Cichocki, RN, BSN, who lost her son in 2015 from an overdose of prescription drugs, is an advocate for Substance Use Disorder and a resident of Bear..

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