The two weeks after we took in a relative with an opioid addiction were terrifying.
There were the times when he was barely conscious, slouching on the sofa, staring into his laptop, uncommunicative, fighting to stay awake in the middle of the afternoon. There was the morning I walked into the dining room to find milk spilled all over the floor and garbage in the silverware drawer. There were the piles of clothing and debris — in the driveway, the backyard, the living room.
And there was the fear that he might overdose on the pills in the dozen or so bottles of prescription drugs on the dresser in the guest room.
This happened several years ago when he moved to Colorado from Florida, where the laws had changed abruptly to address the free-for-all environment that led to pill-mills, free access to opioids through physicians who wrote scripts without even seeing the patients, and rampant addiction.
He said he wanted to find a job and start over, and we were trying to be supportive.
We were dangerously naïve.
The nightmare ended when he smashed a sliding glass door to get into the house when we were out of town. He said he needed a phone charging cable. After that, he entered rehab. Again.
He is one of millions of Americans targeted by opioid manufacturers in a chillingly cynical and deceptive marketing campaign that has resulted in the deaths of more than 130 people per day from overdoses.
The complaint filed by Colorado’s attorney general against Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family who served on the board of the company describes in intricate detail the marketing campaign in 1996 that called for its sales force to “Awaken the Sleeping Giant!”
Richard Sackler, an owner of Purdue, predicted that “the launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition … so deep, dense and white that you will never see their white flag.”
He succeeded spectacularly. And nobody saw the white flag.
But everybody can see the headstones.
From 2000 through 2018, according to the AG’s complaint, nearly 4,500 people died from overdoses in Colorado. The number jumps to 5,200 when deaths from related substances such as Fentanyl are included.
When Colorado and other states began taking legal action against the company and it became clear states, cities and counties would be seeking monetary damages, the complaint notes that the “Sacklers fraudulently transferred billions of dollars and assets for their personal benefit through a complex web of corporate entities, all of which the Sacklers owned and directed.”
The complaint is a civil action, seeking relief for the State of Colorado. It says that Purdue and the Sacklers violated the state Consumer Protection Act, the Organized Crime Control Act and the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.
By transferring the company’s assets to shell companies, the plan apparently is ultimately to declare bankruptcy rather than pay off any judgments. That’s why Oklahoma’s attorney general settled its case against Purdue for a measly $270 million. While the settlement was small, the AG said at least it was “bankruptcy-proof.”
Victims’ families called it disgusting.
Last month, while 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers were winding their way through federal court in Ohio and the Sacklers were living the high life in their mansions in New York and Connecticut, a parallel long-running criminal case reached its climax.
The infamous drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman was sentenced to life at Super Max in Florence.
He was convicted of flooding the U.S. with $12 billion worth of drugs in his capacity as the leader of the Sinaloa cartel. He also was convicted of charges of murder and laundering billions of dollars.
He’s a seriously bad dude.
But, compared to the sprawling Oxy conspiracy with its army of accomplices — deceptive sales reps, dishonest researchers, unethical marketing teams, physicians, drugstore chains, pill-mills, lawyers, lobbyists, accommodating legislators, money managers and street dealers — El Chapo is a rank amateur.
Heck, while El Chapo was smuggling cocaine, heroin and marijuana across the border, Purdue was hustling more than $8 billion in Oxy a year through doctor’s offices, enough to provide every American adult with a month’s supply — well more than enough to become addicted.
The death toll from the opioid epidemic that Purdue brazenly orchestrated is estimated at over 200,000 and continues to mount. The Sacklers hide their blood money rather than merely laundering it.
C’mon federal prosecutors, it sure sounds like criminal behavior to me.
So, what’s with the kid gloves?
Surely there must be room for a few more at Super Max.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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