Harsher Punishments for Addicts in 16 states while big pharma gets off the hook

According to a 2017 report from Vox, 16 states have passed laws which institute harsher punishments around opioids at the height of the epidemic. In Kentucky, for example, one of the hardest hit states and the home of the DEA’s new field office for opioids, Governor Matt Bevin signed HB 333 into law last year increasing penalties for those who traffic heroin and fentanyl and preventing reduced penalties for those who can prove that they are addicted to the substance.

According to the Bureau of Justice, 70 percent of drug traffickers are also users of the drug they peddle and a briefing paper produced by Human Rights Watch argues that harsher punishments for drug crimes discourage those who are addicted from seeking help. The fear of being prosecuted often prevents those who are addicted from receiving anti-addiction medications like Naloxone as well as access to clean needles which can prevent the spread of HIV.

And while law enforcement has brought charges against everyone from street dealers to doctors who prescribed opioids, former DEA agents have expressed frustration that the bigger players in the epidemic have slipped through the cracks. As former narcotics agent Joe Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes in October, when the DEA tried to go after the largest distributors of opioids, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, they encountered roadblocks put up by Congress and the Justice Department.

DEA, Rannazzisi was senior executive in charge of pharmaceutical and synthetic drugs and chemical investigations. He said, ‘Congress passed a bill that prevented me from going after large pharmaceutical companies…while thousands of people were dying. Basically, protecting the industry’ as drug companies developed and carried out a sophisticated plan to protect their share of the $13 billion painkiller industry.

“Aided by Congress,” the 60 Minutes investigation found, “lobbyists, and a drug distribution industry…” provided “the rocket fuel for a crisis that, over the last two decades, has claimed 200,000 lives.”

Their punishment? For McKesson, their failure to report suspicious shipments of opioids was settled with a $13.2 million fine in 2008.

 

Instead, the Department of Justice settled on $150 million with no suspension of operations. And while this seems like a steep fine for any company, consider the fact that it’s only slightly more than its CEO alone makes in a year as the 12th largest corporation in the world with an annual revenue of nearly $200 billion.

“This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices,” said Rannazzisi, “that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.”

Across all distributors since 2010, fines have totaled $341 million with no leader at any company jailed for distributing massive amounts of opioids which have resulted in addiction and death on a massive scale. If punishment is really the answer, then it’s a double-standard.

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