The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found a disturbing new trend among both legal and illegal drug users.
Over the last nine years, heroin use and overdose has tripled. But illegal opioids aren’t the only problem. There are also increasing deaths from legal, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, codeine, OxyContin, and other prescription pain killers.
In fact, according to the DEA’s newly released 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, deaths from synthetic opioids increased 79% in just one year, from 2013 to 2014. And synthetic opioids were behind the deaths of 19 people in Florida and California during just the first quarter of 2016.1 They are also behind the first modern increase in mortality rates ever seen among any population group.
Death rates have soared by a whopping 37% over the past generation among white, middle-class, high-school-educated men and women, due largely to use and abuse of these drugs.
Why? One reason is because these lab-created opioids are much more potent than even heroin. Meaning even habituated heroin and narcotic drug addicts can experience overdose and death from OxyContin and other Frankendrugs.
As I have warned over and over again, in addition to the medical and public health crisis, our nation’s opioid abuse epidemic has created a law enforcement and public safety problem, amounting to a widespread social crisis. And in addition to these medical and social costs, there are more costs to the taxpayer. President Obama has proposed $1.1 billion in new spending to address this problem.
But the reality is that safe, effective, and completely natural pain relief is available without drugs or more billion-dollar big government initiatives. I’ll tell you how in a moment. But first, let’s look at how we got into this mess in the first place.
The opiate of the gods
Use of the original opioid, morphine, extends back into ancient times. For centuries, this natural constituent of poppy plants has been consumed orally as resin, smoked, or used as a tincture in alcohol (laudanum).
Morphine is a remarkable painkiller and sedative. In fact, it was named for the mythical Greek god of sleep, Morpheus. (While the god Orpheus was known for going down into the underworld, Morpheus was known for just “going under.”)
A dangerous synthetic derivative of morphine — diacetylmorphine, or heroin — came into use in the 20th century as an even more potent opioid. But it was never a legal pain drug.
It wasn’t until the 21st century that we began to see more widespread use of potent semi-synthetic opioids as prescription drugs for pain and sedation. And we owe that dubious milestone to Purdue Pharma, a private company in Connecticut owned by the Sacklers, three brothers who were psychiatrists.2
How one pharmaceutical company started the opioid addiction epidemic
Arthur M. Sackler, M.D., was such a brilliant marketer of pharmaceuticals that he has the “distinction” of being one of the first inductees into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (yes, this really exists). In the mid-20th century, Arthur wrote the scientific paper that contributed to Pfizer’s famous benzodiazepine sedative, Valium, becoming the world’s first $100 million drug.
Arthur’s brothers, Mortimer and Raymond, were also motivated to explore pain medications. They took the generic painkiller oxycodone, which had been invented in Germany during World War I, and added a time-release mechanism intended to curb abuse.
The result was OxyContin, which Purdue Pharma launched in 1995. And, according to a fascinating paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, Purdue then set about relentlessly marketing its new opioid.3
Arthur Sackler died in the 1980s, but he lived on through his marketing blueprint — which Mortimer and Raymond used for OxyContin. They began by conducting more than 40 all-expenses-paid conferences between 1996 and 2001, which allowed Purdue to recruit over 5,000 doctors, pharmacists, and nurses for their OxyContin speakers’ bureau.
Purdue also developed a database of physicians around the country who prescribed large numbers of opioids. And they doubled their sales force to reach those doctors.
Of course, there were freebies. Along with OxyContin-branded fishing hats and stuffed toys, doctors got music compilation CDs (“Get in the Swing with OxyContin.”) And Purdue Pharma reps gave physicians about 34,000 coupons that offered patients free seven- to 30-day supplies of OxyContin. Talk about a “gateway” to drug addiction.
With this multilevel marketing attack, it’s hardly a surprise that by 2006, OxyContin sales had reached $800 million a year, and in 2010, they hit a whopping $3.1 billion.3
The addiction loophole that makes OxyContin so dangerous
According to the American Journal of Public Health report, Purdue Pharma repeatedly touted studies showing that its OxyContin time-release mechanism resulted in an addiction rate of less than 1%.
But it turns out this claim about abuse-resistance has a loophole. When an OxyContin pill was crushed into a powder, it broke down the time-release mechanism. The powder could then be snorted to create a heroin-like high. Abuse, overdose, and death followed, as with other potent oxycodone-derived narcotics like Percocet and Vicodin.
Today, addiction to OxyContin drug is so pervasive, it’s responsible for the lamentable practice of “doctor shopping,” in which addicts make the rounds of large numbers of physicians to obtain additional prescriptions.
In response to this addiction epidemic, Purdue Pharma reformulated OxyContin to make it more difficult to inhale or inject. But a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that about 24% of users discovered a way to abuse the drug anyway. And another 66% simply moved on to illegal heroin instead.4
Some addicts went underground (like Orpheus) to rely on other illegal drug traffickers in less expensive OxyContin counterfeits that contain the incredibly potent fentanyl.
Turning narcotic addiction profits into “philanthropy”
In the meantime, the Sacklers made the Forbes billionaire list in 2015, with a net worth of $14 billion.5 Although, like the robber-barons of the early 1900s, they have given some of that away — mainly in the art world.
There’s a Sackler Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., now administered together with the Freer Gallery of Art.
In ancient Rome, politicians understood they must provide free “bread and circuses” to the public. In 21st century America, the “free” bread is provided by the taxpayers and redistributed, taking slices from a loaf baked by an ever-smaller proportion of the public. For the circuses, the nearest equivalent would be the Smithsonian museums, which are open free to the public through a peculiar combination of government subsidies and private contributions (which are anything but democratic).
The unspeakable practice of naming museums on D.C.’s National Mall after private individuals began with a Canadian uranium miner-turned art collector, Joseph Hirshhorn. After Hirshhorn was deported from Canada for illegal stock manipulation, he brought his ill-gotten gains to the U.S. in the mid-1960s.
Lady Bird Johnson was quick to jump on the opportunity for her “beautify America” program and the Smithsonian was quick to take the money. They tore down a national historic landmark building that housed powerful and popular health education exhibits, and replaced it with a new modern art museum, named after Hirshhorn, that resembles a concrete donut.
The Sackler Gallery is not far from this Hirshhorn abomination. It’s located underground on the National Mall, in deep recesses where Morpheus, or Orpheus, may have been comfortable dwelling. There you can see such treasures as Whistler’s “The Lady from the Land of Porcelain,” — a 19th century full-length portrait of a woman from China. (I got to see this remarkable, breathtaking work up close and in person during an art-restoration project while I was director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, about 20 years ago.)
Considering that the portrait is now associated with the Sacklers, maybe it should be renamed “The Lady from the Land of Opium.”
Despite their philanthropy, the Sacklers’ real legacy to the public is something we see on sad display every day now, throughout the U.S. Of course, I’m talking about opioid addiction.
But there’s a better way to help end this epidemic than Obama’s plan to throw a billion more of our dollars at it. My new Arthritis Relief & Reversal Protocol gives an in-depth explanation of all the scientifically demonstrated ways you can relieve pain without the deadly side effects of opioid pain pills.
This protocol not only includes foods and dietary supplements, but also mind-body therapies like acupuncture, biofeedback, guided imagery, hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, relaxation therapy, and stress reduction — along with simply spending more time in nature and green spaces (not in the dark underground caverns of our national circus on the Washington Mall).
To enroll in my new on-line learning protocol for pain today, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV2S9AB.
 Drug Enforcement Administration, “The 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary.” https://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2016/hq062716_attach.pdf
 “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy.” Am J Public Health. 2009 February; 99(2): 221–227.
 “Effect of Abuse-Deterrent Formulation of OxyContin.” N Engl J Med 2012; 367:187-189July 12, 2012.