The CBS.com link at the bottom takes you to 60 minutes, and all the related segments are on the right sidebar, but at least the central main 27 minutes video plays (after a long ad); it’s been transcribed. The facts as to how many opioid pills have been ‘deployed’ to some towns in Appalachia are mind-boggling, and this piece from wsws.org has them, but I wanted to talk more about what the whistleblower is exposing about the DEA higher-ups, and the joint Red/Blue project that’s pushing it all along.
From Patrick Martin at wsws.org: ‘Behind the opioid crisis: Republicans and Obama cleared the way for corporate murder’; A joint investigation by “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post found that Republicans and Democrats in Washington did the bidding of giant drug distribution companies responsible for fueling the opioid crisis, Oct. 16, 2017
“Leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress and top Obama administration officials collaborated to shut down efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stem the flow of prescription opioids that have killed 200,000 Americans over the past two decades, according to a devastating exposure published Sunday by the Washington Post and broadcast Sunday night on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”
The joint investigation by the Post and “60 Minutes” made use of extensive whistleblower revelations by former officials of the DEA, which has the main responsibility for halting the flow of illegal narcotics, including prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Three major companies, all in the top 20 of the Fortune 500 and hugely profitable, dominate the distribution of these opioids: McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, with combined revenues of more than $450 billion.
These gigantic revenues and huge personal fortunes were accumulated by means of what can only be termed a massive social crime: the flooding of impoverished working-class neighborhoods with high volumes of opioids, narcotics that were being prescribed in vast quantities by doctors and pharmacists and illegal “pain centers” and “pill mills” that were a constant presence in the affected areas.” [snip]
The consequences have been felt in a historic reversal in the long-term rise of life expectancy in the United States. For middle-aged whites, particularly those living in rural areas, life expectancy is declining and death rates soaring, in large part because of the impact of opioid abuse and addiction.
Appalachia is a center of the opioid crisis. The figures presented in the Post /”60 Minutes” report are staggering—and damning.”
Yes, they’re appalling and more. Williamson, KY is filling a lawsuit against Miami-Luken. But you can click in to read the egregious numbers, as I’d like to get to the exposé named in the title in case you don’t want to read the transcript at CBS.
“Post reporters Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein and “Sixty Minutes” reporter Bill Whitaker conducted dozens of interviews for their exposé, but the principal whistleblower is Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who headed the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control for a decade until he was forced out in 2015.
The Office of Diversion Control oversees the flow of prescription drugs produced by the major US pharmaceutical companies and shipped to hospitals and pharmacies and other prescribers by distributors, including the big three. By targeting unusually large and unexplained sales—for example, several Walgreen’s pharmacies in Florida sold more than one million opioid pills in a year, compared to a nationwide average of 74,000—the DEA unit could force companies to pay substantial fines.”
These big three and smaller distributors paid more than $400 million in fines over the last decade as the result of the DEA, but this is a pittance compared to their gross revenues during that same period, well over $5 trillion. One former DEA official told the Post this sum simply represented “a cost of doing business.”
A more serious problem for the industry was the issuance of “freeze” orders, in which the DEA could use its authority to order a distributor to halt a shipment if there is “imminent danger” to the community. According to Rannazzisi, there was increasing resistance from top-level DEA officials, from 2011 on, to approving such “freeze” orders against opioid distributors. During this period, the drug distributors hired 46 DEA officials either directly or through law firms or lobbying groups representing them.
In 2014, industry lobbyists produced a bill, written by a former DEA lawyer, and introduced by Republican Representative Tom Marino, that substantially raised the threshold of proof for a DEA order to halt a shipment. Instead of “imminent danger,” such an order required proof of “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a standard so strict that, once adopted, there were no further DEA orders to halt drug distribution.
Marino’s bill was initially blocked by DEA opposition, but it was reintroduced with Democratic cosponsors and passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote, without opposition, in April 2015. In October 2015, Rannazzisi was pushed into retirement at the DEA, after previously being removed as head of the Office of Diversion Control by means of heavy pressure from congressional Republicans on the Obama Justice Department. In March 2016, the Senate passed a modified version of the Marino bill, and the House accepted the changes the following month. The DEA was now handcuffed, and the drug distributors could proceed without any concern about federal oversight.
As Rannazzisi told “60 Minutes”: “The drug industry—the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores—have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn’t like it.”
In July of this year, Genevieve Leigh at wsws had weighed in on the crisis with her ‘The impact of US opioid epidemic on foster care and social services, a generation of orphans’. Her stats indicated that Ohio, Sarasota, FL, and MA were at the centers of the opioid crisis as well. Some of the quoted statistics were more about the rising numbers of kids in foster care in Ohio, Florida, Maine, and the abysmal dearth of services (including recovery) that exacerbate the crisis, especially as so many of the potential clients are on, or should be eligible, for ever-shrinking Medicaid programs.
But Leigh had also quoted figures on the rising numbers of babies born addicted to opiates, although I’m not sure that some officials she’d cited actually made the case, such as:
“Scott Britton, who works for Public Children Services Association of Ohio, told the WSWS: “The drug epidemic really has caused a crisis across the board. We have 11 percent increase of children in custody and 19 percent increase in retention rate. We have some 2015 data that showed that 28 percent of the parents of kids who were taken from their homes were using some type of opioid. So that means more than one in four and almost one in three.”
In my ignorance about ‘babies born addicted to opiates, I did poke around and had seen many organizations and recovery programs saying it’s so. But I’d remembered the hysterical mythology of ‘crack babies’, and the later deconstruction of the myth.
Poking about, I’d landed on this FAIR.org page: ‘The Myth of the ‘Crack Baby’; Despite Research, Media Won’t Give Up Idea Of ‘Bio-Underclass’, Sept. 1, 1998
Whoa, Nellie, the op-eds and media went nuts over the propagandized ‘issue’, some are stomach-churning to read, starting with this:
“The hysteria and sheer meanness of the initial assault are captured by a 1989 Washington Post column by Charles Krauthammer (7/30/89 ), which began: “The inner-city crack epidemic is now giving birth to the newest horror: a bio-underclass, a generation of physically damaged cocaine babies whose biological inferiority is stamped at birth.” …and so on, but toward the bottom of the page is:
“Such a sustained media assault was not without real world effects, of course. Years of accusatory coverage contributed to a shift to more punitively focused public policy, which was, in turn, welcomed bv the press. In 1994, 60 Minutes aired a show (11/20/94) celebrating one such policy: a South Carolina law under which women who used cocaine while pregnant were arrested and jailed under child abuse statutes. “Cracking Down,” the segment was called.
Fast forward to 1998: Despite an amicus curiae letter signed by 15 leading medical and social service organizations condemning the policy, the Supreme Court declines to hear an appeal in the convictions of two South Carolina women. Cornelia Whitner and Malissa Crawley, both mothers of healthy children, are serving prison terms for prenatally “abusing” them by using cocaine. And 60 Minutes announces plans to re-air its 1994 segment on the policy that sent them to jail.
For Lynn Paltrow, one of the attorneys representing Whitner and Crawley, the 60 Minutes rerun was a very depressing idea. Paltrow told CounterSpin (6/19/95): “I wrote a letter saying please don’t rebroadcast information that’s inaccurate, or that suggested that this was a policy that worked.”
The “Cracking Down” segment focused on the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital, in downtown Charleston. It showcased Nurse Shirley Brown, who host Steve Kroft explained “thought something had to be done,” about pregnant drug addicts, and so “working with the police and the social service agencies and the local prosecutor,” developed the program of arresting them, sometimes out of their beds. The prosecutor, Charlie Condon, is shown declaring, “It worked like charm.”
““Many of the people who are actually working with the women and children were saying, ‘These are poverty babies, and nobody wants to address that. So we call them crack babies.’”
Paltrow also protested the selective enforcement of the program, pointing out that of 23 prosecutions, 22 were of African-American women, and the one white woman was married to a black man. 60 Minutes‘ way of addressing this concern was having Kroft question Charleston’s chief of police, who is black: “This isn’t a racist policy?” “No,” the police chief assures him. “No question about it.” [snip]
“Despite the concerns of Paltrow and others, 60 Minutes went ahead and re-aired its 1994 show (5/3l/98), making no mention of the changes in medical research and opinion, or the growing outcry among social service groups protesting turning mothers of cocaine-exposed babies over to the criminal justice system. The program certainly didn’t note that their story’s main source on South Carolina’s racially contentious policy, Nurse Shirley Brown, had testified in court that she objects to interracial marriage.”
Please weigh in at will over some of the questions I have on all of this.
One, is the CBS and other media coverage of the opioid epidemic more significant because it’s affecting more white people than black? Wsws would prefer to see it as a war on the underclass for obscene profit, naturally, but still… Including of course, why did #60 minutes air the exposé, perhaps the ownership is now more…enlightened than in 1998? Shouldn’t there be far worse penalties than ‘cost of doing bidness’ fines for these drug companies weaponizing and deploying their products for what are calling ‘genocide of the working poor’? Which forms of opioids are also culprits, and how does the rise of heroin use fit in to the overdose stats in general?
One other item, in the #60 minutes Twit account, this had been demanded: ‘60 Minutes – You Need to Report the Other Side of the Story’ by the nationalpainreport.com
“Here is the big story you should be reporting: that millions of American adults are suffering from severe pain, and they cannot get help to relieve their pain. I am not talking about minimal or moderate pain. I am talking about pain that patients describe as suicidal – pain so bad it’s all you can think about. This nation’s war on drugs has had far-reaching unintended consequences on millions of people who are now suffering. Overzealous efforts by the DEA have created a chilling effect on physicians and pharmacies; it’s hard for patients to find a doctor who will prescribe opioid pain medications even if that’s all that will help a person.”
And yes, I do remember reading that many people of color are refused pain meds because they might be faking, drug abusers, etc. It’s not hard to imagine, is it? But ‘overzealous DEA’ does seem a stretch, but maybe in certain locations? Also seen on the thread were calls to legalize cannabis across the board, as it’s been proven to decrease the use of opioids at an amazing rate, in Colorado, as one example.
Will there be calls to jail pregnant heroin and/or methadone ‘addicts’? The police chief of Sarasota, FL is saying no, no, no; we just need to get the new mix of heroin and Carfentanil (‘5000 times more potent than heroin’) off the streets. Will state or county governments underwrite free doses of Narcan (Naxalone) that allegedly can reverse the effects of an overdose if they care so much? Or restore/accept Medicaid block grants to those in need? You thinking: ‘when pigs fly’? Sigh, yeah, me, too. Well, unless a combined version of Conyers’ and Sanders’ passes into law…some day in the distant future.
Anyhoo, #60 Minutes seems very proud of the effects their Rannazzizi exposé has produced so far:
Ye gods and little fishes what might this ‘doing that’ sound like (on Twitter, I’d assume)?