In the past 13 months, Susan Stevens talked to the paramedics who tried to save her daughter after she overdosed on heroin, to the drug dealers who sold her the lethal opioids, to county prosecutors, state senators and the U.S. attorney general, and even the President of the United States Donald Trump, searching for answers as to why her daughter died. “I’ll go anywhere,” she told the Washington Post. Stevens is hoping she can save another young, vibrant girl like her daughter, Toria, from the deathly grip of addiction.
Stevens’ search has unearthed few answers beyond second-guessing her own actions. “Why couldn’t I find a way to help her? I mean, what was I …” she asked the sheriff at a recent town hall meeting in Lewisville, North Carolina.
“This isn’t on you,” he said. “These drugs don’t discriminate. The blame is on the drugs.”
The opioid epidemic kills more than 130 people in the United States every day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This includes overdoses from prescription opioid pain killers, heroin, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. About 80 percent of people who used heroin – like Toria – first misused prescription drugs.
How did the opioid epidemic happen in the first place? In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies launched potent opioid painkillers, reassuring medical professionals that patients wouldn’t become addicted to them. But opioids are in fact highly addictive. Users can easily become dependent on them, requiring stronger doses to relieve their pain, and suffering painful withdrawal symptoms when they can’t get their fix. Misuse and abuse of opioids can lead to opioid overdose, which in 2017 killed more than 47,000 Americans.
One of the first opioids to be deceptively marketed to prescribing physicians was OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue Pharma, a drug company owned by the billionaire Sackler family. Last week, the Sackler family and Purdue agreed to pay $270 million to settle charges from the state of Oklahoma for deceptive marketing of OxyContin in the state. Oklahoma ranks second in the nation in opioid addiction.
More than 1,600 of about 2,000 lawsuits filed against Purdue by state and local governments are consolidated in a multidistrict litigation in Ohio under U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster. The first trial is scheduled for October; however, Judge Polster has pushed for the parties to reach a settlement before then.
National Institute on Drug Abuse