Trump, Pharma, and the Opioid Crisis

President Trump signed a memorandum Thursday declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, the same day a former pharma exec was arrested for pushing his company's signature opioid medication. (Image credit: Gary H/Flickr)

President Trump signed a memorandum Thursday declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, the same day a former pharma exec was arrested for pushing his company's signature opioid medication.

Effective today, my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law, and why I am directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.

Trump noted in his speech that last year "more than 11 million [Americans] abused prescription opioids" and that opioid overdoses now make up the majority of drug-related deaths in the U.S. Among steps being taken to address the crisis, the president referenced prescription drug issues:

The FDA is now requiring drug companies that manufacture prescription opioids to provide more training to prescribers and to help prevent abuse and addiction, and has requested that one especially high-risk opioid be withdrawn from the market immediately.

Amid the crackdown on unsavory prescription-writing practices and on the same day as Trump's emergency declaration, John Kapoor, former CEO of Insys Therapeutics, was arrested and charged "with conspiring to push the company's signature drug for unacceptable uses through a series of bribes and kickbacks."

Subsys, as the drug is known, transmits the extremely powerful narcotic fentanyl in spray form, allowing it to be placed beneath the tongue for fast, potent pain relief. It is meant only for treating cancer patients suffering from severe pain.

Prosecutors allege that Kapoor and others conspired to bribe physicians into writing high volumes of prescriptions, many to non-cancer patients, as well as misled and defrauded insurance companies that were leery of approving such prescriptions for patients without a cancer diagnosis.

"In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic that has reached crisis proportions," acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb said in a statement, "Mr. Kapoor and his company stand accused of bribing doctors to overprescribe a potent opioid and committing fraud on insurance companies solely for profit.

After events unfolded Monday, media reports and politicians were quick to note that Trump's declaration seemed little more than talk:

Many have said that the lack of additional federal funds will greatly limit what the directive can actually accomplish. In a tweet, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Trump is right that the opioid crisis is a national emergency. Unfortunately, his announcement today was nothing more than an empty promise.”

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