CHICAGO (CBS) — Amid the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history, accusations accuse pharmaceutical companies, and even U.S. Congress, of fueling the opioid crisis.
A joint 60 Minutes-Washington Post investigation reveals many drug addicts feel betrayed by their doctors.
“This made the whole crack epidemic look like nothing,” said Joe Rannazzisi, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official. Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes that drug companies are knowingly shipping to suspicious doctors and rogue pharmacies practically unchecked.
A pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, for example, which is a town of 392 people, ordered more than nine million hydrocodone pills over a span of two years.
“They were just drug dealers in lab coats,” Rannazzisi said.
Peter Bensinger, a DEA administrator to three presidents, said, “That doesn’t make any sense. There is no legitimate need to have millions of very dangerous pills go to very small cities and hamlets.”
Bensinger says the agency’s mission is to protect Americans from such highly addictive opioids, but adds that that mission has been thwarted by an act of Congress.
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Legislation backed by powerful drug companies stripped the DEA’s enforcement powers just as the opioid epidemic was peaking.
Dennis Pagach, who was prescribed painkillers for a bad back, is now being treated for addiction at Chicago’s Haymarket Center. He says fighting his addiction is an everyday battle.
“I had a good paying job, I had a family, and I lost everything to this,” he said.
Pagach was encouraged to try more pills.
“I just wasn’t educated by the doctors because, I believe, the doctors are in it with the pharmaceutical companies to make money.”
Bensinger says the legislation must be rolled back to stem the opioid crisis, adding, “It’s now a number one danger. But the number of overdose deaths are 10,000 going to 20,000, and that’s just unacceptable.”
Attorneys general across the country, including Lisa Madigan in Illinois, are investigating several opioid manufacturers for unlawful marketing practices.