Last updated: February 24, 2020
On October 26, 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.” The announcement will cause the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) to take concrete steps to combat the epidemic of opiate addiction in America, steps such as improving telemedicine services for people in rural areas, grants to help those displaced by the epidemic, shifting HIV resources to target those who are also addicted, and increasing staff at HHS. But what brought us to the point that such a step was necessary? Here’s a look at the opiate crisis by the numbers:
- From 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people died from opiate overdoses, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Estimates today are that this number is now over 200,000 people and is growing every year. In 2016 alone, 53,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses—more than from car crashes.
- One family-owned company has gone from a relatively small pharmaceutical company to propelling its publicity-shy owners onto the Forbes list of the richest families in America, with a total fortune of $14 billion.
- The CDC says that as of 2014, almost 2 million Americans “abused or were dependent on prescription opioids” and that every day, over 1,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for misusing prescription opioids.
- The CDC also reported that by 2010, opioid prescriptions in the U.S. reached 254 million separate prescriptions, or enough to “medicate every American adult around the clock for a month.”
How the opiate epidemic got so bad
Ground zero for the opiate epidemic is not where you might expect. While stories abound of working class cities laid to waste by opiates, the source of the tidal wave of opiates over the past twenty years is centered in Stamford, Connecticut. Stamford is home to Purdue Pharma, the family owned company that developed the patent for the most widely sold and abused opiate on the market—OxyContin. OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone hydrochloride, a powerful opioid pain medication. Purdue brought OxyContin to the market in 1996, garnering a respectable $45 million in sales its first year. A mere four years later, the company’s OxyContin sales had risen over 2,000% to $1.1 billion, and by 2010, to $3.1 billion, equating for nearly a third of the U.S. market for pain pills.
Accusations as to the methods Purdue Pharma employed in its meteoric rise to the top of the opiate pyramid have swirled around the company since OxyContin hit the market. However, these accusations have gone beyond rumor, as in 2007 the company paid $635 million as part of a guilty plea in federal criminal court, when it was accused of defrauding and misleading the public as to the effects of OxyContin. In 2013, the Los Angeles Times broke a story that Purdue had been maintaining a list since 2002 of 1,800 doctors it suspected of injudiciously prescribing painkillers, yet had not notified federal authorities as it was required to do. On October 26, 2017, the company admitted to the Wall Street Journal that it was again under investigation by federal prosecutors in Connecticut.
Opiates in the construction industry
Opiates are a major issue in the construction industry. Not surprisingly, the dangerous and physically demanding nature of the work is cause for many workers to need surgery and thereafter, pain medication. According to a study by CNA Financial Corporation, an insurance company, when compared with other industries, the amount spent on opioids as a percentage of the overall spend on prescription drugs is consistently five to ten percent higher. Finally, the oft-quoted Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) study showed that construction workers were among the highest users of illicit drugs.
What you can do to protect your business
The damage that can be done by opiate abuse is potentially limitless, but you can reduce the risks dramatically by implementing a comprehensive drug testing program.
- Random drug testing has been shown to reduce workplace injuries by 51%, which is why the construction industry is now fighting back against opiate abuse.
- Post-accident drug testing remains legal throughout the U.S., and is likely to remain as such.