OxyContin Quotes in Dopesick
Though the opioid epidemic would go on to spare no segment of America, nowhere has it settled in and extracted as steep a toll as in the depressed former mill and mining communities of Central Appalachia, where the desperate and jobless rip copper wire out of abandoned factories to resell on the black market and jimmy large-screen TVs through a Walmart garden-center fence crack to keep from “fiending for dope.”
In the United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal once called it, there were people in history who might have expressed skepticism over Haddox’s claim, had anyone bothered reading up on them. Ever since the Neolithic humans figured out that the juice nestled inside the head of a poppy could be dried, dehydrated, and smoked for the purposes of getting high or getting well, depending on your point of view, opium had inspired all manner of commerce and conflict.
By the 1870s, injecting morphine was so popular among the upper classes in Europe and the United States that doctors used it for a variety of ailments, from menstrual pain to inflammation of the eyes. The almost total lack of regulatory oversight created a kind of Wild West for patent medicines, with morphine and opium pills available at the nearest drugstore counter, no prescription necessary. As long as a doctor initially OK’d the practice, even injected morphine was utterly accepted. Daily users were not socially stigmatized, because reliance on the drug was iatrogenic.
But what exactly was adequate pain relief? That point was unaddressed. Nor could anyone define it. No one questioned whether the notion of pain, invisible to the human eye, could actually be measured simply by asking the patient for his or her subjective opinion. Quantifying pain made it easy to standardize procedures, but experts would later concede that it was objective only in appearance—transition labor and a stubbed toe could both measure as a ten, depending on a person’s tolerance. And not only did reliance on pain scales not correlate with improved patient outcomes, it also had the effect of increasing opioid prescribing and opioid abuse.
Industrywide, pharmaceutical companies spent $4.04 billion in direct marketing to doctors in 2000, up 64 percent from 1996. To get in the doctor’s door, to get past the receptionist and head nurse, the reps came bearing gifts, from Valentine’s Day flowers to coupons for mani-pedis.
The average sales rep’s most basic tool was Dine ’n’ Dash, a play on the juvenile-delinquent prank of leaving a restaurant without paying the bill. For a chance to pitch their wonder drug, reps had long offered free dinners at fancy restaurants. But soon, to-go options abounded, too, for a busy doctor’s convenience. Reps began coming by before holidays to drop off a turkey or beef tenderloin that a doctor could take home to the family—even a Christmas tree. Driving home from the office, doctors were also invited to stop by the nearest gas station to get their tanks topped off—while listening to a drug rep’s pitch at the pump, a variation the reps nicknamed Gas’n’ Go. In the spring, the takeout menu featured flowers and shrubs, in a version some dubbed—you guessed it—Shrubbery ’n’ Dash.
The doctors were witnessing the same thing that Lieutenant Stallard had seen a year earlier, in 1997, on the streets. “We had always had people using Lortabs and Percocets, but they were five- or ten-milligram pills you could take every day and still function. They didn’t have to have more,” Stallard said.
“The difference with OxyContin was it turned them into nonfunctioning people”
Though it took nearly a decade before police, the press, and drug-abuse experts fully understood what was happening, Ed Bisch watched the urbanization of the pill epidemic play out on his front lawn in 2001, as paramedics carried his son’s body away.
He retreated to his computer, where he was shocked to learn that his son’s death had been the region’s thirtieth opioid overdose in the past three months.
How was that possible when he’d only just learned the word? “The internet was still new, and back then it was mostly message boards as opposed to websites,” he said.
In the fall of 2006, Purdue’s lawyers began to sense that this case against them was different; that a full-court press meant nothing when the opposing counsel was the United States of America. Was it really possible the small-town lawyers had compiled enough evidence to indict both the company and its top executives on a host of felony charges, not just for misbranding the drug but also for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering? It seemed so, according to a memo written by the federal prosecutors to Brownlee at the time.
Conspicuously absent from the courthouse drama was the family that owned the company and its 214 affiliates worldwide- and benefited the most from the drug’s sale. Purdue had earned over $2.8 billion from the drug by 2007, including $595 million in earnings in 2006 alone. Unlike a public company that answers to shareholders, privately held Purdue answered only to the Sacklers.
In 2015, the family would earn its way onto Forbes’s “America’s Richest Families” list. With an estimated net worth of $14 billion, the OxyContin clan would edge out such storied families as the Busches, Mellons, and Rockefellers. Having gone from selling earwax remover and laxatives to the most lucrative drug in the world, the family had museum wings and college institutes named for it from Boston to Tel Aviv.
In the picturesque Shenandoah Valley town of Woodstock, more than two hours north of Roanoke, bulk heroin cut in a Harlem lab had just made its way down I-81. It was the last thing Shenandoah County sergeant Brent Lutz, a Woodstock native, would have expected to find himself doing: stalking a major heroin dealer. But here he was, at all hours of the day and night, clutching a pair of binoculars while crouched in the upstairs bedroom of his cousin’s house a few miles outside of town. He’d spent so much time there in recent days that the mile-wide stench of chicken entrails coming from George’s Chicken across the road no longer bothered him.