Durbin Gives Pharma Fleece Award To Opioid Companies That Fueled Addiction Epidemic

Durbin highlights effort to lower DEA opioid quotas & slams Big Pharma in continued series of floor speeches highlighting pharmaceutical greed

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today on the Senate floor, as part of his continued “Pharma Fleece Awards” series of floor speeches highlighting egregious cases of pharmaceutical industry greed, slammed drug manufacturers and distributors for igniting the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic by flooding the United States with tens of billions of opioid doses. A story by the Washington Post published last night found that Big Pharma saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills between 2006 and 2012.  Last year 2,062 people in Illinois died from an opioid overdose. 

“There is no denying how this epidemic was ignited.  For years, the pharmaceutical industry wildly mischaracterized the risk of opioids, falsely claiming they were less addictive and less harmful, that these painkillers should be prescribed for common aches and pains even when the industry itself had information proving the dangers of such long-term use,” Durbin said.

Durbin highlighted that the pharmaceutical industry’s reckless and profit-driven behavior was aided by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) permitting ever-greater volumes of opioids to be manufactured each year.  Between 1993 and 2015, the DEA, which is responsible for setting annual quotas for the production of opioids in America, allowed production of oxycodone to increase 39-fold, from 3.5 tons to 151 tons.  Hydrocodone increased 12-fold, and fentanyl increased 25-fold, during that same period of time.

“In fact, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States produced 14 billion opioid pills in 2016 alone.  Enough pills, opioid pills, for every adult in America to have a three-week supply of opioids.  Who would approve the production of 14 billion opioid pills in one year, 2016?  Turns out it was your government,” Durbin continued. 

In 2018, Durbin and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) passed a bipartisan bill that enhanced the DEA’s existing opioid quota-setting authority by ensuring that DEA considers addiction, overdose, and public health effects when setting opioid production quota levels.  The Opioid Quota Reform Act preserves access for legitimate medical use while strengthening DEA’s ability to sensibly and proactively adjust quotas on the front end to prevent over-supply by the pharmaceutical industry.  Since Durbin’s first engagement with DEA in 2016 on their excessively high opioid production quotas, DEA has lowered opioid quotas by an average of 46 percent between 2016 and 2019. 

Durbin concluded his speech by stating that should the ongoing federal opioid litigation in Cleveland, Ohio, result in large monetary settlements from the manufacturers, it is essential that this funding be dedicated to legitimate public health efforts to respond to the current epidemic and prevent the next one.  Durbin, along with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), recently authored an opinion piece in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer  explaining how the diversion of money from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement away from public health purposes should be a cautionary tale that guides efforts to heal from the opioid epidemic.  

“If Big Pharma is held to account for fueling this crisis, their restitution should be devoted to helping our nation heal,” Durbin concluded. 

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.