Prescription Drugs (2)

The federal government has a responsibility to impartially prosecute federal crime throughout the United States. 

Investigators are only given a specific amount of tools to achieve the goal. That is only right and just. The tools should be used without thought or bias that would cloud how, and to whom, the law is applied. 

Currently, our nation is fighting the largest battle facing our civilian population. More people than ever are addicted and dying from drugs, specifically opiates. 

Not long ago, there was a news story about a three-year-old child living for several days in an apartment in Connecticut with her dead mother's body. The report stated there was nothing suspicious at the scene, but the mother had a history of arrests for narcotics. The child survived for days by eating cereal that spilled on the floor. I never heard about the official toxicology results, but I am certain the mother died from a drug overdose. 

While the details of this incident are horrific, can you imagine the life that child had before her mother's death? As a recently retired federal narcotics investigator, I have seen it all too many times. I identified, disrupted and dismantled international and domestic illicit drug distribution networks for 20-plus years. The majority of my career was spent investigating heroin and opioid distributors, even spending two years in Afghanistan - the perceived heart of opium poppy cultivation. Excluding those years in Afghanistan, the last 12 years of my investigations focused on opiate overdose deaths. I saw the ravages of the "opioid crisis" before that phrase became a political football. 

I have personally interviewed dozens of opiate addicts, and with few exceptions, their stories followed the same pattern; an injury led to prescribed prescription pain pills. As the user's tolerance grew, more pills were added. If the user could not afford the cost of more and more pain medication, or the doctor would not prescribe enough to keep the pain at bay, the user turned to the street, anything to “keep the sick (withdrawal symptoms) off.” 

Those of us on the front lines were well aware the over-prescribing of pain pills was going to turn into a domestic drug nightmare. 

Throughout the years, I learned about the misleading and aggressive marketing practices used by big pharma. I learned about the incomprehensible volume of pills sent to cities across the U.S. 

What I learned recently was even more alarming. Court records revealed Johnson & Johnson bought their own opium poppy fields in Tasmania, and developed their own strain of poppy not only for their own pain pill formulations, but to sell to the other pharmaceutical companies for their proprietary compounds. 

I was trained to work up the levels of distribution networks to, if possible, the cartel. Records indicated Johnson & Johnson hid their ownership of the poppy fields through a series of subsidiaries. They profited from flooding the market with their product. They profited from the marketing techniques that pushed their drug. The structure and operation of Johnson & Johnson is no different from the illegitimate drug cartels I spent years chasing. Johnson & Johnson has violated federal law. They were identified in court as "kingpins." 

They should be held criminally responsible just like the leaders of any other drug trafficking cartel. I was also trained to focus on the money - that the seizure of assets hit harder than the threat of imprisonment. Documents indicate that pharmaceutical executives at the highest level were aware of the damage created by their marketing, and they continued. It was foreseeable that people would be seriously injured or die from the sales of their product, and they continued. 

I will never know for certain if that mother dead in her apartment started with a legitimate prescription, but odds are her story is similar to thousands of other opiate users. Communities and families have been ravaged, and while holding these companies and executives responsible will not hold back the tide of deaths; maybe, just maybe, it will show that our system of justice is truly fair. 

Ellen Roy is a retired DEA agent from Sumner County.

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