It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that when you have an epidemic like the opioid epidemic we have right now in this country, there's going to be someone out there who sees a gigantic opportunity to profit off of the situation. That is essentially what mental health advocate Steve McCaffrey has been trying to do.
McCaffrey has a history of advising lawmakers on how to combat the opioid epidemic. Two years ago, McCaffrey spoke at the Indiana statehouse, lobbying for "evidence-based treatment" and testifying in favor of a bill that would support addiction treatment. However, the truth about the bill was that it would make access to certain addiction medications more difficult – medications that many patients use and depend on. The goal of the bill was instead to drive doctors toward one drug in particular: Vivitrol.
Vivitrol is a shot that is administered once a month. It is one of only a handful of FDA-approved treatments out there for addictions to opioids and alcohol. Something interesting about McCaffrey that the lawmakers who were listening to him lobby for this bill didn't know: McCaffrey also lobbies for Alkermes, the company that manufactures Vivitrol.
Why is this such a bad thing? Well, because as per an investigation that was conducted, in part, by NPR, Alkermes has been spreading misconceptions and stigmas associated with the other medications that are used to treat opioid addiction in an effort to put down alternatives and pump up their own drug. Alkermes is relying on policy to promote Vivitrol and, in the process, is trying to essentially become a monopoly in the drug treatment market by obstructing access to other medications that can help those who are suffering.
Fighting the opioid epidemic becomes more of an urgent issue every day. The number of people who have died from an opioid-related overdose has quadrupled for the period of 1999 to 2015. That is an average of about 90 people per day who are dying from an opioid-related overdose in this country. Fatal car accidents have actually taken a step back to fatal overdoses, with opioids being the culprit in most of them. That is why it is ever-so-important that we try to work together to fight the problem, rather than dividing in an effort to make a quick buck.
However, people also hold conflicting opinions insofar as using medication as a treatment option at all. Medical researchers have demonstrated that medication is a standard in addiction treatment, especially when combined with counseling and social support. Medication can save lives and prevent people from relapsing. However, those who oppose the use of medication believe that all you're doing is trading one addiction for another. They believe that medication is a crutch, and that addiction is more of a moral or spiritual problem that can be overcome by faith or willpower.
This is why it is difficult to beat the stigmas surrounding drug treatment, particularly two drugs that are actually opioids themselves: methadone and Suboxone. Both drugs are used to reduce drug cravings and to prevent withdrawal. However, it is difficult to get those who are against "swapping one drug for another" to allow drugs to be treated with more drugs. And it is twice as difficult to do that when there is a company out there that is continuing to spread these stigmas for the purpose of monetary gain.