protest oxycontin overdoses Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

How to Help Deflate America’s Opioid Bubble

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 130 or more people died from opioid-related drug overdoses each day in 2016 and 2017. Most were probably victims of the same type of marketing tactics that led to the 2008 global financial crisis.

BRUSSELS – The opioid epidemic in the United States, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public-health emergency in 2017, continues to escalate. To figure out how to resolve it, policymakers should look for lessons in what may seem to be an unrelated episode: the 2008 global financial crisis.

To be sure, the HHS has recently introduced a new coordinated strategy to address the opioid crisis. That strategy includes the Food and Drug Administration’s Opioids Action Plan, which aims to reexamine the underlying risk-benefit paradigm for opioids and to reduce the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers through education programs.

But the HHS strategy fails to address adequately one of the main causes of the opioid crisis: aggressive commercial and marketing tactics by pharmaceutical companies. While the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion focuses on “ensuring that prescription drug information is truthful, balanced, and accurately communicated,” it does not do enough to control the incentives provided by drug manufacturers to prescribers and patients.