Minhaj chronicled the opioid epidemic and the rise of fentanyl on a recent episode of his Netflix show Patriot Act.
While drug companies like Purdue Pharma, McKesson and Johnson & Johnson fight accusations that they were major contributors to the opioid crisis, a recent episode of Netflix’s Patriot Act came to a clear conclusion. Drug companies, “this crisis is on you.”
The newest episode of Patriot Act—which has covered everything from the dark side of the video game industry to student loans to the streetwear giant Supreme—explores fentanyl.
The Rise Of Painkillers
Minhaj chronicles the rise of prescription opiates like OxyContin, and how that led to rising heroin use followed by rising fentanyl use, often referred to as the “third wave” of the opioid epidemic.
When it was created, fentanyl was intended to treat only severe and intractable pain experienced by cancer patients and those undergoing surgery. However, more people were given access to the powerful synthetic opioid—said to be about 100 times more potent than morphine—for far less severe ailments.
Minhaj cited a JAMA report that revealed that up to half (55.4%) of patients who were prescribed fentanyl painkillers were ineligible for the drug.
The Washington Post reported in February of this year, “The researchers concluded that prescribers, pharmacists, drug companies and the FDA—all of whom had agreed to special rules and monitoring for use of the powerful opioid—had allowed it to fall into the hands of thousands of inappropriate patients. Over time, the FDA and drug companies became aware this was happening but took no action, the researchers found.”
Why were so many doctors prescribing these powerful and addictive drugs inappropriately? Minhaj points to the drug companies, who have been found to promote these drugs through unorthodox (and questionable) means.
Insys Therapeutics, which went bankrupt just days after agreeing to pay $225 million to settle criminal and civil cases with the federal government, was revealed to have employed bizarre rap videos and even lap dancing to entice doctors to prescribe their fentanyl spray, Subsys.
Profiting On The Antidote
Now, companies like Insys and Cephalon (owned by Teva Pharmaceuticals) are banking on naloxone sales.
“They’re unleashing the plague and also selling the antidote,” Minhaj said. “These companies helped fuel the fentanyl crisis on both ends, legal and illegal. When they marketed legal fentanyl to patients who didn’t need it, a lot of people ended up getting hooked. And that intensified the appetite for illegal fentanyl, which is leveling so many communities across the country.”
But somehow, with tens of thousands of Americans dying from opioid-related causes each year, we still have not learned our lesson, Minhaj noted.
Just last November, the Food and Drug Administration approved an even more powerful opioid, Dsuvia, a pill 10 times stronger than fentanyl and up to 1000 times stronger than morphine. Critics called the move “reckless.”
“What could possibly go wrong? We know the problems this is going to bring,” Minhaj said. “How do we make sure this drug only gets to the right people? How do we make sure people don’t get addicted to it? And how do we make sure it doesn’t start killing people like the people I knew who never even intended to take it in the first place?”
“Unless you can answer those questions, guess what, pharmaceutical companies? This crisis is on you.”