Sanders Demands Investigation into Pharma’s Role in Opioid Epidemic

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to investigate the role of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors in precipitating and exacerbating the deadly opioid crisis.

Sanders demanded in a letter to Alexander Monday that, for the first-time, executives of the pharmaceutical industry testify before Congress about what their companies did or did not know regarding the addictiveness of prescription opioids while they were flooding towns across the U.S. with far more pills than they could ever need. 

In 2016, more than 63,000 people died from opioid overdoses and according to the Centers for Disease Control the epidemic is costing the United States more than $78 billion every year.

“This crisis did not happen in a vacuum. Thanks to the work of many investigative journalists, we know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of the drugs. In other words, they knew how dangerous these products were, but refused to tell doctors and patients,” Sanders wrote in the letter. “Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in this crisis.”

“It is time for the United States Congress to investigate this crisis, to learn what the drug companies knew about these products, and to hold them accountable in helping communities all over this country address this deadly and expensive crisis.”

Sanders called on Alexander to investigate the pharmaceutical industry’s practices, apply tactics similar to those used against the tobacco industry.

“As you may recall, on April 14, 1994, the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco companies testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and Environment in an historic hearing. That committee had the courage to demand that the leading executives of the tobacco industry tell the American people what they knew and when they knew that tobacco was addictive, a major health hazard, and had killed millions of people,” Sanders wrote.

That hearing eventually led to significant change. The FDA now regulates tobacco and states were able to reach a $246 billion settlement with the tobacco industry.

“Now the time has come for Congress to summon that courage again and bring the executives of the pharmaceutical industry before our committee to investigate these companies’ knowledge of the addictive properties of opioids,” Sanders said.

He also announced plans to introduce legislation to hold opioid producers and distributers accountable for the destruction they have caused.

Read Sanders’ letter here.