Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The U.S. Science and Technology "Triple Threat": A Regulatory Treatment Plan for the Nation's Addiction to Prescription Opioids

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The U.S. Science and Technology "Triple Threat": A Regulatory Treatment Plan for the Nation's Addiction to Prescription Opioids

Article excerpt


The United States government has demonstrated heightened self-awareness that it is a nation addicted to opioids. "National public health emergency," "unprecedented epidemic," "national crisis"-it has self-declared its state of opioid addiction, the equivalent of the nation introducing itself at a twelve-step meeting with, "I am the U.S., and I am an opioid addict." As the National Institutes on Health ("NIH") summarized:

Opioid addiction, misuse and overdose is an ongoing and rapidly evolving public health crisis. An estimated 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and approximately 25 million suffer daily from chronic pain. Following a rapid increase in rates of opioid pain reliever prescribing, widespread use and misuse of these medications has risen at an alarming rate, giving way to a nation-wide crisis. Heroin use and addiction are now on the rise as some people shift from prescription opioids to their cheaper street relative. For Americans under 50 years of age, drug overdose is the leading cause of death.1

Through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") and other authorities, the U.S. has documented its addiction empirically, and the numbers resonate deafeningly. Some of the sharpest are that the number of annual opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. now roughly equals the number of adults in the U.S. population.2 There were almost 19,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2014 associated with prescription opioids (approximately fifty-two daily), and more than 50,000 in 2015 and 64,000 in 2017-most of which involved opioids.3 Even more troubling, the number is escalating "faster than ever."4 In fact, deaths in the U.S. from opioid overdoses now exceed the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.5 The pain, suffering, and financial harm attributable to the opioid crisis that individuals, families, and communities throughout the country have endured is vastly more expansive, ongoing, and spreading.6

This Article addresses the U.S. government's responsiveness to the opioid crisis thus far, with a focus on achieving true national recovery. After profiling the scope of the U.S. opioid epidemic in Part II, the discussion in Part III centers on government responsiveness to the prescription opioid problem. Key U.S. government agencies have recognized the importance of intra-agency, interdisciplinary (particularly at the nexus areas among government agencies, biopharmaceutical R&D, and clinical medicine), and governmentindustry collaboration as essential for national opioid addiction recovery. There are shortcomings, however, that make responsiveness with the levels of efficacy and efficiency so direly needed-what recognition of "national public health emergency" status of the opioid epidemic underscores-questionable.

In Part IV, the Article proposes that the U.S. more fully, directly, and aggressively embrace its legacy of jolting the existing forefront of science forward through a government-academia-industry "triple threat" with the potential of placing the opioid crisis on the nation's continuum of enormous challenges that it has overcome. This continuum spans from splitting the atom to save democratic society during WWII, to landing a man on the moon during the Cold War, to mapping the human genome, and beyond. The Article concludes that, to realize a treatment plan sufficiently responsive to the nation's prescription opioid crisis, the U.S. must utilize the governmentacademia-industry trilogy as aggressively as it has in the past, with centralized leadership and sufficient funding, to conquer otherwise insurmountable challenges.

II.Addiction by Prescription

While stretching to reach the corner of the vaulted ceiling in her client's mid-century living room, Sydney loses her balance, falls off the ladder, and ends up flat on her back, sprawled on the terrazzo floor. Seth, running into Publix Super Market to pick up some baby formula during one of the afternoon showers so typical in Southern Florida, slips in the store aisle and falls on his hip, which will require surgery. …

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