One Senator is Putting Pressure on Pharmaceutical Companies

Claire McCaskill

While U.S. politicians have historically left pharmaceutical organizations alone and have even, in fact, flowed them power, one U.S. Senator is making waves by doing the exact opposite. In fact, this U.S. Senator is going after huge, multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors alike for the hand they have played in the creation and the continuation of the opioid addiction epidemic.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was able to prove through her investigation that Insys Therapeutics committed extremely illegal acts for profit. Insys Therapeutics manipulated authorization for its own fentanyl drug without proper compliance from authorizing bodies. This became the tip of the iceberg that was McCaskill’s investigation into Big Pharma. McCaskill wanted to expose the part that the pharmaceutical giants played in the creation and the continuation of the opioid epidemic, and so far the Senator has been doing a very good job at this.

McCaskill Vs. Big Pharma

Senator McCaskill had long been an adversary on the political floor to pharmaceutical lobbyists, insisting that pharmaceutical manufacturers were making highly addictive drugs that were not in patients’ best interests and that Congress should stop supporting those efforts. According to McCaskill:

“There is extensive evidence that Insys aggressively pressured its employees and the entire medical system to increase the use of a fentanyl product during a national epidemic that was taking the lives of tens of thousands of Americans a year in order to make more money—it’s hard to imagine anything more despicable…”

There is extensive evidence that Insys aggressively pressured its employees and the entire medical system to increase the use of a fentanyl product during a national epidemic that was taking the lives of tens of thousands of Americans a year in order to make more money—it's hard to imagine anything more despicable. Their attempts to manipulate the prescription approval process for this drug appear to have been systemic, and anyone responsible for this manipulation deserves to be prosecuted.

Subsys is a high-strength, fentanyl-based opioid pain reliever that was made for cancer patients only. However, McCaskill’s investigators were able to prove that Insys Pharmaceuticals’ employees manipulated the authorization documents to read that Subsys could be prescribed to non-cancer patients, patients who suffered from every-day pain problems like back pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, jaw pain, etc.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, McCaskill was able to prove that Insys Pharmaceuticals misrepresented and lied about Subsys from the get-go, all to get the original authorization for the drug, which they then manipulated! These are high crimes, terrible acts of manipulation and profiteering, all acts that should be fully prosecuted.

Insys Pharmaceuticals is not the only pharmaceutical company that Senator McCaskill has gone after either. She has also initiated inquiries into:

  • Purdue Pharmaceuticals
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Mylan
  • Depomed
  • Mallinckrodt
  • Endo
  • Teva
  • Allergan
  • McKesson Corporation
  • AmerisourceBergen Corporation
  • Cardinal Health

About one-hundred and fifteen Americans die from overdoses on opioids every single day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sixty-four-thousand Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, and numbers for 2017 have not even been fully recorded yet. The opioid addiction issue, along with other drug overdoses, is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States and the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind only smoking and obesity.

Protest poster against pharmacy companies.
(To preserve privacy, the photo does not show the people featured in this article. Photo by Heidi Besen/

The CDC measures a three-hundred percent increase in opioid prescribing since 1999. As prescribing trends for opioid painkillers have increased every year since the turn of the century, so have overdose deaths and addiction rates. The culprit here is an obvious one, and Senator McCaskill has seen the writing on the wall better than most.

Just in the last three years, public attention is slowly but surely beginning to focus on the opioid addiction crisis. In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid addiction epidemic a “National Public Health Emergency.” But still, we see pharmaceutical giants getting away with the production of the very drugs that are causing this emergency. And Congress is letting them do it too, which we will touch on later.

Nationwide Disagreement with America’s Current, Pharmaceutical Condition

The Senator is not the only person concerned about the opioid addiction crisis. Millions of Americans are quite concerned about this problem. Even the doctors themselves who have to prescribe painkillers to pain patients have their own misgivings about the substances. This is good news, because if enough doctors become fed up with having to prescribe such dangerous and obviously harmful drugs, we may see some real changes in how medicine is done in the U.S.

In just one example of doctors expressing their difficulties in the pain sector, Dr. Daniel Alford, professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, spoke on the challenge that doctor’s face, the different types of pain, and how doctors must be able to differentiate between these many, interspersed factors. His words remind us of the struggle that doctors face, and how pharmaceutical companies have taken advantage of that struggle:

They don't look sick like someone with acute pain does. When you have acute pain, your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, and you look terrible. But with chronic pain, you can look like anyone else but you have this terrible chronic pain. Because there are no visible signs of chronic pain, doctors are often skeptical of whether patients who claim to feel chronic pain are feeling pain at all.

There are about nine-hundred thousand doctors in the United States, and several million nurses. Every doctor must contend with patients who struggle with pain, pain being one of the most difficult human phenomena to graph, record, measure, etc. And when doctors are given faulty, dangerous, self-destructive tools (pharmaceutical opioids) to address their patients’ pain with, it is no wonder that doctors often struggle with finding the right medical solutions for their patients.

21st-Century “Cures” not a Cure at All

We should applaud Senator McCaskill’s effort, as she is a drop of clean water in an ocean of muddy politics. But her work is far from done. In just one example of the work that is yet to be done, 2016 saw the “21st-Century Cures Act” bill being passed, a nine-hundred and ninety-six-page healthcare bill that was designed to reduce authorization restrictions and regulatory steps necessary for pharmaceutical companies to get drugs approved. In a direct quote from the FDA:

“The 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), signed into law on December 13, 2016, is designed to help accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations and advances to patients who need them faster and more efficiently.”

But many Senators and Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, along with millions of Americans, believe that the 21st-Century Cures Act is simply a front for giving pharmaceutical companies more power and more ability to push dangerous and addictive medicines through the FDA, quickly, before anyone can stop them. The 21st-Century Cures Act is just another reminder, like countless others, why we must continue to insist that the American people be treated with drugs that are not addictive and that do not pose a risk for overdose and death.

This has to be the focus going forward. We need better medical solutions, and we need them immediately. A solution that creates addicts and that kills tens of thousands of Americans a year is not a solution at all. The United States has one of the most advanced medical systems in the world. It is time that the health and well-being of our patients showed it.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.