Last year, 72,000 people died from drug overdoses in this country. Many of them, as we all know, were young people, and most became addicted from using prescription opioids.
60 Minutes recently exposed the role that some of America’s biggest corporations—prescription drug distributors in particular—are playing in our growing opioid epidemic. The distributors have been shipping unbelievably high quantities of opioids to rogue pharmacies and pain clinics across the United States. For example, a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, which has a population of 392, ordered nine million opioid pills over two years from drug distributors.
As the former head of PR for a big health care corporation, I can assure you that when you’re the target of a 60 Minutes investigation, you’ve got a PR crisis on your hands. And what you do to keep your job is go into damage control mode right away and to try to get people to believe your company is part of the solution, not part of the problem. One way of doing that is to launch a PR campaign to get the media—and the politicians you give money to—to portray your company as a good corporate citizen.
One of the big distributors, AmerisourceBergen appears to be doing just that. The company created a foundation, led by the head of its marketing and PR department, to give away money its executives say is aimed at preventing opioid misuse and promoting recovery.
As The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported, AmerisourceBergen’s foundation has started giving money to police departments and nonprofit groups. At the same time, though, according to the Inquirer, and I quote: “The company’s foundation grants have set the stage for press events, social media posts, and rosy PR materials with members of Congress, including those who have received contributions from the company’s political action committee or lobbyists.”
So far this year, the foundation has made a little more than $800,000 in grants to a few communities. $50,000 was used to sponsor a one-day symposium in Philadelphia.
I don’t want to belittle the importance of scattering $800,000 around the country to help with the opioid epidemic. But let’s put that figure in perspective. AmerisourceBergen ranks 12th on the Fortune 500 list. It took in $164 billion dollars in revenue last year, the same year it’s CEO, Steven Collis, was paid $10 million.
Here’s another way of looking at that: Collis was paid more in one month last year than the total amount of money the foundation has doled out so far this year.
Here’s what Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, had to say about big drug companies and distributors like AmerisourceBergen and their role in the opioid epidemic:
“You can think of the manufacturers as having lit the fire. The distributors really poured fuel on the fire. And then I would say the manufacturers and distributors together prevented the fire department from putting out the fire.”
Meanwhile, while you’ve been watching this video, someone, maybe even someone you know, has died from an opioid overdose. We lose 115 people every single day from this epidemic.
$800,000, in my humble opinion, is hardly a drop in the bucket of what those companies should be spending to help end this epidemic. And they need to stop flooding the country with opioids, even if it means a little less profit.