As the United States rushes to catch up in the ongoing opiate crisis invading small towns and homes nationwide, it becomes most important to talk to those most affected and find out just how this all began.

That’s exactly what happened on Monday evening as MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders for “All In with Bernie” to talk to the real people of West Virginia’s coal country and discuss, among other things, the growing opiate epidemic. During their discussions, residents highlighted the biggest culprit in the growing issue: big pharma.

In this particular town of Kermit, West Virginia, a man shared big pharma’s secret: in a town of just 400 people – average Americans, most of which are low-income – three separate pharmaceutical companies sent 4,194,000 opiate pills for distribution. With that glut of pills and the incentive and pressure that no doubt accompanied them, can you imagine that the doctors in that small town treated them like the dangerously addictive drugs that they are?

Instead, they were likely handed out like candy to the hard-working coal miners and grocery store clerks in the town. Now Kermit, like so many other small towns in the rust belt, has itself an opiate epidemic and is suing drug distributors for their gross pushing of addictive pain pills. 

As we already understand it, when looking at an increase in dependency on opiates and even heroin, big pharma plays the primary role. After all, it was their aggressive marketing and courting of doctors in big cities and small towns alike that led to an explosion in the prescription of highly addicted opiates.

Just a few years ago, a 19-year-old with a severely broken wrist was handed a fistful of pills and given little to no warning that he would spend the next several years chasing after more. Prescriptions for Oxycodone or Percocet were handed out like allergy pills and the result was that thousands quickly found themselves addicted. Minor afflictions like back pain were treated with dependence-heavy opiates, and rather than having back pain, regular Americans left their doctor’s office with a newfound addiction. Hard-working Americans who had never dabbled in drugs found themselves lying to doctors to get more pills, even breaking their own bones to justify the prescriptions. Others found that heroine could provide a similar high for a lower price. They moved from snorting, to smoking, to injecting with dirty needles. In some cases, they moved beyond heroin to fentanyl, an even more dangerous drug that is incredibly unpredictable. 

Now, small towns across the country find themselves running out of room in morgues thanks to constant opiate or heroin overdoses. Elsewhere, towns find that their public funding for funerals has been depleted because of the number of burials they must perform.

While Big Pharma would love to continue delivering opiates by the barrel-full, the American public is catching on. And while we can only try and help those already addicted, awareness campaigns and stricter prescribing is the key to squashing this tragic trend.



Sydney Robinson is a political writer for the Ring of Fire Network. She has also appeared in political news videos for Ring of Fire. Sydney has a degree in English Literature from the University of West Florida, and has an active interest in politics, social justice, and environmental issues. She would love to hear from you on Twitter @SydneyMkay or via email at