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John Oliver Takes on America’s Opioid Crisis on Last Week Tonight

Some 2.6 million Americans are addicted to opioids, many of whom start with an addiction to prescription painkillers

John Oliver tackled America’s opioid crisis on Last Week Tonight on Sunday. He started his reporting with a dog who overdosed after someone threw a bag of heroin over the fence of a doggy day care center. (See below for Oliver’s impression of a stoned dog.) “Rampant heroin abuse near a doggy day care is the first case that McGruff the Crime Dog is actually qualified to solve,” Oliver noted.

According to Oliver’s research, some 2.6 million Americans are addicted to opioids, many of whom start with an addiction to prescription painkillers, but turn to heroin, in part because it is cheaper than drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin.

In the U.S., doctors have written more than 250 million prescriptions for painkillers, according the U.S. Surgeon General, which demonstrates a reversal from a long history of “opiophobia” among medical professionals. Opiophobia is the resistance by doctors to prescribing opiate painkillers and, according to Oliver, is “not to be confused with Oprah-phobia which is the irrational fear of screaming talk show hosts giving you a free sedan.”

The pharmaceutical industry worked to change that resistance, though, in order to peddle their painkillers. It’s their marketing of painkillers that earned the majority of Oliver’s ire, as well as that of the Federal Trade Commission. In fact, several of the pharmaceutical have been fined for their misleading marketing of painkillers, but the damage has been done.

Opioids remain the most effective way to treat certain types of pain and alternatives are hard to come by, especially in many rural areas of the country. “Alternative pain treatments should be at least as easy to find as Waffle Houses, which, like heroin, are both hazardous to your health and dangerously addictive,” according to Oliver.


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