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Accountability for the 400,000 Deaths: The RICO Act’s Application in the Legal Opioid Industry

By Holden LeBlanc, VI Form

Accountability for the 400,000 Deaths: The RICO Act’s Application in the Legal Opioid Industry

Carolyn Markland, a grandmother from Jacksonville, Florida, was a lover of animals and spent years fostering rescue pets after retiring as an environmental engineer. Markland, however, struggled with back pain due to a degenerative disc disease for years. After trying different medications with little relief, a doctor prescribed Markland the fentanyl-based drug Subsys to subdue her pain. Markland took a dose of Subsys before going to sleep on July 2, 2014. When Markland’s daughter went to check on her mother the next day, she discovered her dead in her bed with a Subsys canister lying at her side. Although Markland’s overdose was the first death connected to Subsys, many more were looming. Along with thousands of others, Markland died from overdosing on prescription opioids, but to understand how this happened, it is essential to recognize the changes in the United States’ policy towards opioids.

Opium, the active ingredient in opioids, is a substance that blocks pain by stimulating the release of the chemical dopamine in the body. Opium is a naturally occurring substance found in poppy plants, which humans have cultivated for centuries seeking their medicinal effect. For most of America’s history, up until the mid-twentieth century, doctors utilized opioids like morphine and later heroin as a crude form of anesthesia for surgery and for managing debilitating pain. After soldiers who received these powerful opioids became addicted in the early twentieth century, however, the United States government banned heroin and severely limited morphine use in 1924. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, opioid use in the U.S. remained relatively low, as much of the population viewed partaking in drug culture as morally wrong and deviant.

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