Oct 25 7:00 PM

Opioid Wars

In the midst of the worst epidemic of drug addiction and overdose in U.S. history, Fault Lines investigates why the FDA approved a powerful new opioid painkiller.

Joel Van Haren for Al Jazeera America

Behind the recent flurry of headlines about a massive surge in heroin use is a much more widespread wave of addiction to legal opioids—OxyContin, Vicodin and other painkillers.

One recent study found that 4 in 5 heroin users previously abused prescription opioids. In the last 15 years, at least 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid abuse. 

Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a powerful, new painkiller called Zohydro, a pure form of hydrocodone that contains five to 10 times the opiate level of Vicodin. The FDA approved Zohydro even though its own advisory committee voted 11 to 2 against approval, citing the drug’s potential to exacerbate the opioid abuse epidemic.

Fault Lines examines the opioid epidemic in the U.S., and asks whether federal drug policy privileges Big Pharma’s bottom line over larger concerns of public health.

Executive Producer: Mathieu Skene, Senior Producer: Carrie Lozano @carrielozano, Correspondent: Sebastian Walker @sebwalker, Producer: Samuel Black @potter_black, Director of Photography: Joel Van Haren @joelvanharen, Editor: Lindy Jankura @lindyjank, Associate Producer: Abdulai Bah @africandobah, Digital Producer: Nikhil Swaminathan @sw4mi, Production Managers: Shannon Stanley @ShanStan, Dana Merwin @dana_merwin, Production Assistance: Lauren Rosenfeld @lollymr, Deborah Reeb, Mark Kurlyandchik @MKurlyandchik, Lynne Shallcross @LShallcross, Sara Lafleur-Vetter @lafleurius

More from This Episode

More on Opioid Addiction

DEA imposes restrictions on hydrocodone amid painkiller addiction epidemic

The new regulations reclassify Vicodin and similar drugs to same category as cocaine, limits prescriptions to 90 days

Public Health

Groups call for FDA chief’s replacement amid painkiller abuse ‘epidemic’

Fed Up Coalition: ‘Without new leadership at the FDA, the opioid crisis will continue unabated’


A Lazarus drug goes mainstream in the heroin war

In Georgia, race of overdose victims may be a factor in new legislation expanding access to naloxone



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