Year of Publication



Undergraduate Education


This paper elucidates the humanistic elements of this crisis, that is, the ethical challenges it poses and the role of culture in it. The opioid crisis disturbs several bioethics principles as indicated by the fact that it burgeoned out of the health care system as opposed to the illicit environments of the underground market. The book Dreamland by investigative journalist and storyteller, Sam Quinones encapsulates the complexity of the opioid epidemic through research and interviews with important figures related to the crisis such as physicians, people with opioid use disorder, and pharmaceutical sales representatives, among others. Quinones details that the first wave of the opioid crisis involved various actors, but the most important was Purdue Pharma. Purdue Pharma was an emerging pharmaceutical titan widely known to pain specialists during the time preceding the opioid epidemic.5 At the time, the company’s most notable market success was its opioid, MS Contin®, a morphine reformulation that was particularly successful at treating cancer patients.6 Pain medications like MS Contin® are powerful agents for pain treatment but given their addictive properties, marketing of these medicines is limited. Consequently, the company capable of creating an equally effective medicine with reduced addiction risks would have created the long-awaited "Holy Grail" of pain management.7 Purdue Pharma claimed that it created such a drug with OxyContin®, the pain medication that sparked the first wave of the opioid epidemic.

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