Brow Beat

John Oliver Puts Big Pharma on Blast for Enabling America’s Opioid Epidemic

John Oliver would like to talk to you about drugs. Last Week Tonight has taken on Big Pharma in the past for aggressively marketing its products to doctors, but on Sunday, Oliver called out drug companies once again for their role in an epidemic that’s become particularly hot-button this year: American opioid addiction.

In 2012, doctors wrote more than 250 million prescriptions for opioids, and painkiller overdoses lead to thousands of deaths annually—including one high-profile case that put opioids in the headlines earlier this year. On Sunday night’s episode, Oliver examined the role prescription painkillers have played as a gateway to illicit drugs like heroin and broke down the reasons for their abuse, from physicians overprescribing powerful drugs for minor injuries to pharmaceutical companies like Purdue downplaying the addictiveness of the products.

But according to Oliver, the crisis is less a question of “What did we do wrong?” and more a question of “What do we do now?” A major part of the problem, argued Oliver, is that alternatives to opioids aren’t always available, especially in rural areas. “Alternative pain treatments should be at least as easy to find as Waffle Houses,” Oliver said. “Which, like heroin, are both hazardous to your health and dangerously addictive.” And though drug companies have started to take responsibility, we have a long way to go.