My Sister Died of an Overdose of Prescription Painkillers

Date: Sunday, August 10, 2014 10:36 AM
Category: Allgov Blogs

One year ago today, my sister, Amy Wallace, died of an overdose of prescription painkillers. She had prescriptions for some drugs, but supplemented her allowance by using online pharmacies. Those wanting to know more about Amy can scroll through video of her memorial service here.


What I want to discuss is the Obama administration’s refusal to deal seriously with the epidemic of deaths from prescription drug overdoses. I run a web site,, which monitors the activities of more than 330 departments and agencies of the U.S. Government. Not realizing that someday this problem would hit so close to home, my staff and I made it a point of writing about the prescription drug overdose epidemic at least once a year.


Here’s a sampling of our headlines:


Florida: More Deaths from Oxycodone than Cocaine

Prescription Drugs Cause More Deaths than Illegal Drugs

Drug Addiction in Oklahoma Costs More than Entire State Budget

Another State Reports Uncontrolled Rise in Prescription Drug Abuse

Drug Overdose Deaths Up for 11th Year in Row


You get the picture. In each year since 2007, prescription opioid painkillers caused more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. All over the United States, hospitals, police departments and sheriff departments have been trying to deal with the unnecessary rise in lethal overdoses of prescription painkillers. The Obama administration has shown little interest in acting.


It’s not hard to figure out why.  The drugs that my sister and others overdosed on are produced by large pharmaceutical firms that spend millions of dollars on lobbying. To them, sales of their products mean nothing more than increased revenue. If their products are filtered to the public through shady online pharmacies and end up being the cause of death of thousands of Americans, that’s simply not relevant. Both major political parties want campaign donations from the pharmaceutical industry, so the consequences of the sale of prescription painkillers are not relevant to them either.


After four years of being President Barack Obama’s “drug czar,” Gil Kerlikowske suddenly discovered the prescription drug death crisis. By this time, prescription drug overdoses had become the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., surpassing gunshot wounds and automobile accidents. “We weren’t paying attention to it,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee. Tell that to ER workers and law enforcement agents around the country…not to mention Americans who lost loved ones.


Every now and then, Obama administration officials or members of Congress will perk up and say something or advocate a minor fix, but it’s pretty much hot air. The most cynical action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) occurred two months after my sister died.  The FDA reclassified certain painkillers to make them better regulated and announced that for certain drug combinations, patients would be limited to a 90-day supply and would have to return to a doctor for a refill prescription. Pretty tough stuff, huh?


But the very next day, the FDA, overruling its own expert panel, approved the production and distribution of a new painkiller, Zohydro ER, the first hydrocodone-only opioid, that’s considered at least five times stronger than heroin. Thanks FDA.


I understand that my sister made her own decisions about her life and that she was ultimately responsible for her own death. I also know that there are individuals in the Obama administration who are doing what they can to crack down on online pharmacies. For example, just three weeks ago, a federal grand jury indicted FedEx for knowingly shipping illegal drugs from online pharmacies to consumers despite having been warned by the federal government at least six times that it was acting as a drug courier. FedEx faces fines of up to $820 million, but unlike small-time drug couriers, no one at the company faces jail time over the charges.


Not until the executives of pharmaceutical companies and the executives of enabling companies, like FedEx, face criminal charges as individuals, is there any hope for seriously reducing the number of victims of prescription drug overdoses…and the number of Americans who wake up one morning to learn, as I did one year ago today, that they have lost a loved one.

Latest News

Victories against Voter ID Laws in the Courts Don’t Always Erase Voting Restrictions at the Polls

In an election year when turnout could be crucial, many factors — foot-dragging by states, confusion among voters, the inability of judges to roll back bias — are blunting the effect of court rulings against the laws. The courts’ effort “in practice so far has not fixed problems for voters facing special burdens to produce identification,” said Prof. Hasen. Some courts said laws were biased against minorities, but ordered state officials to modify the laws instead of striking them down.   read more

Whistleblower Alleges Culture of Intimidation at Pentagon’s Contract Auditing Agency

Potential whistleblowers throughout DCAA have been intimidated into silence because they can’t afford to risk being transferred across the country, demoted, or fired. McGill claims he was subjected to retaliation for blowing the whistle that included workplace harassment, a negative performance evaluation, removal of duties, an involuntary transfer, and a five-day unpaid suspension. Under increasing pressure and mounting stress, McGill resigned.   read more

Pentagon’s Focus on Artificial Intelligence in Weaponry Portends Robot Arms Race

Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the U.S.’ position as the world’s dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.   read more

Judge Orders ExxonMobil to Release Financial Records in Climate-Change Fraud Investigation

Schneiderman celebrated the court's order and vowed to move "full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon. I hope that today's order serves as a wakeup call..." The requested files could shine a light on the Exxon's "representations about the impact of climate change on its business." Schneiderman said his investigation could uncover a "massive securities fraud" if he proves that ExxonMobil knew that climate change would force the company to leave vast reserves of oil in the ground.   read more

Utah School System Sued for Abusive Policies toward Gay Students

Utah schools unconstitutionally subject homosexual students to harassment and bullying, censor their speech, violate their right to association and won't even let them mention gay issues in a positive way, parents claim in Federal Court. They accuse the state of "facially targeting lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons for disparate treatment" and, in at least one case, the parents say, the state schools "refused to protect a gender nonconforming student from bullying and harassment."   read more
see more...