RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -- Heroin use and overdoses are skyrocketing across the country. Some say the federal agency that's supposed to protect the public's health may be to blame for America's addiction.
It's estimated four out of five heroin users started out misusing prescription pain pills or opioids. Virginia is not immune to the problem. In fact, Andrew Barnes, Ph.D.,Assistant Professor for Healthcare and Policy Research at VCU, says overdoses are very prevalent in Virginia.
"You're more likely to die of an overdose in this state than a car crash," Barnes said.
VCU researchers recently found that overdoses from heroin and pain pills kill at least two Virginians every day.
"Of the approximately 1000 overdoses a year in Virginia, 80 percent have to do with prescription opioids or heroin," Banes said.
Some lawmakers, like Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, point the finger of blame at the Food and Drug Administration. He says the FDA, the very agency in charge of protecting our health, enabled the epidemic.
"Yes the FDA stands for Food and Drug Administration, but over the last 20 years it really stands for fostering drug addiction," Markey said. "It has to end."
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, one of the nation's leading experts on prescription opioids and the heroin crisis, agrees.
"They allow these drugs to be promoted as safe and effective for conditions that are not safe or effective," he said.
Kolodny is also the Chief Medical Officer for Phoenix House, a drug treatment center with locations across the country. He questions the decisions of former FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who resigned last year.
"While commissioner of FDA, Dr. Hamburg did nothing to appropriately address the opioid crisis," Kolodny said.
Under her leadership, he believes there was a lack of oversight causing the heroin epidemic to escalate.
"It was during her tenure that a steady stream of new opioids were approved, " Kolodny said.
Kolodny and Senator Markey are both concerned about a highly addictive and potentially deadly painkiller called Zohydro. The drug was approved while Dr. Hamburg was commissioner.
"What is different about Zohydro is it has a very large dose of Hydrocodone in it, meant to be delivered slowly over a long period of time," Kolodny said.
Yet, the drug was being marketed to ease chronic pain like every day back aches and migraines.
Kolodny was very vocal about his concerns. During the time Hamburg was commissioner, Kolodny, along with dozens of other treatment centers and 29 state attorney generals, urged her not to approve Zohydro.
In addition, an FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly voted 11 to 2 against the drug. Despite all the critics, the FDA the approved it.
"I was shocked that the FDA approved the drug over the objection of its scientific advisors." Kolodny said. "It is very unusual for the FDA to go against its advisory group."
Larry Klayman, attorney and government watchdog, wasn't shocked. He recently filed a lawsuit against Hamburg regarding her approval of another drug. In that complaint, Klayman claims at the time of Zohydro's approval, the commissioner's husband held stock with the makers of the drug.
"Her husband's company, Renaissance Technologies, owned $20 million in shares of the company that manufactures Zohydro," Klayman said.
8News obtained copies of Hamburg's financial disclosure forms through the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. She did properly note Renaissance Technologies as a source of income. Still, Klayman and Kolodny see it as a conflict of interest.
"I think it was a mistake to appoint Hamburg commissioner considering her financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies," Kolodny said.
Hamburg's attorneys tell 8News that for nearly six years, their client served to protect the safety of the American public's health. They call the accusations against her "reckless, offensive and without basis."
Responding to the critics, the FDA has recently announced it is rethinking its approach to opioids. The new FDA Commissioner has announced a plan that includes more public and expert input, toughening warning labels and improving treatment.
Still, some say it still doesn't go far enough.They want the FDA to consult with outside experts before approving any prescription pain killers.
WRIC wins prestigious Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Continuing CoverageCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
WRIC's in-depth investigations into deadly animal experiments at the VA has been recognized with a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Continuing Coverage.Read More »
PHOTOS: 100K Meals CampaignCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
8News is proud to once again team up with Puritan Cleaners for the 100,000 Meals Campaign. It's so easy to make a difference in our community by either donating a few cans of tuna fish, peanut butter, soups or other canned goods or by making a monetary donation.Read More »
Idol Watch & Win SweepstakesCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
You could win two tickets to American Idol in Los Angeles plus a two-night hotel stay! Watch Good Morning Richmond and 8News at 5 p.m. for the daily keyword. Enter the correct keyword here for your chance to win!Read More »
SUBMIT: 8News School Kids of the DayCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Want to see your child on Good Morning Richmond? Send us their photo for a chance to have them featured as an 8News School Kid of the Day!Read More »
Weekly TriviaCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Each week, 8News will post a new Weekly Trivia Question. Submit your guess by midday Thursday for a chance to win a prize from one of our partners! The winner will be announced each Friday. Good luck!Read More »
Auto Racing ChallengeCopyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Think you know who will win the big race each week? Play our Auto Racing Challenge this race season and you could win $100!Read More »
Add 8News and the StormTracker 8 team to your Amazon Alexa flash briefingCopyright by WRIC - All rights reserved
8News and the Storm Tracker 8 team now produce news and weather forecasts tailored specifically to your Alexa-enabled devices.Read More »
Have you made the switch? Get the new 8News and StormTracker 8 mobile appsCopyright by WRIC - All rights reserved
Stay on top of the latest news, weather, sports and traffic in Central Virginia with the free WRIC 8News App.Read More »