Stephen Colbert Takes Aim At Big Pharma Over Opioid Crisis

By Beth Leipholtz 09/18/18

“You know you’ve been bad when the government fines you one aircraft carrier.”

Stephen Colbert
Photo via YouTube

Stephen Colbert publicly called out those responsible for the opioid crisis, as the Late Show host laid into Big Pharma during a segment last Friday (Sept. 14).

“There are certain subjects that are genuinely hard to talk about like, the opioid crisis. It’s an epidemic that affects both political parties, Republican, Democrat, rich people, poor people, it does not discriminate,” Colbert said in the segment. “And a lot of people blame Big Pharma, but only because it’s their fault.”

Colbert went on to single out Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin and is owned by members of the billionaire Sackler family. Colbert discussed the various lawsuits against the company accused of downplaying how addictive the medication could be “even as their sales reps used the words ‘street value,’ ‘crush’ and ‘snort’ in the late nineties.”

“That’s what happens when the head of sales is El Chapo,” Colbert joked in the segment, referring to the former head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, who is now in U.S. custody.

In 2007, Purdue was fined more than $600 million after pleading guilty to misrepresenting OxyContin's potential for abuse.

“You know you’ve been bad when the government fines you one aircraft carrier,” Colbert stated. “Of course, this same time they made $35 billion.”

He went on to add that the Sackler family wants to expand globally and that they already own a lesser-known company called Rhodes Pharma.

Colbert stated, “It was revealed just this week that they own a second, secret company, Rhodes Pharma, a little-known Rhode Island-based drug maker that is among the largest producers of off-patent generic opioids in the U.S.”

Colbert went on to discuss the fact that Rhodes Pharma recently was granted a patent for a new medication—a “fast-acting form of buprenorphine”—that could potentially treat opioid use disorder. The new medication would be in wafer form rather than a tablet, meaning it would dissolve quickly and work faster. 

“Another not-so-fun fact about Rhodes Pharmaceuticals is, in addition to selling all these off-brand opiates, they also just patented a new drug to help wean addicts off opioids,” Colbert said.

“So, the Sacklers addicted the country to opioids, now they’re going to profit off the cure?" Colbert noted. "That takes a pair of swingin’ Sacklers.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.