Rebecca Delfino: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student assistant, Kaylee Tokumi.

The moment had finally arrived–the first in-person Faculty Pub Night since spring 2020. An audience from all corners of the university were abuzz with chatter as they waited for the event to start. After a short introduction by her colleague, Rebecca Delfino, a clinical professor at Loyola Law School, began her talk. Delfino spoke about her recent publications, “The Prescription Abuse Prevention Act: A New Federal Statute to Criminalize Overprescribing Opioids” and “A New Prescription for the Opioid Epidemic: 360-Degree Accountability for Pharmaceutical Companies and Their Executives.” Her current research centers around investigating the historical roots of prescription abuse, then determining how the law can help us create a safer, more accountable society. She stresses the importance of interdisciplinary connections and active intellectual engagement when trying to create change.

Delfino started by providing an overview of the history and landmark cases surrounding opioid use. She stated that opioids were first used extensively during the Civil War. Soldiers were given morphine to numb their pain, but it left them dependent on the medication. Later, heroin was released with the promise that it would cure everything but not be addictive. Unfortunately, the recipients of heroin found themselves with the same addiction as their predecessors. Pharmaceutical companies created yet another pain-reliving prescription, oxycodone, which they boasted to be six times more powerful than heroine but non-addictive. Oxycodone was not a miracle cure as advertised. It led to further opioid addiction, particularly when crushed, causing many to develop Opioid Use Disorder.

Even though oxycodone was intended for cancer patients with break-through pain, the medication was made widely available to those with chronic pain. While, in theory, more accessibility to oxycodone would allow individuals to enjoy a more mobile life, it had not been widely tested beforehand. This is largely because the three Sackler brothers had created a closed medical review system to promote the sale of OxyContin, their brand of oxycodone. Through their company, Purdue Pharma, the brothers started a medical journal, newsletter and conducted clinical trials to create, review, and sell their own products. This allowed them to skip a large portion of the review process and send their products more quickly to market. They also based their advertisement campaign on a single non-peer-reviewed report from the New England Journal of Medicine which stated that less than one percent of hospitalized patients given opioids became addicted. As shown, OxyContin clearly did not have enough scientific backing to be declared safe for widespread use.

Delfino criticized current opioid laws for being too vague and difficult to interpret even among court officials. As a solution, Delfino argued that there should be a national law across the country to reverse the drug deregulations made under the Reagan administration. She advocated for a stand-alone statute that focused on implied malice, a legal term that refers to a person’s willful mal intentions. Doing so would make it easier to convict those at fault and create a fairer system.

Rhonda Rosen, programming and exhibitions librarian, closed the event by asking if Delfino’s law proposal had gained any traction. Delfino replied that she had made some progress, but the federal government was currently overwhelmed with other proposals.

As Delfino described, the history of opioids in the United States is circular. Time and time again, individuals tried to create a way to eliminate pain by manufacturing new medications that were allegedly less addicting than the last. Delfino felt that we must recognize the mistakes of the past and find a new way to improve. We should not try to eliminate pain completely through opioids and other medications. Instead, we should recognize how pain is a part of the human experience and try to safely manage it.