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Over the past two decades, an opioid epidemic has emerged in the U.S., with prescription pain pills and heroin topping the list of the fastest rising addictions. Between 1999 and 2010, “sales for prescription painkillers to hospitals, doctors and pharmacies increased fourfold.”

While companies like Purdue Pharmaceuticals pushed their infamous OxyContin pills through doctors and sales reps – despite complaints about addiction and withdrawal symptoms – overdose deaths from prescription painkillers increased 300 percent.

Purdue made $31 billion playing its part in getting America hooked on opioids, under the guise of “effective pain treatment.” When people could no longer afford OxyContin or other patented painkillers, they turn to its close cousin heroin, which is far cheaper and relatively easy to obtain through the black market.

The problem is a truly American one, as the vast majority of the world’s opioids are consumed in the U.S. Part of the lure of opioids is that they are more effective at numbing emotional pain than they are at managing physical pain in the long-term.

The tragedy of the opioid epidemic also falls on the most innocent and vulnerable. New data show that the rate of babies being born addicted to opioids doubled over a five-year period.

“They found that the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome more than doubled during the study period, from 2.8 cases per 1,000 births in 2008, to 7.3 cases per 1,000 births in 2013. Overall, there were 27,315 babies in the U.S. diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2013, the study found…

The rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the United States has increased fivefold since the year 2000, the study said.

The effects of neonatal abstinence syndrome on newborn babies can include “tremors, seizures, excessive crying, poor feeding, fever, sleep problems, blotchy skin coloring and rapid breathing.” Morphine is administered to help them cope with the symptoms of withdrawal.

Even if the unfortunate newborns overcome their harsh introduction to the world, the condition can lead to other problems such as “birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth and a small head circumference.”

The study found that Kentucky has experienced a particularly troubling increase in babies born addicted to opioids, increasing “from 5.0 cases per 1,000 births in 2008 to 21.2 cases per 1,000 births in 2014.”

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That region had developed a reputation for being the worst affected by the opioid abuse epidemic. In 2014, more Tennesseans died from legal prescription drugs than car accidents or gunshots.

While the ingestion of opioid pills or heroin is a choice, the role of Big Pharma in creating the epidemic is continually being exposed, even if it is ignored by mainstream media.

The Center for Public Integrity published a damning two-part report detailing how pharma companies have maintained a 50 state strategy to thwart government efforts to stem the tide of opioid drugs. Big Pharma publicly claims that they are combating the addiction epidemic, while they deploy hundreds of lobbyists and spend millions on campaign contributions to kill or weaken reform measures.

The key findings of their shocking report can be found here.

And let’s not forget about the important role of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which works on behalf of Big Pharma, maintaining a baseless prohibition of medical cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use.”

It’s no coincidence that medical cannabis has already proven to be an effective part of pain management, and studies are showing that opioid use plummets in states with legal weed, and people are giving up prescription opioid pills in favor of medical cannabis.

This is why Big Pharms is now spending millions to combat cannabis legalization efforts around the country, after admitting to government that legalization lowers their profits.

This shameless sacrifice of human well-being on the altar of greed continues as the opioid abuse epidemic grows. Even newborn babies are increasingly suffering the consequences.