Congressional committees recently brought the executives of opioid manufacturers to Washington to explain their role in America’s opioid epidemic.

Sadly, the executives largely shifted the blame elsewhere.

At its peak in 2012, physicians wrote 282 million opioid prescriptions — enough for 8 in 10 Americans, Politico reported.

Fortunately, the latest statistics suggest that the prescription surge has dramatically slowed.

But the surge drove home a somber reality in this country: opioids have been America’s national pill.

The fact is that other developed nations have not experienced the spikes in opioid use, opioid abuse and opioid-related overdoses that we have in this country.

That’s led hundreds of cities and localities to sue opioid manufacturers — in part to obtain funding to treat opioid abuse victims.

If officials and authorities would have followed the money, it should have been easy to spot the tidal wave of opioid use.

In a statement reported by the Hill website, Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, questioned why drug distributors repeatedly failed “to report suspicious orders of opioids or exercise effective controls” as more and more pills flooded America.

The answer seems pretty clear: because tremendous profits were being made by keeping quiet — and keeping the pills flowing.

The opioid epidemic was also fueled by a dangerous misperception that opioids carried low risks of addiction.

To combat this, a trade association for the opioid manufacturers said they support policies that fully reveal the effects of opioids and decrease the likelihood of them being overprescribed.

It’s critical that our elected leaders don’t overreact to what we now know about the need to control opioid use; they can’t go to the other extreme of making opioids nearly impossible to obtain.

Politico identified some of the potential unintended consequences of overreacting to the opioid crisis:

• It will increase the difficulty of patients with valid pain issues — and individuals nearing the end of life — to get access to legitimate prescriptions.

• It will divert attention away from other addiction crises, like the skyrocketing number of deaths caused by cocaine and crystal meth abuse.

• It will distract us from focusing on the need for more non-drug therapies.

These are all good points.

But the bottom line hasn’t changed:

The reason why so many officials are now scrambling to act — and at the risk of doing so in overzealous fashion — is because too few of them took any action as the opioid crisis gathered momentum.

Why weren’t questions asked? Why wasn’t oversight done? Why weren’t whistleblowers taken seriously instead of being turned away, as reports suggest?

When there is an explosion in the use of a particular drug, a governmental agency should know about it right away — and it should report what it knows to Congress right away.

The overdose epidemic is a widespread failure, and government must surely take its share of the blame for it.

 

A version of this editorial originally appeared in the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, a sister paper of the Daily News with Gatehouse Media.