From 1999 to 2015, the count of people dying from an overdose of prescription opioids has increased to about 183,000 with no signs of abating. The above statistics is just a part of the overall picture of the ongoing opioid crisis. The addition of deaths due to overdosing on heroin and other illicit opiates would further inflate the death toll.
Until recently, the public ire for the opioid crisis has largely been directed against criminal gangs and cartels for selling and distributing drugs, and the government—partly because of increasing unemployment rates—that were perceived to be driving Americans to indulge in drug trafficking and abuse. The absence of high-quality government-funded addiction treatment centers was also a bone of contention.
However, politicians, law enforcement officials, journalists and public health experts are now looking for accountability from the pharmaceutical industry for its role in the opioid epidemic. The government officials are seeking justice against the falsehood and corruption practiced by the big opioid manufacturers. Despite the public outcry and awareness, there has not been any impact on the profits of pharma. Moreover, there have been only a few settlements and arrests that have changed nothing in the pharma business.
Pharmaceutical companies responsible for triggering opioid crisis
The prescription of opioids to the patients suffering from chronic pain was unheard of until 1996, when Purdue Pharma released OxyContin into the market. Unlike the earlier versions of opioids, OxyContin became popular across all age groups and demographics due to the aggressive marketing campaigns of Purdue Pharma that portrayed it as a less dangerous drug.
By 2000, it became apparent that the claims made by Purdue Pharma scientists that the drug OxyContin has lower potential for addiction was a false claim. With a large number of adolescents snorting, injecting or taking it rectally, OxyContin addiction touched the lives of teens and adults alike. Moreover, the company raked in profits amounting to $2.8 billion by 2001.
In the same year, Purdue Pharma was forced to drop its claims of OxyContin being less addictive due to the mounting pressure from patient advocacy groups and government. In 2007, it was fined more than $630 million for using misleading information while marketing OxyContin. Unfortunately, the damage was already done and nothing could undo the sweeping trend of opioid painkiller abuse that plagues the United States until today.
Oxycodone, the generic version of OxyContin, went on to become more popular because of its relatively lower price. As a result, a large number of patients and users preferred switching to Oxycodone from other drugs. Oxycodone addictions were worse in Florida, once a mecca for cocaine addicts and drug dealers in the 1980s. By the early 2000s, fraudulent pharmacies or ‘pill mills’ were spreading like wildfire where owners and operators were giving out opioid prescriptions to just anyone who could afford to pay.
Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals shares a large part of the blame for Florida’s opiate addiction, as the company was instrumental in selling 66 percent of oxycodone between 2008 and 2012. The company was recently fined 35 million for a drug diversion case by the Justice Department. However, the worst offender is still scot-free.
In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents arrested five former executives of Insys Therapeutics for bribing medical professionals to prescribe Subsys, a spray version of the ultra-potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, even to patients who didn’t need it. Subsys was legally approved to manage intense pain in cancer patients, but only about 10 percent of patients prescribed Subsys were eligible for it. In 2015, Insys was fined $1.1 million by the state of Oregon on the charges of bribing doctors to illegally prescribe Susbys to non-cancer patients. This didn’t make much of a dent in their finances as Subsys alone raked in $462 million in that year in sales.
Senators woke up to the lies of big pharma companies
In March 2017, a Senate Committee opened investigations into the alleged deceit by the five largest opioid manufacturers. By downplaying the risk of addiction, these manufacturers encouraged medical practitioners to prescribe opioids for any kind of pain and in high doses.
The need of the hour is to spread awareness about such malpractices to protect people from falling prey to opioids sold as safe and less addictive in the market. If you or your loved one is suffering from an opioid abuse, contact the Prescription Drug Addiction Help to seek information related to prescription drug abuse treatment centers. You can chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline 866-623-3847 for immediate assistance.