Article #2 in the Series: Solving the Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic
More and more people seem to be waking up to the huge epidemic of prescription drug overdoses and deaths, as they should. Overdoses are taking more lives each day than automobile accidents.
People are beginning to be outraged by this problem because, as long as it has been going on in this country, the numbers should be decreasing instead of rising. What’s going on?
This is the second article in a series about examining the causes and possible solutions for prescription drug overdoses and deaths. In particular, I am addressing opioids, or painkillers. Why are opioid overdoses continuing to rise steadily in the last decade when we are, and have been, fully aware of the number of lives being lost?
In order to determine a solution that is effective this question must be analyzed and the answer must be found:
Who is to blame for the opioid epidemic?
- The patients who abuse their prescriptions?
- The doctors who prescribe the pills?
- The pharmacies who blindly dispense the pills?
- Government agencies that seem to be ineffective at controlling or stopping the problem?
- The pharmaceutical companies that reap billions off the sale and manufacture of highly addictive drugs?
Playing the Blame Game Won’t Solve the Problem
Though we don’t need to waste time pointing fingers, we need to know where the problem originates and how it is perpetuated so that it can be addressed correctly. Perhaps all of the blame doesn’t fall on one single party’s shoulders, but on several. An analysis of all of the above questions will provide clarity (I hope…) on what we can all do to save lives.
Role of Big Pharma
Today I want to examine the role of the pharmaceutical companies in the overall crisis. More and more people seem to be pointing the finger in the direction of pharmaceutical companies,and rightly so, in my opinion.
“What is their role? How can they take responsibility? What can they do to save lives?”
Would You Battle Big Pharma?
Family members of loved ones who have lost their lives from an overdose do not feel they have a leg to stand on battling big pharmaceutical companies in the courtroom. After all, the FDA has approved the drug and given these companies permission to manufacture it, and it’s extremely difficult beat that. Most lawsuits are brought against doctors, which will be addressed later in the series.
Big Pharma’s First Priority
Big Pharma has tried to put a public relations spin on the overdose issue. They say they are working with law enforcement, patients, and doctors to better educate all people on the dangers of opioids. They also say they are working on creating new formulas that are more difficult to abuse.
But, in the meanwhile, they are aggressively marketing these highly addictive drugs for moderate pain relief. And, in some cases they are seeking approval for new formulations that are even more dangerous and more addictive. Let’s face it. Big Pharma has a vested financial interest in this nation’s addiction to prescription pain killers.
Share your opinion below with me. Do you think Big Pharma should be doing more?
A Landmark Lawsuit
In May, the city of Chicago filed a pivotal lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies. The accusation is that these companies deceptively marketed opioid painkillers (Percocet, OxyContin) for treatment of chronic pain management. The city of Chicago claims the drug manufacturers knew the drugs were ineffective for chronic pain treatment and carried a high risk of addiction. The five companies involved in the lawsuit are:
- Purdue Pharma L.P.
- Cephalon, Inc.
- Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- Endo Health Solutions Inc.
- Actavis plc
Chicago wants to end the deceptive marketing, and is seeking punitive damages. The city’s health insurance plan has paid claims in the amount of $9.5 million on these drugs since 2008.
One important issue that this lawsuit brings to the forefront as evidence of deceptive marketing is the fact that drug overdose deaths (from opioid and heroine in the U.S.) have more than tripled since 1990. Chicago argues that the shift in the continual increase is a result of aggressive, misleading marketing from pharmaceutical companies. IN otherwords…
Is aggressive marketing to doctors and direct marketing to consumers driving demand for these drugs?
- In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the U.S.
- The U.S. consumes more than 90% of the world’s supply of narcotic pain killers.
- 20 percent of doctor visits resulted in the prescription of an opioid.
- Sales of opioids quadrupled from 1999-2010.
- Sales of opioids reaped over $8 billion in revenues for Big Pharma in 2010.
Another part of the equation is that doctors are being given false and misleading information about the effectiveness of certain drugs for treating chronic pain.
Currently, 87% of the opioid prescriptions in this country are prescribed for chronic pain conditions. This was not the case when the drugs came on the market. Many of these drugs were originally developed for end-stage cancer pain or post operative surgical pain.
Some industry experts allege that Big Pharma knew long ago that certain opioids were too addictive for long term use in chronic non-cancer pain patients. However, once the drugs got approved for the treatment of pain, the marketing game began.
Big Pharma allegedly knew they had to open the drug up to chronic pain markets like arthritis pain, back pain, and other long term pain conditions that were non-cancer, to reap enormous profits and keep their shareholders fat and happy. According to allegations in the City of Chicago case, opioids
“…were for end-stage cancer pain or patients who had recently undergone surgery… The marketing practices in the pharmaceutical industry shifted the culture of medicine to the point that there was a fifth vital sign in medicine: pain.”
What do you think? Let’s discuss…
Next week? What role do doctors play in the opioid epidemic?