Opioid Overdose Deaths Catch up to Motor Vehicle Deaths in the U.S

Opioid Overdoses surpass motor vehicle deaths in U.S.

It’s no surprise to learn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that opioid overdose deaths have increased so much that they now exceed overdose deaths of heroin and cocaine combined. Death certificates from 28 states were analyzed and a report was published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that explains how the data was analyzed.

The report tells us that the number of opioid overdose deaths has nearly caught up to the number of motor vehicle deaths (the number one cause of injury death in America) in the United States.

Heroin abuse is also on the increase. Most of those who abuse heroin have used opioids at some point in their past prior to their heroin use. Heroin is an opioid and they both produce similar effects, which explains why they are both abused by opioid addicts. Heroin is becoming much more readily available and is cheaper than pain pills, so many users turn to heroin because of this.

Although many people are well aware of this epidemic in our country, doctors continue to prescribe them to those who don’t need them. According to the CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.,

“Reducing inappropriate opioid prescribing remains a crucial public health strategy to address both prescription opioid and heroin overdoses.”

Knowing this, why are doctors continuing to overprescribe opioids?

One major reason is that they are not being held accountable for their actions. The responsibility placed on health-care providers is to only prescribe opioids for carefully screened and monitored patients when all other pain treatments have been exhausted. This is not what is going on, however.

The CDC report referred to above states that the increase in heroin deaths from 2010-2012 is directly related to the increase in the opioid death rate. It also states that not only do we need to stop the overprescribing opioids, we need to help those who are addicted before it is too late.

Doctors must examine patients more closely to determine whether there has been addictive behavior in the patient’s history. They also must monitor patients closely rather than quickly prescribing opioids as a band aid to cover up the real source of a patient’s pain. People are dying in increasing numbers needlessly because of this irresponsible behavior.

States are responsible for regulating health care practices like these, and they must monitor and remedy the overprescribing frenzy that has overcome us as a nation. They have tools readily available to them that can help them identify health care facilities that are illegally prescribing opioids.

Medicaid can use economic measures to take action and hold providers accountable. State professional licensing boards can take action against doctors who are misusing their licenses. Law enforcement agencies can take action against illegal activities. Policies can be put into place to prohibit “pill mills”.

All of these interventions are available, yet people are still needlessly losing their lives. Van Wey Law fights for clients who have lost their lives because of irresponsible doctors who are prescribing opioids when they are not needed. If you have lost a loved one from an opioid overdose because a health care facility or doctor irresponsibly prescribed the medication, you can receive compensation for your pain and suffering. More importantly, you can help to bring this reckless behavior to a halt and save lives. Call Kay Van Wey today for a free consultation.

photo credit: tankgirlrs via photopin cc


The Role Big Pharma Plays in the Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic

Article #2 in the Series: Solving the Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic 

Is Big Pharma to Blame for the prescription drug opioid abuse and overdoses?

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?

Consider this:

  • 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?



Why are Prescription Drug Overdoses Still Increasing a Decade Later?

Opening Article in Series: Solving the Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic

Solving the Opioid and Heroin Overdose Epidemic

Opioid Epidemic Continues

Prescription drug overdoses and addiction, in particular opioids, are an epidemic in the United States. Each year, as it has for the past decade, the problem continues to increase.

Why are 16,917 people still losing their lives to opioid addiction?

Why has there been a continual increase from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010?

Though it seems to be stabilizing, it’s not going down, and that’s bad news. This tragic epidemic is taking more lives each year than automobile accidents. Why doesn’t this warrant immediate action?

This is the first in a series of posts I will write that will examine the issue, those that play a role in in every part of an addict’s life, as I attempt to get to the bottom of the problem. These deaths are preventable and it’s time to take action and find a solution.

Troubling Trend

First, let me point out a troubling trend that seems to go hand in hand with opioid addiction, according to Leonard Paulozzi, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher with the CDC in Atlanta:

75% of heroin users say their addiction started with prescription opioids.

Deaths from heroin overdoses are on the increase as well, and it is believed that many opioid addicts turn to heroin when they can no longer obtain prescription opioids.

Doctors must do more.

Doctors could put the damper on the overdose increase by screening for patients who are doctor shopping by checking prescription drug monitoring programs in their states. They can also require urine screens to detect if patients are using illicit drugs. Doctors have got to do more, and we will examine this further within the series.

Lewis Nelson, MD, a toxicologist and emergency medicine specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, believes the continual increase rather than decline is seriously concerning. Although there is an obvious lag in the reporting of overdoses, we have known about this problem for long enough and it should have already been solved.

Other professionals say this growing number of opioid and heroine deaths is something that could have been predicted a decade ago.

Treatment has got to be as easily accessible as the pills or the heroine, and as of right now, it is not. There are not many medical specialists who are surprised by the number of deaths occurring. They’ve seen it coming.

All feel that we could have and should have been better prepared for this new trend of addicts moving from opioids to heroin.

Here we are in 2014 faced with a decade long trend that needs to stop. What can be done? Is it too late? Who is responsible?

Join me every Monday as we explore these tough questions in this informational series in hopes of finding a solution. We can all play a role in fighting this war against opioid and heroin addiction deaths. I think we all agree that something has got to be done to stop it today.

What are your thoughts on who is responsible?