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?



Popular Anxiety Drugs Have Dangerous Consequences


Benzos are dangerous, especially mixed with other sedatives.

Many people are uninformed about the risks of popular anxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium, especially when mixed with other sedatives.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February of an overdose from mixing heroin, cocaine and benzodiazepines, or benzos. Benzos, which are mild tranquilizers, first appeared in the 1950s and ‘60s and quickly became a hit. They claimed to soothe overwhelmed, edgy mothers, and were nicknamed “mother’s little helper.” Today Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan remain on the market for treatment of anxiety, mood disorders and insomnia.

Many doctors say they don’t go a day without seeing somebody who is addicted to them.

15 years ago, most detox patients were alcoholics and the rest were addicted to drugs. Now, 90 percent of these patients are drug addicts whose drug of choice is often a combination of opiates and benzos. Both of these drugs slow respiration and are an extremely dangerous combination. These drugs used together make the other stronger, and are extremely dangerous.

The drugs take away any anxiety, worry, and seemingly all of life’s troubles, numbing a person from becoming troubled, or bothered, by anything. It is very easy to become instantly addicted to them, and to the temporary feeling of contentment they induce.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the combination of benzos and opioid-related deaths contributes to about 30 percent of opioid-related deaths.

Dr. Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist with the Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, Maine, believes the risks associated with benzos is possibly overshadowed by the prescription opioid epidemic. Many people are unaware of how harmful they really are.

Initially thought to be free of negative effects, benzos are now known to carry risks of dependence, withdraw and cognitive effects.

Long term use can cause impairment in several cognitive domains: visuospatial ability, speed of processing, and verbal learning. Some reject this, however, claiming these symptoms are only temporary and can be attributed to sedation or inattention or peak plasma levels.

Studies were conducted around this debate and found that cognitive dysfunction did occur in patients treated long term with benzodiazepines. Even though this impairment did improve upon ceasing to take benzos, patients did not return to their original levels of functioning in the brain.

Patients should be advised of the dangers and effects associated with these drugs and the dangerous, deadly effects of combining them. Though daily functioning may not seem significant when using them, long term effects are likely, and you should be informed. Do your research and consult trusted physicians for more information. Be your own AdvoKAYte!


Walgreen’s Illegally Distributes Controlled Substances

Is Walgreen,s Pharmacy really “at the Corner of Happy and Healthy”, like their motto claims? Maybe not…


The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) caught Walgreen’s Pharmacy red-handed.  Allegations claim they were knowingly and  illegally distributing controlled substances to known abusers and drug dealers. The DEA found an “unprecedented” number of record-keeping and dispensing violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

Walgreen’s agreed to an $80 million settlement to put the matter to rest.  Part of the deal required Walgreen’s to publicly admit that it had failed to comply with its responsibilities as a DEA registrant. Although they claim they do all they can to stop this activity, there is evidence it is still occurring, even after the large sum of money they were required to pay. According to a recent blog article on, Walgreen’s is more concerned with making a dollar than the health of its customers.

How Does This Effect Me? 

I have written many times about the problem of prescription drug addiction in America. It is crucial to shut down the supply chains if this problem is ever going to be eliminated. Unlike illicit drugs,  prescription drug dealers aren’t standing on dimly lit street corners in the rough areas of town. To the contrary, much of the supply comes from doctors, pharmacies and clinics who are licensed to distribute  controlled substances. With this license, however, comes the responsibility of complying with the law. Unfortunately, many do not comply, and this effects all of us.

Controlled substances may only be prescribed and dispensed for a legitimate medical purpose. When this fundamental premise isn’t followed, illegal distribution and abuse emerge. Narcotics find their way into the hands of addicts and dealers who sell them illegally on the black market. Sadly, the prescription drug black market makes its way into schools and homes, and destroys lives and families. 

Kudos to the Drug Enforcement Agency for getting the attention of one national pharmaceutical chain. Let’s hope it sends a loud message to the others. We all must do our part, as they are, to stop this epidemic in America.


DEA Fines Las Vegas Pharmacy in Violation of Federal Drug Laws

Lam’s Pharmacy of Las Vegas agreed to settle civil charges that it violated federal drug laws on February 7, 2012. The settlement is a record $1 million to be paid by the non-chain pharmacy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas have been working in unison to identify pharmacies violating federal drug laws and hold them accountable for their illegal acts.  On February 7, 2012, the work of these two units paid off when Lam’s Pharmacy of Las Vegas agreed to pay a $1 million settlement fine for violations of federal drug laws.

The DEA began investigating Lam’s Pharmacy in 2006, starting with the company’s receipt and distribution of controlled substances.  After years of investigation, the DEA took the evidence it had collected to Nevada’s U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden, alleging that Lam’s had violated the Controlled Substances Act.

Lam’s violation of the Controlled Substances Act was a civil violation, rather than a criminal violation.  Still, Bogden stresses that “Civil settlements such as this are an extremely important component in our strategy to combat unlawful prescription drug trafficking in Nevada.”

The $1 million settlement is the largest civil settlement under the Controlled Substances Act against a pharmacy that is not a chain-operated pharmacy.  Bogden promises to continue to enforce violations of federal drug laws by physicians, pharmacies, and pharmacists both civilly and criminally.  The DEA has made clear to pharmacies that they have a corresponding duty not to participate in distributing controlled substances when no valid medical purpose exists.

Although Lam’s did not admit to any wrongdoing or liability, the company has agreed to surrender its DEA registration and pay the settlement within 14 business days. Additionally, Lam’s will be sold, but the business will continue to operate in Las Vegas under new management and a new name.

I would like to congratulate the Justice Department on successfully holding Lam’s Pharmacy accountable for its violations of federal drug laws.  I hope that both the DEA and Justice Department will continue to search out pharmacies that are contributing to the pill mill problem in this nation.

To learn more about prescription drug addition, read my article “America’s Growing Addiction” at


New Pain Pill to be Stronger than Vicodin

Purdue Pharma and several other major pharmaceutical companies have announced plans for new prescription painkillers that will contain pure hydrocodone. The pills will be 10 times stronger than Vicodin and will likely be more addictive than the prescription pain pills currently on the market.

Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma and three other companies have announced a new prescription drug that will contain pure hydrocodone, a highly addictive narcotic painkiller.  The pill is expected to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin, one of the strongest painkillers available on the market.

Hydrocodone is an opiate much like heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and morphine.  The United States is the largest consumer of hydrocodone prescription pills, using 99 percent of what is on the world market.  Much of the hydrocodone available today is combined with other painkillers like acetaminophen.

Over the years, these pain pills have been criticized for being too addictive.  For example, OxyContin, produced by Purdue Pharma, is the most abused pain pill in the United States. When OxyContin was first introduced onto the market in 1995, abusers quickly learned that they could get a stronger high from the time-release caplets by crushing them.

Today, prescriptions that contain hydrocodone are a quick second to oxycodone in terms of abuse.  A stronger painkiller that contains pure hydrocodone could be disastrous for a nation already suffering with substance abuse and addiction.

The market for pain pills is $10 billion, and pharmaceutical companies are coming up with new drugs to get into the lucrative market. But big pharmaceutical companies are marketing the new drugs as safer, arguing that fewer patients will experience liver problems like they do with drugs that contain acetaminophen.

A form of pure hydrocodone could be on the market as early as 2013, but with an even more addictive prescription on the market, more patients may become addicted to the drugs, leading to numerous overdoses that will strain hospitals resources.  Abuse of hydrocodone alone has led to an uptick in the number of emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse.  In 2000, more than 19,000 visits to the emergency room were related to hydrocodone abuse, but in 2008 that number grew more than four times to more than 86,000 visits.

Prescription drug addiction is a brain disease that can be fatal if undetected or untreated. To learn more about America’s prescription drug addiction epidemic, visit


What You Should Know about Prescription Drug Addiction

In recent years, the United States has experienced a surge in the number of people addicted to prescription drugs, especially prescription painkillers. NIDA is working to help change the perception of addiction and to help those who have become addicted.

pills Pictures, Images and Photos

Each year, millions of Americans turn to prescription painkillers to help ease their pain.  But these painkillers may be doing some patients more harm than good.

Emergency rooms across the United States are seeing an increase in the number of prescription drug overdoses.  In fact, emergency room visits due to overdoses have alarmingly doubled over a five year period to 1.2 million.
Part of the problem is that doctors are not properly trained on how to manage pain and are often pressured by major pharmaceutical companies to give patients unnecessary drugs.  Last year, physicians wrote more than 200 million prescriptions for highly addictive pain medications.  Yet, some question the effectiveness of these painkillers, especially for patients suffering with chronic pain. 
As Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), puts it, “physicians are the nation’s pushers.”  And patients trust that the drugs their doctors are prescribing them are safe, without ever giving much thought as to whether they may become addicted to the drugs.
Often, people who become addicted to prescription painkillers are labeled morally weak and are considered menaces to society.  These stereotypes are simply not true.
Addiction is a brain disease that can be treated.  In some people, prescription drugs can have such a profound effect that they change the way in which the brain processes judgment, decision making, memory, learning, and control.  These drugs activate dopamine, a chemical that regulates the reward system in our brains, motivating future behavior.
While scientists have not yet been able to determine who will become addicted to a certain prescription, they have been able to lessen the addictive properties of certain pain relievers.
To learn more about addiction and the addition epidemic in the United States, read my article entitled “America’s Growing Addiction.”

U.S. Soldiers Suffering at Hands of Lawmakers, Big Pharma

U.S. soldiers are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan alive, but severely wounded both physically and mentally. In 2008 the pharmaceutical industry pushed lawmakers to give these soldiers prescription pain killers and other drugs. Soldiers now have higher rates of addiction to these drugs and a high rate of suicide.

us soldier Pictures, Images and Photos 

We hear the reports on the news all the time about military service personnel who have survived bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who have also lost limbs or have been seriously injured. They remind us of the great sacrifice they are making to protect our freedom. But the news media do not tell us about the stories of service personnel who were injured and have subsequently become addicted to prescription pain killers.

The wars of today are different than those fought previously.  In both World Wars I and II, thousands of U.S. soldiers died on foreign soil fighting for the freedom that we hold so dearly.  Today, soldiers are still dying, but due to advancements in medical technology, many are also surviving.  Unfortunately for those survivors, many live in fear and pain even after returning home.
Thanks to lobbying efforts by the pharmaceutical industry and its various pain management groups, lawmakers were convinced that prescription drugs would cure these ailing soldiers.  In 2008, two bills were passed that provided greater access to prescription pain killers and other drugs for active-duty soldiers and veterans.  One of the bills was the Veterans Pain Care Policy Act, and the other was the Military Pain Care Policy Act of 2008, which required the Department of Defense to implement a program where comprehensive pain care would be provided for active and retired military service men and women.  
In 2010, the U.S. Army Surgeon General expressed concern that soldiers were being overmedicated.  This came just two years after the passage of the Military Pain Care Policy Act of 2008, in which a study revealed that the comprehensive pain care provided was in the form of highly addictive prescription pain killers.
A study conducted by the U.S. Army found that 14 percent of soldiers had been prescribed an opiate prescription drug to treat their pain, and 95 percent of those prescriptions were for OxyContin or its generic, Oxycodone.  Other commonly prescribed drugs for soldiers include Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug, and Valium, an anti-anxiety drug.  All of the aforementioned drugs are highly addictive and have disastrous side effects, including irritability, suicide, and reduced reaction times.
After the results of the study came out, Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker remarked, “we’re very concerned about the panoply of drugs that are being used and the number of drugs that are being used.”  A Military Times report found that one out of every six service members is on some type of psychiatric drug.  In a 2008 survey conducted by the Pentagon, 15 percent of soldiers said they had abused prescription drugs within the past month.
Lawmakers are now calling on the military to closely monitor the prescriptions that are given to soldiers, while others in the military want the focus to shift to alternative pain management practices like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and movement therapy. Currently, the Department of Defense does not keep track of prescriptions given to service members.
Whatever the military and lawmakers decide, they must not let the pharmaceutical industry bully them into giving our already injured soldiers highly addictive and dangerous pain pills.
I would like to thank Marianne Skolek, a staff writer at and an activist for victims of OxyContin and Purdue Pharma. She first wrote about the devastating effects these highly addictive painkillers are having on our troops and brought it to my attention. You can read her full article at

The epidemic of prescription drug overdose deaths.

With the recent rash of celebrity overdose deaths, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the prescription drug addiction epidemic which is ravaging this country and claiming the lives of her citizens.

According to the CDC,

The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose (not including alcohol) have risen steadily since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years they have reached historic highs.

The CDC also added that drug overdose deaths are now 4 to 5 times higher than the death rates during the black tar heroin epidemic in the mid-1970s and more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine in the early 1990s. Currently, people in the 45-54 age group now die of drug overdoses more often than from traffic crashes.

The most common drugs found on autopsy in drug overdose deaths are called narcotics, usually prescription painkillers called opioids.  OxyContin , Vicodin  and  Lortab are examples of opioid painkillers. Methadone is also now widely used as a painkiller in addition to its use for treatment of addiction. Another drug commonly associated with drug overdose deaths is a group of drugs called sedatives like Xanax and Valium. Soma, a powerful muscle relaxer is often in the mix.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, more than 6 million Americans are  currently abusing prescription drugs—that is more than the number of Americans abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants combined. With more current users, we can expect the mortality rates from prescription drug overdose deaths to continue to rise.

The victims are not what many might perceive as a bum living under a bridge. These are our sons and daughters, parents, teachers and neighbors. It affects everyone from the high profile celebrity to the ordinary American.

A multi-pronged approach is needed to address this problem. But, recognition of the problem is a good place to start. It is unfortunate that it took several high profile cases to bring the problem into the public’s eye. But, now that we know, we cannot turn a blind eye. The time is now to begin a dialogue about how to best address this killer epidemic.


Prescription Drug Overdose Statistics

Unless I am suffering from an extreme case of insomnia, I don’t enjoy studying statistics. Reading them is usually like watching paint dry. However, the old adage "statistics don’t lie" really is true, particularly, when they are from a credible source.

Below is a chart from the CDC showing the increase in prescription pain killer overdose deaths from 2001-2005.

Prescription Opioid Analgesic Deaths Nationwide, 2001-2005

Graph showing the number of prescription opioid analgesic deaths nationwide for the years 2001-2005.

Since 2001, the National Forensic Lab  Information system (NFLIS) has produced estimates of the number of drug items and drug cases analyzed by state and local laboratories from a national representative sample of laboratories. NFLIS provides a unique source of information on the nation’s
drug problem by providing detailed and timely information on drug evidence secured in law
enforcement operations across the country. The results of the NFLIS 2008 survey are complete.

Nationally, reports of alprazolam, hydrocodone, oxycodone, clonazepam, and morphine experienced significant increases from 2001 through 2008. Alprazolam reports almost doubled during this time, while reports of hydrocodone increased 201%, morphine increased 197%, oxycodone increased 178%, and clonazepam increased 70%. Regionally, reports of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine increased significantly in all census regions from 2001 through 2008. Reports of alprazolam and clonazepam increased significantly in the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We cannot look at these statistics and deny that we have a massive  prescription drug addiction problem in this country.

So, why until recently has the prescription drug epidemic been off the radar screen of most people?

  • Is it because it is a man-made/ home-grown problem that no one wants to accept responsibility for?
  • Is it because some powerful people and powerful corporations  are contributing to the problem?

It is easy to demonize the shady drug dealer selling street drugs on the corner, but some people are reluctant to accept that there are thousands of prescription drug dealers operating every day in this country who have been granted a license to do so. The agencies who are charged with the responsibility for monitoring and regulating them are failing to address the problem. If the do catch a doctor or pharmacist abusing their DEA license, they frequently get off with a mere slap on the hand.

If you deal drugs in a white lab coat or behind a pharmacy counter should  that make you immune from accountability? Why shouldn’t we treat all drug dealers alike, regardless of their educational or socio-economic status?

Statistics don’t lie. Knowledge is power.

We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and deny the existence of the prescription drug addiction epidemic that has hit this country. Shout it from the mountaintops. Educate your friends and family. Ask your local law enforcement and  elected officials what they are doing to address the problem.