Prescription Opiates: Profiting America to Death

OxyContin has generated $35 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma.  The drug was marketed as non-addictive despite clear evidence to the contrary.  The evidence is not subtle.  According to the CDC, there have been 183,000 prescription opioid deaths since 1999.   The drug was first approved by the FDA in 1996 so the warnings came very early in the products’ cycles.    Yet, the misleading marketing did not stop.  Instead, the market was flooded with OxyContin and other prescription opiates.

Phony Research and Phony Doctors

Much like the tobacco industry in the past, the marketing of OxyContin as safe was based upon hand-picked quack researchers and doctors willing, for a price of course, to state just that.  Purdue set the stage for other opiate manufacturers to market their products as safe.  Despite the historically known dangers of opiates, the race was on in the pharmaceutical industry to get their products into the hands of unsuspecting patients.  Opiates became the drug of choice for prescribing doctors.  It was the first option for pain setting the course for the destruction of patients, their families and their children.

Worse still, even in the current climate where the opiate addiction has been deemed a national crisis, the beat goes on with the opiate manufacturers.  The CDC estimates that 145 people each day die from opiates.  These deaths are not all related to prescription opiates.  Some are related to heroin addiction with its roots in doctor prescribed opiates.  On the other hand, the CDC states that prescription opiates account for more than half of all opiate related deaths.  In short, 15,000+ Americans die each year from prescription opiates.

The National Insitute on Drug Abuse estimates that since 2000, 75% of herorin users began with prescription opiates.  In the end, the pharmaceutical companies selling opiates have generated billions in annual revenue knowing that thousands of Americans were dying each year as a result of their marketing practices.

The Costs of Prescription Opiates

The toll to patients and families cannot be quantified.  How do you put a dollar figure on the loss of a life and the reverberations through the family, the children, the community?

Although it is impossible to precisely determine the dollar value of the loss of life, the costs to communities and society can be measured and it has.  It is estimated that insurance companies spend over $70 billion per year in direct care related to opiate prescriptions and the health complications arising out of them.

States and municipalties are spending billions more.  In fact, the opiate crisis has put enormous strains on state and local government budgets.  For example, Summit County, Ohio, population 541,000, has spent $66 million from 2012 to 2015 related to the opiate crisis it their county.  Related to the indirect costs, Summit County spent another $21 million during that time on Child Protective Services relocating children from opiate addicted households.

New Mexico has been particularly hard hit with opiate addiction and opiate deaths among the highest in the nation.  With this comes enormous financial costs to the state with the New Mexico Department of Health’s outdated numbers showing $890 million spent in 2007 alone.  Since 2007, according to the New Mexico Attorney General lawsuit, the death toll from opiates has tripled.  It stands to reason that the costs to the state have also tripled.  Keep in mind too that these numbers relate only to the state budgets.  They do not include county and municipal budgets throughout the state facing the same trends on local levels.

States, Counties and Municipalities Fighting Back

The New York Times reports that there is on average one new lawsuit per day against the pharmaceutical companies that have caused this crisis.  Both Summit County and New Mexico are among those that have filed.  The Times reports that 41 states are joining together much like they did in the tobacco suits.  The Times reports further that there have been 200 lawsuits to date filed by county and local governments.

Naturally, the critics of these lawsuits, including the very corporations and their minions that caused the problems suggest this is simply greedy lawyers trying to make a buck.  This is the same refrain that was heard in the tobacco suits and every other lawsuit that seeks to protect the public against corporate abuse.

In fact, without these lawsuits, nothing will change as the current administration has named the crisis while at the same time cutting funds to address the crisis.  The current administration has also rolled back consumer protections that will directly benefit these predatory corporations to the expsense of innocent patients and families.  Lest we forget, the greatest tax bill in the history of the world will provide tax relief to these same corporations furthering burdening the rest of society with the costs of opiate crisis as the pharmaceutical companies whistle all the way to the bank.

Your Loved One is Not a Statistic

Stalin once said something to the effect that 1 death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.  Society has fallen prey to this same cynical view of the opiate crisis.  15,000 lives lost each year to prescription opiates is not just a statistic, it is 15,000 tragic and avoidable deaths brought on by corporate greed.

To the pharmaceutical companies making these products, 15,000 deaths is the costs of doing business.  They pay a fine here and there calculating those into their cost-benefit analysis.  There is no consideration of each life, just a profit analysis.

The calculations will not change until society demands accountability from these companies.  It begins with the families of the victims.  It begins with you standing up and saying my child is not an expense item on a balance sheet, my child is not a statistic, the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors doing their bidding will only listen when the cost-benefit analysis changes.  This will change only when the pharmaceutical companies and the reckless doctors prescribing the opiates are hit in the bank, their morality is inpenetrable.

New Mexico Attorney General Lawsuit

The New Mexico Attorney General lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies flooding New Mexico provides a very good factual account of the predatory and callous profit driven economics of death.


Here are a few recent articles.  There are many more on the topic

The Family That Built an Empire of Pain

The Family That Built an Empire of Pain Purdue launched OxyContin with a marketing campaign that attempted to counter this attitude and change the prescribing habits of doctors. The company funded research and paid doctors to make the case that concerns about opioid addiction were overblown, and that OxyContin could safely treat an ever-wider range of maladies. Sales representatives marketed OxyContin as a product “to start with and to stay with.” Millions of patients found the drug to be a vital salve for excruciating pain. But many others grew so hooked on it that, between doses, they experienced debilitating withdrawal.

Opinion | The Insanity of Taxpayer-Funded Addiction

Opinion | The Insanity of Taxpayer-Funded Addiction Purdue executives call abuse-deterrent opioids, along with highly effective non-opioid pain products, the “holy grail” for the pharmaceutical industry.

“Abuse-deterrent is a marketing term used to mislead,” says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, a pharmacology and physiology professor at Georgetown University who directs PharmedOut, a group that monitors pharmaceutical industry marketing efforts. “At least half of prescribers think that abuse-deterrent means less addictive.” It does not; abuse-deterrent pills are simply harder to crush or alter for injection or snorting. “It doesn’t prevent you from swallowing them, which is the most common way of abusing opioids,” Dr. Fugh-Berman said.

Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Pooling data from 2002 to 2012, the incidence of heroin initiation was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not (0.39 vs. 0.02 percent) (Muhuri et al., 2013). A study of young, urban injection drug users interviewed in 2008 and 2009 found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and their initiation into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, or personal prescriptions (Lankenau et al., 2012). This rate represents a shift from historical trends. Of people entering treatment for heroin addiction who began abusing opioids in the 1960s, more than 80 percent started with heroin. Of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug (Cicero et al., 2014). Examining national-level general population heroin data (including those in and not in treatment), nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin (Jones, 2013; Muhuri et al., 2013).

With Overdoses on Rise, Cities and Counties Look for Someone to Blame

With Overdoses on Rise, Cities and Counties Look for Someone to Blame The legal battle is playing out as the sale of prescription opioids, which include oxycodone and hydrocodone, have quadrupled since 1999, as have overdose deaths. More than 183,000 people died from overdoses tied to prescription opioids in the 15 years leading up to 2015. Life expectancy in the United States dropped for the second year in a row in 2016, federal officials reported this week, largely driven by drug overdoses, the vast majority of which were opioid-related. And the larger drug crisis, including heroin and fentanyl obtained illicitly, is swamping the resources of local governments and draining their budgets, officials say.

OxyContin: Purdue Pharma’s painful medicine | Fortune

OxyContin: Purdue Pharma’s painful medicine | Fortune Consider these statistics, all for 2010: 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the U.S., according to Wall Street analysts Cowen & Co. Enough painkillers were prescribed to “medicate every American adult around the clock for a month,” the federal Centers for Disease Control reported on Nov. 1. It estimated that “nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.” Opioids generated $11 billion in revenues for pharmaceutical companies, says market research firm Frost & Sullivan.


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