LA Time Investigation Reveals That Big Pharma Knowingly Caused Opiate Epidemic

Image: Flickr, Jonathan Silverberg

Big Pharma knowingly caused the legal opiate addiction epidemic – which has claimed more than 19,000 live since 1999 – according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.

Two decades ago, Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, a pain killer that the company claimed could relieve pain for 12 hours with a single dose, which is more than twice as long as generic medications. However, despite the medication’s claims, in many cases the drug does not provide 12-hours of pain relief, leading many users to experience symptoms of withdrawal.

According the Los Angeles Times, Purdue was aware of the issues surrounding the use of the drug, but decided that it would still push the drug to market. It is believed that the company’s 2-doses-a-day marketing campaign is the key to the drugs success, despite the fact that a milder drug could, in many instances, provide better and more reliable pain relief.

Today, OxyContin is considered one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in history. In fact, over the last 20 years, OxyContin has been abused by more than 7 million Americans, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

In addition, since the drug’s release, Purdue has pressured doctors and sales reps into maintaining 12-hour does strictures. However, as the drug’s effects wear off a lot sooner for many users, a cycle of abuse and addiction is often caused.

When patients are not allowed pain relief sooner than described, withdrawal symptoms such as body aches, nausea, anxiety, and more – similar to those experienced by heroin addicts – often occurs. Then, when the drug is finally administered, a euphoria of relief is heightened, which ultimately starts the addiction cycle.

The return of pain combined with “the beginning stages of acute withdrawal,” can easily become “a very powerful motivator for people to take more drugs,Washington University neuropharmacologist Theodore J. Cicero told the Times. As a result, this cycle could be considered “the perfect recipe for addiction.”

“You are messing with those areas of the brain that are involved in addiction,” agreed Peter Przekop, a neuroscientist and physician who oversees the treatment of painkiller-addicted patients at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.“and you are going to get the person dependent on it.”

However, as the Times investigation seems to indicate, Purdue priorities its profits over the safety of its customers. According to the Times, Purdue had begun testing patients to gain patent approval for its extended-relief formula of oxycodone in the 1990s. During these tests, evidence that contradicted the company’s 12-hour dose claims began to accumulate.

“For example, in one study of 164 cancer patients, one-third of those given OxyContin dropped out because they found the treatment ‘ineffective,’ according to an FDA analysis of the study. Researchers then changed the rules of the study to allow patients to take supplemental painkillers, known as ‘rescue medication,’ in between 12-hour doses of OxyContin.

“In another study of 87 cancer patients, ‘rescue was used frequently in most of the patients,’ and 95% resorted to it at some point in the study, according to a journal article detailing the clinical trial.”

Despite this evidence, Purdue pushed for 12-hour dosing restrictions in their patent testing and also sought and received FDA approval at that dosing. As a result, the drug and the company has experience much success. Purdue has earned $31 billion in revenue during the two decades OxyContin has been on the market – topping its pharmaceutical predecessor, MS Contin.

Purdue Pharma is owned by the Sackler family, who had also been responsible for MS Contin. The family was ranked in Forbes’ 2015 list of rich families, with an estimated worth of $14 billion, putting the family ahead of American dynasties such as the Mellons and Rockefellers.

In 2007, the safety of the drug came into question when it was discovered that the durg was not as abuse-resistant as it claimed. Users were able to crush the pills, which broke the medications time-release mechanism, allowing users to snort the powder for a heroin-like high. Purdue pleading guilty to false marketing charges by the Department of Justice and was fined $635 million. The drugs dosing issue was never addressed.

Image: Flickr, Jonathan Silverberg

In an effort to protect the company’s revenue and reputation, the company continued to push its 12-hour pain relief market strategy. As a result, when doctors begun prescribing OxyContin in dosing more frequently than 12 hours, the company viewed the issue as a crisis – not because the company had been concerned for the welfare of its patents or the reliance of their drug, instead they took action because “managed care plans” were “beginning to refuse to fill prescriptions” at such a steep price.

The company responded to this issue by encouraging pramescutical reps to tell doctors to increase the strength of the doses, despite the dangers this would present to users. “More than half of long-term OxyContin users are on doses that public health officials consider dangerously high, according to an analysis of nationwide prescription data conducted for the Times.

In 2014, doctors handed out 5.4 million prescriptions for OxyContin in the US — 80 percent of those in 12-hour doses. More than 52% of patients taking OxyContin longer than three months were prescribed doses greater than 60 milligrams a day, according to a 2014 analysis. According to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physicians are urged to “avoid” or “carefully justify” prescriptions of that strength.

With the evidence collected by the Los Angeles Times, it is clear the Purdue’s primary concern is profits. False advertisement, higher doses and the encouragement of a addictive cycle are simply marketing strategies that put millions of lives at risk every year. To read the whole story, with case example of the drugs long term effects on users, click here to visit the Los Angeles Times website.

Image: Flickr, kev-shine

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  1. This is a really important issue, butI just can’t even take your article seriously with the insane amount of typos that you’ve got going on. Come on guys!!!


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