Who’s Responsible for the Opioid Crisis?
The Opioid Crisis
Beneath the complexities of the opioid crisis is a troubling question of responsibility. For too long, the insidious nature of addiction has kept the finger mostly pointed on the end-user. But while the decision to ingest drugs ultimately rests with the consumer, the manufacturers and doctors who prescribe and promote the legitimate use of opioids are at the forefront of this crisis.
According to a report in the New Yorker, accountability lies with the marketing strategies and profit margins of big Pharmaceutical companies that fund advocacy groups and affiliated physicians.
Since 2003, the amounts of opioids prescribed to Americans has quadrupled and the mortality rate relative to these drugs has increased as much as six times. Surveys reveal that overprescribing of opioid pain pills has caused enough fatalities to significantly decrease the U.S. life expectancy. Some areas like Pike County, Kentucky have lost up to 30% of their local residents.
Data also confirm that in 2014, opioid overdose killed over 1,700 adults more than any other drug including heroin and cocaine combined. Sadly, young middle-class Americans between the age of 18 to 25 are among the most rapidly declining demographic for opioid-related deaths.
While these reports are staggering and strategies to reduce the consumption of these drugs is an important part of the equation, it’s evident that the chain of oversight must begin at the root of the problem. That means putting the burden of responsibility on America’s most profitable drug-producers such as the privately held Purdue Pharma. Based on a report by Radden Keefe in the New Yorker “the roots of Purdue’s criminal profiteering stretch all the way back to three brothers; Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler.”
According to Keefe, the advertising tactics employed by Arthur Sackler revolutionized the prescription drug market. Under Sackler’s guidance, pharmaceutical companies hired prominent physicians to endorse opioids. They also inundated doctor’s offices and medical journals with catchy marketing materials and subsidized studies that supported the effectiveness of these substances. In essence, they laid the foundation to become mega-billionaires. It was a lethal plan that devastated millions of lives across the country through the wide-spread use of potentially addictive prescription pills.
So successful were the efforts to change the prescription habits of the American public that Pharmaceutical companies utilized every mechanism to influence the use of opioids including…
- Using lobbyist groups like the Pain & Policy Studies Group (University of Wisconsin-based organization) who reportedly received $2.5 million to promote opioid use and deter the passing of regulations that discouraged opioid use in medical practice.
- Exaggerating the effectiveness and safety of opioid products by covering up the potential for addiction through erroneous promotional material.
- Saturating the medical industry with misleading information. Studies show Purdue was marketing Oxycontin as a long-lasting drug that provides up to 12-hours. Clinical trials revealed, however, that the actual relief effects were much less.
- Hiring several thousand clinicians to show public support for the use of OxyContin at medical conferences.
- Offering affiliated physicians all-expenses-paid trips to pain-management seminars.
- Launching a massive sales force buoyed by financial incentives such as luxury vacations and cash bonuses. Bonuses for Purdue Pharma representatives averaged $70,000 and could be as much as $250,000 for some reps. These reps made repeated in-person visits to medical offices to reinforce the opioid message.
At the time of the debut of OxyContin in 1996, according to an ethics Unwrapped report, Purdue had a sales team of approximately 300 reps. Four years later their sales team had doubled and incremental increase in the succeeding years. Efforts to motivate a growing team subsequently led to aggressive tactics as revealed through a damaging memo from a Purdue sales manager titled “It’s Bonus Time in the Neighborhood”. The memo stated that… “He who sells 40mg,” (the largest dose manufactured at the time), will win the battle.” Sadly, while the pharmaceutical industry reps were fighting to win the drug sales battle, rampant opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths was unraveling their message.
As the death toll mounted, Lawsuits against drug manufacturers began piling up. To avoid the damaging effects of incriminating documents, Purdue settled many of these suits out of court. In fact; it is reported that at least $634.5 million was paid out in fines for Oxycontin related cases. Nevertheless, despite the payout and Purdue’ use of political heavy-hitters to run interference, these lawsuits have kept coming. Recently, the company announced that their sales teams will no longer be peddling OxyContin at doctor’s offices. This shift in their marketing tactics is a positive step in the direction of accountability. It also implies “admission of guilt” or at least some ownership for the wreckage in lives that their products have caused. Unfortunately for many, it has come too late.
As Tom McLellan, Former Director of White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and co-founder of the Treatment Research Institute stated… “everyone throughout the supply chain of opioids needs to take greater responsibility.” The general consensus is to curb this crisis it is imperative that a better dialogue occurs between big pharmaceutical entities, the FDA, doctors, and patients.
In the meantime, those already adversely affected by opioids need a continuum of care that is effective and lasting. A recent study revealed that nearly 50,000 ER patients aged 21 and younger were diagnosed with opioid dependence or addiction in 2013. Other trends indicate that the rate of overdose by teenagers who use opioids rose by 53% between 2000 and 2015. Getting your teenager into a professional facility is still a parent’s best defense.
Ebb Tide Treatment Centers
At Ebb Tide Treatment Centers we believe alcoholics and addicts can and do recover. Recovering from active addiction (Substance Abuse Disorder) does not have to be a long, painful process. With the help of Ebb Tide’s caring and experienced staff, you and your loved ones will learn, and take proven steps necessary to achieve success by maintaining lasting sobriety. The goal of Ebb Tide Treatment Centers is to restore lives and families. With our help, you can regain control of your life from addiction and start living happily again. Your new life is just a phone call away. Call us today at 561-508-8330 or visit our website.
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