❝How did America get to a point where legal opioid painkillers, marketed as medicine, killed nearly 19,000 people in 2014?
One alarming explanation is that the drug companies behind these opioids wanted more people to buy their product, so they led a misleading campaign to get doctors to prescribe their drugs.
The result: Drug companies profited as more and more people got addicted and died of overdoses. This chart, from a 2015 study published in the Annual Review of Public Health, tells the story:
❝…The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when doctors prescribed a tremendous amount of opioid painkillers to help treat pain — a serious problem, given that chronic pain alone afflicts about 100 million Americans.
But one reason doctors were so willing to prescribe these painkillers, despite the clear risks of addiction and overdose, is heavy marketing from the pharmaceutical industry.
❝Andrew Kolodny and other public health experts…detailed Purdue Pharma’s involvement after it put OxyContin on the market in the 1990s…
Between 1996 and 2002, Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 pain-related educational programs through direct sponsorship or financial grants and launched a multifaceted campaign to encourage long-term use of opioid painkillers for chronic non-cancer pain. As part of this campaign, Purdue provided financial support to the American Pain Society, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the Joint Commission, pain patient groups, and other organizations. In turn, these groups all advocated for more aggressive identification and treatment of pain, especially use of opioid painkillers.
Often, these campaigns propagated highly misleading claims — including assertions that OxyContin and other new opioid painkillers were safer than other medications on the market.
The claims were so misleading, in fact, that Purdue Pharma eventually paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for them…
❝Purdue learned from focus groups with physicians in 1995 that doctors were worried about the abuse potential of OxyContin. The company then gave false information to its sales representatives that the drug had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers, the U.S. attorney said.
But in the midst of the misinformation campaigns, doctors prescribed hundreds of millions of prescriptions for opioids — in 2012, enough to give a bottle of pills to every adult in the country. And as people became addicted to opioid painkillers, they also began turning to a cheaper, more potent opioid — heroin — to satiate their cravings.
The result: In 2014, there were a record 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the US, nearly two-thirds of which were opioid-related, according to federal data. And all along the way, drug companies made a lot of money.
Purdue Pharma and company officials were ordered to pay fines totaling over $600 Million in 2007 for false advertising. A lawsuit by the state of Kentucky could have resulted in another $1 billion added to payment for their crimes. The Republican attorney general settled for $24 million. Perhaps the fact of his law firm representing Purdue had something to do with that.
No officials have ever been charged with crimes. They’ve only killed thousands. Barely up to the level of many of our presidents.