Big Pharma and the U.S. Government are Responsible for Opioid Crisis - International Highlife

Big Pharma and the U.S. Government are Responsible for Opioid Crisis

A new study and emerging perspectives are drawing attention to the United States Government and Big Pharma’s role in the current opioid epidemic within the country.

While many attempt to place the choice of drug use onto drug users themselves, many are now pointing the finger to Big Pharma and the U.S. Government for being responsible for fuelling the current opioid epidemic.

An article on Blacklisted News recounts findings of a Harvard study called “The Opioid Epidemic: Fixing a Broken Pharmaceutical Market”, examining the role of the government partnership with Big Pharma that has allowed opioids like OxyContin to permeate the market.

At Who’s Expense

The Big Pharma industry has spent more than a billion dollars in their courtship with the U.S. government, through lobbying and campaign contributions. As a result, Big Pharma has been permitted to operate despite the high rates of opioid addictions, the mirky regulations around the chemistry of these drugs, and the overall lack of enforcement.

The article recounts the following shocking statistics:

  • Over four million Americans misuse opioids each month;
  • Opioid misuse amounts to a societal cost of $80 billion annually;
  • 300 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2015 in the U.S (which has a population of 323 million)
  • 80% of the world’s opioids are consumed in the U.S., which has 5 percent of the world’s population

Purdue Pharma, a Business Case

Purdue Pharma, worked to develop an improved synthetic opioid. Their golden ticket was found with the extended-release oxycodone pill known as OxyContin, patented and approved by the FDA in 1995.

As the Harvard study notes, “low patenting standards” and “a history of tepid enforcement” provided an incentive for Purdue to embark on a massive, fraudulent marketing campaign. With the guarantee of no competition provided by the government, Purdue spent obscene amounts of money getting American hooked on their newly-patented product.

Between 1996 and 2000, the company more than doubled its U.S. marketing team…In 2001, Purdue paid forty million dollars in bonuses tied to extended-release oxycodone…Purdue also invested heavily in analytics, developing a database to identify high-volume prescribers and pharmacies to help focus their marketing resources…Patients were offered starter coupons for a free initial supply of extended-release oxycodone, 34,000 of which were redeemed by 2001…Finally, Purdue hosted forty all-expenses-paid pain management and speaker training conferences at lavish resorts. Over five thousand clinicians attended, receiving toys, fishing hats, and compact discs while listening to sales representatives tout the alleged benefits of extended-release oxycodone…Purdue elevated the stakes, spending an estimated six to twelve times more promoting extended-release oxycodone than its competitor Janssen spent marketing a rival opioid…

Purdue’s efforts paid off. Between 1996 and 2001, extended-release oxycodone generated $2.8 billion in sales. From 2008 to 2014, annual sales exceeded $2 billion.

What to Do Now?

As the opioid crisis persists, with 80% of the world’s opioids consumed in the U.S.A.,  medical cannabis advocates are coming forward with the benefits of cannabis to treat the epidemic.

Earlier this year, Rolling Stone reported on those who are taking a stand for cannabis for opioid addiction, where an Albuquerque psychiatric nurse practitioner reported that 400 of her patients who tried cannabis to manage symptoms of withdrawal were able to “kick” their opioid habit.

Without a doubt, the statistics on opioid addictions are alarming, and it’s important that all medical communities recognize the responsibility of how the U.S. got where they are.

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