February 27, 2019

Big Pharma and Addiction

By Dale Vernor

Abuse of opioids including illicit forms and prescribed painkillers has been a problem the
United States has struggled with for a long time, even before the 1900s. In 1998,
Bayer, a leading pharmaceutical company, started producing heroin, an opioid for
commercial purposes. It was touted a “wonder drug” from its first clinical trials making
its use widely spread. Even the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment director
Kimberly Johnson mentioned that during the early 1900s, derivatives of heroin and
other substances weren’t a big deal, saying that drugs such as heroin were used to
suppress coughs.

In 1914, a tax was imposed through the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act on those who made,
imported and sold any derivatives of opium and coca leaves. It is plainly clear that by
1920s, doctors had realized and were aware of the effects of opioids, especially the
addictive nature of these substances. In 1924, heroin was regarded as illegal. Even at
a time when doctors knew the risks of addiction from the use of painkillers, in the 1950s
through to 1960s, physicians were still treating severely injured soldiers in their nerve
block clinics using painkillers.

How Big Pharma Manufactured and Marketed Potentially Addictive Painkillers

A letter printed in January 1980 in the New England Journal of Medicine held back the
idea and thought that the use of opioids in treating chronic pain was dangerous. After
an analysis of 11,882 patients treated using narcotics, Dr. Hershel Jick and Jane Porter
mentioned that developing addiction is something rare in patients having no history of
addiction. Patients having terminal illness started getting more prescription opioids.
In 1994, Purdue Pharma tested OxyContin, a painkiller intended to be used for long-
term treatment and in 1996, it was on the market. The number of painkiller
prescriptions recorded in U.S. pharmacies went up by about 2 to 3 million every year.
In 1995 and 1996, there were 8 million prescriptions in pharmacies.

You remember the Purdue Pharma video promotion dubbed "I Got My Life Back?” [available below] The promotional video gave highlights about six people the company had followed who were
treated using OxyContin medication. Over 1500 PDF copies of the video were
distributed to physician offices where people would be given as check out items when
leaving. One year after the production of that video, the prescriptions of opioids filled in
pharmacies skyrocketed to 11 million setting ground for increased use as well as abuse for these medications. This has resulted in what today is seen as the worst case of an
opioid epidemic in the U.S.

In 2015, 240 million prescriptions for opioids were dispensed representing nearly one
prescription for even adult in the country.

How Big Pharma Collude With Doctors, Government, and Other Stakeholders

Big Pharma companies have continued to fund nonprofit groups and advocates
promoting the use of opioids in the treatment of pain and other chronic diseases,
according to a report released by a U.S. senator. It is estimated that over $10 million
were handed over to about 14 nonprofits by the five largest opioid manufacturers within
a period of 5 years.

In 2016, the pharmaceutical industry spent about $152 to influence legislation meaning
that some lobbyists are also involved in the menace, as the Center for Responsive
Politics mentions. In addition, drug companies spent about $20 million put directly to
support political campaigns in 2015 with 60 percent going to the Republicans.
The makers of Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl that can highly be addictive paid doctors
about $6.3 million in the year 2015, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid
Services. About four doctors pocketed $100,000 each.

Fentanyl, OxyContin, Demerol, Vicodin, morphine, codeine, and Dolophine are among
the frequently over-prescribed painkiller drugs. Doctors and Big Pharma companies
have continued to give patients access to these highly addictive painkillers. The war on
opioid epidemic is one that is complex and all stakeholders in the industry should realize
the harm they are causing on users of these prescription drugs.

Some doctors have even regretted promoting and talking in ways that encouraged the
use of the painkillers. Portenoy, a doctor who presented one of the many studies
claiming opioids presented little risk of addiction when used to treat chronic pain
lamented saying, "Clearly if I had an inkling of what I know now then, I wouldn't have
spoken in the way that I spoke. It was clearly the wrong thing to do."

In summary, Big Pharma companies, lobbyists, doctors, and the government should be
held accountable for the opioid epidemic problem and the outbreak in prescription pill
addiction. They should even go as far as making these pharmaceutical companies dole
out money for heroin rehab visits.

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