What Role Do Drug Companies Play in the Opioid Epidemic?

drug makers profitingAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 44 people die each day from an overdose on prescription painkillers. In all, more than 47,000 people died of drug overdoses in a single year, according to the most recent statistics, and about 60% of them are tied to opioids such as prescription narcotics and heroin.

Although the majority of painkiller users don’t go on to use heroin, approximately 75% of heroin addicts first started out on prescription opiates. The connection is undeniable.

If so much carnage is tied back to these prescription drugs, what level of responsibility falls on the pharmaceutical companies for continuing to pump out these drugs and market them to doctors as well as patients? Yes, prescribing practices need to be overhauled, which will help, but how much culpability is there on the part of the drug makers that are literally raking in billions of dollars off the plight of thousands of Americans?

An article in Time recently pointed out that there is much more to this connection than many people might suspect. Not only are they profiting off the sale of the addictive substances, but also off newer drugs designed to treat symptoms caused by the painkillers. Dr. Akikur Mohammad, who is an adjunct professor at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and the author of The Anatomy of Addiction, pointed out that there was a commercial during the Super Bowl for a drug treating OIC (opioid-induced constipation).

Here are a few things to think about. The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, paid out one of the largest fines in history due to misleading practices and knowingly promoting their drug as being safe when they knew it was more addictive, yet they continue to sell the drug. Think they’re alone?

Another important point is that the United States and New Zealand are reportedly the only modernized countries that allow drug manufacturers to market directly to consumers. And it’s working, too – the U.S. consumes 75% of the prescription drugs in the world despite having only 5% of the global population.