What Created the Opioid Crisis in the US?
Posted: Dec 22, 2017
The opioid crisis has reached alarming proportions in the United States and in excess of 100 people are dying each day across the country from opioid overdose. This count is far higher than the number of individuals that die from shootingsand car crashes combined.
These fatalities indicate that there is a widespread addiction to these potent prescription painkillers. This particular crisis first reared its ugly head in the mid-1990s which was when the pharma industry started to market legal narcotics such as OxyContin which was used in the treatment of everyday pain.
What is OxyContin?
It is essentially a slow-release opioid that doctors promoted very vigorously. The smart sales tactics and loose regulations added fuel to the fire and people just began assuming that it was safe for use which eventually led to opioid addiction across the length and breadth of the country.
This pill is made using oxycodone, which is a semi-synthetic opioid that is loosely-related to morphine; it was initially based on certain elements found in opium poppy. These extra-strength pain killers were conventionally used to alleviate cancer pain. But by the mid-1990s various pills that had an oxycodone base as well as a similar compound of hydrocodone emerged on the market andthese were being marketed as painkillers for chronic pain.
The addictive pain killer
Companies like Purdue that manufactured the drug embarked on a very aggressive marketing strategy- it doubled its sales team as well as distributed promotional coupons to doctors who would hand out a 30-day supply of these drugs, absolutely free of cost. However, this drug was similar to morphine and extremely addictive and it was being prescribed just like aspirin was.
Little wonder then, that the pharmaceutical companies made hay while the sun shone; but this ended up leading to widespread opioid addiction which became a major public health tragedy. By the time the government started to make efforts to contain the distribution, it just ended in the surfacing of the black market version of the drug. Today this crisis has reached such enormous proportions that people across all income groups, regions and races are being affected by it.
Change on the horizon?
From 1996 to 2002 the prescriptions that were issued for this drug in the United States increased 10-fold, from 670,000 per year to more than 6 million. Eventually, the government determined that Purdue had underplayed the risks of opioid addiction. The landmark case in 2007 eventually led to the company being fined in excess of $600million for misleading the public. But by that time the company was raking in billions solely on the sale of these highly potent opioids.
Today, other developed countries such as the United Kingdom are also struggling with the significant rise in opioid addiction as well, but not on the same scale that it is experienced in the US. Until some effective treatment for chronic pain is easier to access than these harmful opioid painkillers, this situation isn’t likely to change in a major way.
The author is a medical practitioner by profession. He has penned the article down to highlight how the opioid overdose affects your body as well as increases the chances of several diseases.