Pharmaceutical companies and the opioid epidemic

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2019

For the life of me, I am unable to understand the fascination that people from around the world have with drugs (illegal drugs), especially here in America. I came through the drug crisis of the late 1960s unscathed — never having used marijuana or other illicit drugs.  As I have stated in previous columns, I have absolutely no idea of what some call a “high.” I remember, however, coming down with malaria, while living in a foreign country. I experienced serious hallucinations related to my treatment for the illness. It was a high that literally caused me to believe that I was going to die. Afterwards, I wondered why anyone would actually use the hallucinogenic drug, LSD.

Even though I could have died from the illness, I also learned a valuable lesson of how drugs could be just as deadly. This does not seem to matter to many Americans, who for some reason, believe that their lives would be much richer if they could just get high. Even though illicit drugs are being brought into our country at an alarming rate, pharmaceutical companies also feed into the equation related to drug addiction in America.

Nationally, drug overdoses, in fact, have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of injury deaths in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 44 people dying each day from overdoses of prescription opioids like OxyContin. Hit hard by the epidemic are the New England states, experiencing the worst drug epidemic in history. Residents in the state of Massachusetts were shocked when it was discovered that nearly 700 people lost their lives due to opioid overdose during the first half of 2015. That number continues to increase.

The prescription drug OxyContin appears to be a major culprit. By 2010, OxyContin prescriptions were making their producers, Purdue Pharma, L.P., more than $3 billion a year. It did not take a rocket scientist to discover that doctors were clearly over-prescribing the drug, resulting in their patients becoming addicts. It was even clearer that OxyContin as a pill was becoming the gateway drug to heroin addiction.

As a point of reference, some OxyContin users even go so far as to call it the heroin pill. With increasing addiction to OxyContin and heroin, and up to five deaths a day, due in part to the abuse of opioids, Purdue Pharma, L.P. was hauled into court. The pharmaceutical giant was accused of misleading doctors and patients when it claimed that the drug was less likely to be abused than traditional narcotics.

The company in 2007, agreed to pay $600 million in fines and other payments to resolve the criminal charge of “misbranding” its product, one of the largest amounts ever paid by a drug company in such a case. The fine was a drop in the bucket, however, for the company, whose owners in 2015 were included as $14 billion newcomers in Forbes’ list of the super wealthy.