‘Epidemic’: Affecting a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population.
Opioid Epidemic Statistics
- Each day, 2.1 million people in the U.S. abuse opioids.
- The CDC reports that 165,000 Americans died from prescription opiate-related overdoses since 2000.
- In 2015, 227 million opiate prescriptions were written in this country.
With statistics like these, we can easily classify our nation’s relationship with opiates as an epidemic. But does it also fall under ‘conspiracy’?
Conspiracy: A secret plan to do something that is harmful or illegal.
It’s certainly no secret that drug companies, like every other company, want to make money. But are their plans to accomplish this goal actually harmful to the public? Do they keep things hidden from their customers? Let’s take a look at some facts and figures, then you can decide.
Big Pharma Spends Big Bucks
$880 million. That’s the total spent by opiate manufacturers over the past decade to fight potential controls of their pills. These dollars, which were funneled to lobbying and campaign contributions, have successfully shut down a slew of proposed bills aimed at limiting opioid prescriptions and reducing profits for the med-makers.
The full-force of the pharmaceutical industry has been felt in multiple states on multiple opioid-related issues. A few examples:
- A proposed bill in Tennessee was designed to reduce the number of newborns who arrive addicted to opiates.
- Another bill in New Mexico was created to limit the initial prescription of opioids for acute pain to seven days, making addiction less likely and producing fewer leftover pills.
Both of these were squashed by efforts from Big Pharma. What did pass, however, was a bill that drug makers pushed through Maine legislation requiring insurers to cover the companies’ abuse-deterrent painkillers.
Protecting People or Profits?
Of course, all companies support legislation that benefits their bottom line. But are painkiller manufacturers generating an epidemic of addiction and death in an effort to increase profits? Are they making money at the expense of American lives?
OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma made $2.4 billion in profits from opiates last year – that was after paying more than $600 million in fines for “misleading marketing” that misrepresented the addictive nature of their pills.
Something else to consider: Pharma-funded advocates often use their influence to spread opioid-friendly messages, but they fail to mention their partnership with the drug companies. It’s also common for pharmaceutical companies to draft legislation and persuade pharma-friendly lawmakers to introduce it. They can then put the full force of their influence behind these bills to ensure the continued sales of their medications.
Selling Drugs and Solving Problems
Drug companies argue they are working to solve problems linked to their painkillers and have developed proposals to encourage more cautious prescribing – allowing states to share databases of prescriptions to prevent drug dealers from accessing pills, for example.
Barby Ingle, president of the International Pain Foundation, feels the overdose concern is out of proportion. “There’s such a hysteria going on,” she claims. “There are millions who are living a better life who are on the medications long-term.”
Of course, there are conflicting research results on the opposite side of the argument. Studies have shown that up to 40 percent of non-cancer patients on opiates show signs of addiction and that opiates aren’t an effective method of treating chronic pain.
Another major push from drug makers is the promotion of new formulas that make their pills harder to crush or dissolve. The goal here is to prevent abuse through the snorting or injection of painkillers. These efforts seem to demonstrate the drug companies’ concern for public welfare, but creating new versions of old opiates also results in new profits from patents. It also attempts to reduce potential abuse concerns, prompting doctors to continue prescribing their products.
Balancing the Needs
Advocates for Big Pharma stress that we must balance the opioid crisis with the needs of chronic pain patients. And drug manufacturers stress that they are doing what they can to make their pills safe. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live out every day in stress – thanks to opioid addiction.
You decide: Company business…or big conspiracy?
Additional Reading: Can a Label Really Stop the Abuse of Some Prescription Meds?
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