The question on whether or not big pharma will ever pay the price for the opioid epidemic is complex. Historically, tobacco companies did have to pay for their manipulative marketing ploys. This may be the platform that district attorneys will work with as they take big pharma to court.
Through large marketing campaigns, big pharma got doctors to prescribe OxyContin and Percocet which caused the opioid epidemic of 2016. Painkillers landed in the hands of patients but also their teens who learned these drugs were a source of getting high.
They are sold on the black market now and in 2015, there were over 33,000 opioid deaths. People were mixing alcohol or benzos with opioids and dying at parties. The public didn’t appear to know that there was any danger in taking these prescription pain killers. Was this the fault of big pharma and if so, will they ever pay for the opioid problem?
Big Pharma and Prescription Opioid Marketing
Some of the major pharmaceutical companies had their company records subpoenaed. An Attorney General in Connecticut, George Jepson, is trying to find out if the company’s marketing tactics made the opioid epidemic worse. This is the angle he believes will win the case against big pharma.
The sales practices and marketing are believed to have been highly effective in getting more people to use these prescription pain killers. Prescription opioid abuse has become so prevalent and the question remains, were laws violated in order to push these drugs on people?
Opioid Epidemic Overdose Deaths
The fact that so many people have died from drug overdose is causing a major concern. Prescription drug abuse statistics in 2016 include 917 people dying in Connecticut. This is a 26% increase from the previous year.
They are already projecting there will be 1,000 overdose deaths in 2017. The problem isn’t just in Connecticut, it’s all over the U.S. On average, drug overdose deaths are killing 90 people per day.
People Uniting Against Big Pharma Company
The pharmaceutical company that manufactures OxyContin has been under investigation by an Attorney General coalition. They are looking to cooperate with one another to find a solution to help fight the opioid epidemic. The coalition look to work collaboratively with the government.
OxyContin is one of the more powerful prescription opioids and addicts on the street will alter the drug to make it even stronger. While that may not be the error of the pharmaceutical company, creating addicts out of the average Joe hasn’t made them friends in high places.
Attorney Generals are looking to make big pharma accountable for the opioid epidemic and the overdose death crisis that is happening right now. Communities are also joining the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other manufacturers they believe are responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?
Big pharma and the opioid epidemic is being compared to as the tobacco crisis back in the 90’s. Again, tobacco companies were blamed for their questionable marketing campaigns.
Big pharma reps say they aren’t like tobacco companies because they work diligently to deter opioid drug abuse. Their argument is that Americans in pain depend on opioids to deal with it.
Companies like Janssen Pharmaceuticals say they act responsibly and in the best interest of patients when it comes to opioid prescription medications.
Doctors and the Opioid Epidemic
It’s not just big pharma that’s responsible for the opioid overdose epidemic. Doctors were also responsible, being the direct contact to patients. It was a doctor who decided to put their patient on prescription opioids without monitoring it properly.
The scientific community published reports based on a doctor’s firsthand experience with their patients using opioid pain killers. They depended on the letters from doctors to determine how opioids were affecting patients.
There was a letter created in 1980 that many doctors referenced. It stated that hospital patients receiving prescription opioids didn’t become addicted.
During the first five years of OxyContin being on the market, Purdue Pharmaceuticals conducted conferences and talks. They gave doctors $3000 for agreeing to spread the word about this new prescription pain killer. Doctors were treated like kings and as a result, our normal aches and pains were redefined as an enemy we could battle with opioid pain killers.
Distributors and Pharmacies Responsible in Part for Opioid Epidemic
Distributors and pharmacies apparently didn’t report suspicious orders for controlled substances they received. McKesson, a distributor, settled $150 million with the Justice Department.
FDA and DEA Didn’t Help the Problem
Perhaps the reason it’s so challenging to specifically blame the problem on big pharma is because other organizations also failed to prevent the opioid epidemic.
The FDA approved more powerful opioids without balancing it out with further distribution restrictions or risk reduction tactics. The DEA didn’t impose quotas on the amount of opioids being manufactured, making them a part of the epidemic problem.
Are Opioids Prescription Drugs a Similar Story to Tobacco?
There are a lot of similarities between tobacco and opioid addiction statistics. The big corporate companies manipulated people through marketing to sell a lifestyle. This turned out to be false and instead being a ticket to an early grave.
In a similar 1998 joint litigation settlement agreement, 46 states as well as 6 jurisdictions came together to fight against tobacco companies. The companies had to give yearly payments out in perpetuity to fund health programs and anti-health campaigns.
Today, the attorneys general and advocates are asking courts to determine what the motivation of marketing opioid drugs were. The question is, did the pharmaceutical companies downplay the addictive nature of the drugs? If big pharma is found guilty. They may receive similar heavy consequences to that of the tobacco companies.
Aggressive Marketing for OxyContin
One of the contributing factors to the opioid epidemic was the aggressive marketing big pharma carried out. With Purdue marketing OxyContin, they created videotapes with a physician spokesman that was well known. The tape was distributed to 15,000 doctors across the US.
The tape was based on an Oxy patient named Johnny Sullivan pitching the prescription opioids from a construction site. Sullivan sang the praises of the drug for not turning him into a zombie. He goes on to say that life was hell before OxyContin and now the future looks great.
Purdue’s mandate was to get a roster of 70,000 committed physicians that would prescribe OxyContin to their patients with chronic non-cancer pain. Legal records have shown that reps were encouraged to tell doctors to exchange short acting opioids like Percocet to extended release opioids for chronic pain relief.
Purdue did have a collateral patient advocate website, listing 33,000 doctors that would prescribe the medication for you. New patients that were deemed as suitable would be given a starter supply coupon for a 30 day supply of OxyContin.
Opioid Prescription Drugs Are Not What Big Pharma Said They Were
At the worst of the opioid epidemic, research groups like Cochrane Collaboration found information that contradicted the marketing statements of big pharma. They stated that they saw no clinical benefit of opioids over non-prescription pain killers like Aleve.
A UK investigation found that patients who were prescribed opioids for daily use in dealing with chronic pain became more disabled than they previously were at the six-month mark. A Scandinavian study found that patients who did not take pain killers were four times more likely to recover from chronic pain.
Medical professional societies like The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) have stated that opioid risks for non-cancer patients far outweigh the benefits.
Argument that it’s the Individuals Fault
In the end, big pharma may argue that the responsibility lies in each individual to responsibly use their prescription pain killers. So far, individuals have seen little success when they attempted to sue pharmaceutical companies over the marketing of opioids.
The courts have said that they believe individual victims are responsible for their addiction. The majority of overdoses occur in people that were not prescribed the opioid in the first place. They often get them on the black market.
The fact that these overdoses are occurring because a person takes more than is safe protects big pharma. Persuading courts that these FDA-approved prescription drugs have inadequate warning labels and are defective isn’t a winning argument. Hopefully the new argument that is backed by a coalition of attorney generals will hold more weight in court.