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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do You Believe Purdue Pharma?

The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, has recently made the following statement:

"Prescription drug abuse is a serious health problem involving many types of medications. 
Banning any one FDA-approved medication will not solve the prescription drug abuse problem. 
If OxyContin Tablets were unavailable, drug dealers and abusers 
would simply turn to other pain medications, licit and illicit." 

("Protesters Want Ban on OxyContin,, April 1 2010) 

Is Purdue serious about their claims to help stop rx drug abuse? Read the statement carefully. Does it continue to beg off responsibility for terrible rates of addition and death?

In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three of the company's current and former executives pleaded guilty to misleading the public about the safety of its painkiller OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines.

The settlement was one of the largest financial penalties ever imposed on a drug company. The office of the Western District of Virginia, which filed the case against Purdue for practices that occurred between 1996 and mid-2001, said the company made claims that OxyContin was less addictive than other painkillers and less subject to abuse, "despite warnings to the contrary from doctors, the media and members of its own sales force." (Zimmerman, The Los Angeles Times, May 11 2007).

The company also claimed that OxyContin could be discontinued without feeling symptoms of withdrawal. (Appleby/Davis, USA Today, May 11 2007)  "Purdue trained its sales representatives to make false representations to health care providers about the difficulty of exacting oxycodone, the active ingredient, from the OxyContin tablet," according to the FDA. (Lopes, The Washington Times, May 11 2007) 

It is evident since OxyContin's release that Purdue has known the following:
  • OxyContin could easily be converted to oxycodone.
  • OxyContin was being abused and was causing addictions and deaths.
  • OxyContin was largely responsible for creating a new opium epidemic.
  • OxyContin being abused just meant more OxyContin sales.
  • OxyContin sales, even if to addicts, just meant more profits.
And here are some basic understandings about Big Pharma (the politically influential pharmaceutical industry):
  • They have a philosophy that they make very clear—“if you want to receive our money then you better not do anything that interferes with our making money." 
  • They spend millions of dollars a year trying to ensure that their legislative agenda is protected.
  • In one recent year alone, lobbying records show that they have contributed over $7.5 million to Members of Congress.

The truth of the matter is… pain pills ARE big business. And, of course, doctors and pharmacies have ties to the drug industry. In addition, profit margins are real concerns for Big Pharma corporations, so many big businesses are reliant upon the "drug ‘em and cut ‘em" conventional medicine mentality.

These days doctors have become interested in treating pain and have used the opiate medications more aggressively and more liberally. They have more of a sense that patients need to be free of pain or that any pain is intolerable. Potent painkillers have flooded the market.

Many of these opiate-based pain medications (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco, Percocet, Percodan, hydrocodone, oxycodone) can be deadly. 

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased 114 percent from 2001 (3,994) to 2005 (8,541), the most recent nationwide data available. Further, the number of treatment admissions for prescription opioids as the primary drug of abuse increased 74 percent from 46,115 in 2002 to 80,131 in 2006, the most recent data available, according to the SAMHSA Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS)." (

Facing Up In Ohio

In most Ohio counties nearly every community has been touched by deaths from accidental overdoses of opiates -- prescription painkillers or the often-cheaper street drug heroin.Those who die are increasingly younger, increasingly suburban, increasingly female -- with numbers overall simply increasing.

Drug overdoses now kill more people in Ohio than do auto accidents. They account for more than 750 of the nearly 1,400 drug deaths in 2009, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The most recent surge in opiate deaths seems to closely mirror the amount of high-potency prescription opiates prescribed by doctors, both legitimately and illegally. (Rachel Dissell, "Overdoes Deaths Climb as Painkillers, Heroin Pour Into the Ohio Market," The Plain Dealer, February 20 2011)

And, in addition to the terrible overdoses, people who had little or no drug abuse history are seeking addiction treatment -- people who had fallen and injured themselves, had broken bones, had an athletic injury or a surgery. But after being prescribed potent doses of the opiates, they had trouble weaning themselves off them.

Hopefully, investigations will continue to unearth the real causes of the problems and reveal important truths. The next generation must be better informed as we become proactive. Michael Matoney, executive director at New Directions, a treatment facility for adolescents, offers some important insight into the problem, specifically as it pertains to youth:

* Many young people have access to dangerous amounts of money, transportation and freedom.

* Prescription pain pills are easier for many teens to get than beer. 

* Suburban children often do not get caught up in the criminal justice system, so they can continue to use drugs longer. 

* Parents, who may think they are protecting their children, believe in geographical cures such as "change classes, change schools, change friends." 

* Young people often develop an addiction to the mood swing.

* Teens also see that it is culturally acceptable to take pills and to not want to be in pain. And their brains aren't mature enough to process the possibly deadly consequences.

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