Today, opioid abuse is one of the most prominent problems in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that more than 2 million Americans misuse prescription opioids annually. Moreover, almost one-quarter of them struggle with addiction. Every day, 1,000 people end up in the emergency room for prescription opioid misuse, and not everyone makes it out. In fact, roughly 183,000 people have died from prescription opiate overdoses between 1999 and 2015. Today, the death toll has risen to a staggering 91 opioid overdose deaths per day. As a result, opioid overdose has replaced car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death.
Opioid drug abuse isn’t by any means a recent development. Still, there is one key factor that sets this epidemic apart from other forms of drug use: the pharmaceutical industry. For some time now, the masses have speculated that Big Pharma is a driving force behind the opioid crisis. There is, after all, plenty of evidence to support this. In fact, many are calling the opioid crisis a conspiracy; one peddled by the corporate pharmaceutical companies of America— Big Pharma.
The Big Pharma Conspiracy
This ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. The definition of ‘conspiracy’ is listed in any dictionary as ‘a secret plan to do something that is harmful or illegal.’ Pharmaceutical companies, like any business, want to turn up a profit for their products. In fact, they are obligated to their shareholders to do so. It’s no secret they want to make money. So, what is the conspiracy?
Pushing a Deadly Product
Opioid prescriptions have highly addictive properties and the highest potential for subsequent illicit drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has determined that nearly 75% of people who receive treatment for heroin addiction began their addictions by abusing opioid prescriptions. This isn’t a secret, and yet opioids are still the standard for pain relief. In fact, the number of opioid prescriptions handed out in America has risen by 300% over the past ten years, marking the development and height of the opioid crisis. This doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.
Additionally, opiate manufacturers have spent more than $880 million over the past decade to keep full control over the making and distribution of their products. These funds— which came from lobbying and campaign contributions— have been used in large settlements with anyone looking to challenge Big Pharma with accusations of peddling the opioid crisis. Big Pharma also used this money to toss several bills that proposed limits to opioid prescriptions. Had these bills passed, profits for Big Pharma would have plummeted.
All this information prompts two critical questions from the public at large: What is Big Pharma trying to hide from their consumers? Is Big Pharma driving the opioid epidemic to make money at the expense of thousands of lives?
Private Partnerships and Misleading Marketing
It’s pretty standard for Big Pharma to use their advocates to spread opioid-positive messages. However, most of the time, their partnerships are kept private from the public. For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie discreetly used $100,000 from Big Pharma to fund his campaign. Now, he has partnered with a pharmaceutical executive to discuss Big Pharma’s ideas for addressing the opioid crisis. Christie (and others in positions of power) claim that ties to Big Pharma may help regulate opioid prescriptions. Still, most people agree that the companies responsible for the crisis shouldn’t be part of the plan to solve it.
Influence over government officials isn’t the only red flag, either. Big Pharma is notorious for spreading misinformation— or merely withholding information— about the medications they produce and put into circulation. This has been a problem since before the start of the opioid crisis. Luckily, Big Pharma doesn’t always get away with it.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to “misbranding” their narcotic painkiller, OxyContin, after having made $2.4 million in profits. OxyContin carries a high potential for misuse and is incredibly addictive, yet Purdue Pharma failed to mention this in any of their marketing for the product. The case against Purdue Pharma resulted in the most massive payout any pharmaceutical company has ever seen. The court-ordered fees and fines totaled roughly $600 million. The company’s president, lawyer, and another executive also got fined individually. The three paid a collective $34.5 million in fines.
The Holes in Big Pharma’s Major Argument
The majority of America’s general public believes that the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute addictive drugs need to be held accountable for their contributions to the opioid crisis. Several of these companies, like Purdue Pharma, have already been caught hiding the risks of their products. The severity of the opioid crisis is overwhelming, but those involved with Big Pharma continue to ignore it— or even refute it.
Most pharmaceutical companies argue that they have been compliant with the demands of their consumers. Even Barby Ingle, the president of the International Pain Foundation, insists that the American people are blowing the issue of opioid overdose out of proportion. She has argued on behalf of Big Pharma, stating that “millions [of people] are living [better lives] on [prescription opioid] medications long-term.”
However, there is more evidence to suggest otherwise. Studies have shown that certain opiates don’t treat chronic pain effectively. Additionally, almost 40% of non-cancer patients who use opiate prescriptions show signs of addiction.
The States v Big Parma: Lawsuits Nationwide
The state of Ohio was among the first to call attention to the correlation between Big Pharma success and the growing severity of the opioid crisis. After having the nation’s highest accidental overdose death toll in 2014, Ohio began dragging Big Pharma to court. So far, the state of Ohio has sued (or is currently suing):
- Allergan (formerly Actavis)
- Cephalon (Teva Pharmaceutical Industries)
- Endo Health Solutions
- Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson)
- Purdue Pharma
The charges brought against these five companies include:
- fraudulent marketing
- violating state anti-fraud laws
- violating consumer protection laws
- overstating the benefits of prescription opioid use for chronic pain
- purposely targeting vulnerable patient populations (i.e., veterans, the elderly, etc.)
After Ohio’s bold move, other states began to follow suit. Now, the attorneys general of 41 different states are joining forces to investigate Big Pharma companies nationwide. The ultimate goal of these widespread lawsuits is to legally force pharmaceutical manufacturers to change their marketing tactics and offer better warnings as to how addictive opioid medications can be. So far, all of the cases have been civil.
What We Can Expect in 2018
While both local and state governments are working hard to fight Big Pharma in court, the death toll for opioid overdoses is still rising. President Donald Trump may have declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, but neither he nor Congress has taken any viable steps to combat it yet. At the rate people are overdosing, a projected 500,000 Americans could die from opioid misuse in the next decade.
Opioid Addiction Treatment at TTC Care
If you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with an addiction to opioid drugs, The Treatment Center’s Residential Care facility in South Florida is here to help. Our team of medical professionals and caring counselors will help you through every step of your recovery process. With programs ranging from the 12-step method to holistic modalities at your disposal, you’ll be able to get sober in a safe, secure environment. For more information, please call us at (844) 201-3136. All calls are confidential, and you do not have to be a Florida resident to enter treatment with us.