Opioid Addiction: A Crisis Deferred

Dan Baker was introduced to opioids at the age of 21, to treat an old back injury he had obtained while playing sports. Despite being aware of the addictive nature of the drug he decided to push through with the treatment. A few months later he was being committed to a clinic for opioid addiction. Dan’s father would later admit: “We weren’t sure he was as committed to treatment as we thought he should be. We let him know: You can choose this life. We can’t make you do this the way we want you to. That was the last time we saw our son alive.” Dan was subsequently kicked out of this treatment center for sharing drugs with his roommate. His roommate’s father picked his son and Dan up and, at their request, allowed them to attend one last party in Minneapolis. Dan was found dead the next morning, having passed away at the age of 25 (Magan).

OxyContin hit the market in 1996 and, thus, began the circulation of what was seen at the time as the new standard in pain medication. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturers of OxyContin, aggressively promoted the product to the medical community. Between its initial release in 1996 to 2001, Purdue held more than 40 “national pain-management and speaker-training” conferences in resorts across the country. Professionals across the medical field from physicians to pharmacists were invited to these seminars, at no personal expense, to hear about the practical applications of this new drug. Art Van Zee, reports, “It is well documented that this type of pharmaceutical company symposium influences physicians’ prescribing. . .” (Zee).

This proved to be true, as in the early 1990s, the number of painkiller prescriptions issued had been steadily increasing by 2 to 3 million a year, however; the number of prescriptions inexplicably jumped by 8 million in 1996 after OxyContin’s release. This number would jump to 11 million in 1999, a year after Purdue released a promotional video to be used in “physician waiting rooms as a ‘check out’ item for an office’s patient education library”  (Moghe). In this same span of time, Purdue saw their sales rise from $48 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion in 2000 (Zee).

It wouldn’t be until 2007 that Purdue and three of its executives would be charged for downplaying the addictive nature of the drug, culminating in $635 million settlement with the U.S Government. By this time OxyContin was already a leading drug of abuse in the United States. Purdue re-marketed their drug in 2010 with new “abuse deterrents” put into place, making the pills more difficult to crush to discourage abuse through snorting or injecting. According to a study conducted by the staff of the New England Journal of Medicine, while this move did help decrease the number of opioid abusers, OxyContin’s nature as a gateway drug had already spiraled the situation out of control. As one opioid user interviewed in the study asserted, “Most people that I know don’t use OxyContin to get high anymore. They have moved on to heroin [because] it is easier to use, much cheaper and easily available” (Moghe).

Read more

« Older Entries