When OxyContin was first released, Purdue Pharma marketed it as a safe prescription drug, with a low risk of addiction, stating that only 1 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids become addicted. Previously, opioids had been used for patients with cancer-related pain, or for those who were terminally ill. However, Big Pharma saw a gap in the market and began targeting general practitioners, who had limited experience in treating extreme chronic pain, to initiate and increase the use of opioids for chronic pain. Further, the concept of a ‘pseudoaddiction’ was endorsed, positing that individuals who are prescribed opioid medications may seek greater quantities, and display other typical symptoms of addiction, but that this is in fact not a real addiction, but a pseudoaddiction and warrants greater drug dosages. This false information led to a feeling of safety in prescribing opioids in large doses for extended periods of time.
The shift from using opioids for post-operative patients, terminal patients and cancer patients, to using them as a blanket solution for a wide-range of pains drastically increased the number of opioid prescriptions. Not only did the number of prescriptions increase, but the nature of prescriptions changed in a meaningful and dangerous way. Opioids are no longer being used for conditions which they have been clinically proven to effectively treat. Nor are they being used in a time-limited fashion. Currently, opioids are being used for extended periods of time, putting patients at risk for the development of dependence, abuse, and addiction. Over the prolonged period of opioid use, the patient’s body develops a tolerance to the opioid, requiring greater doses for the desired effect.
Furthermore, there have been no clinical trials which illustrate the effectiveness of opioids in treating chronic pain. In fact, in certain cases patients develop opioid-induced hyperalgesia, in which the body becomes sensitized and some stimuli become more painful than they were preceding opioid use. Therefore, the use of opioids for chronic pain, as endorsed by Big Pharma, is reckless and irresponsible, putting patients at serious risk.
Lawsuits against Big Pharma, specifically Purdue, began in the early 2000s, with claims of prescription opioid addiction after doctor recommended use, and stories of the damage they had caused. Purdue Pharma settled with these claimants for $75 million dollars in 2007.
However, a decade later the use and abuse of prescription opioids continues to wreak havoc on our communities. As a result, Mike Moore, the Attorney General who reached a multi-billion dollar settlement with Big Tobacco, is at it again— but this time with Big Pharma for the damage caused to North America by their reckless marketing of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain. Compared to the lawsuits leading to the 2007 settlement, these will be much more wide spread, positing that Purdue did not change its practices following the previous settlement, and other pharmaceutical companies followed suit using the same methods of advertising and marketing, misleading physicians and the public.
Big Pharma companies are claiming that no one predicted, nor could foresee, the damage which would be caused by opioids. They assert they want to help in addressing the current opioid epidemic, but hold no responsibility and deny any wrongdoing.
As the lawsuits unfold and litigation or settlements pend, one thing remains clear: effective and compassionate addiction treatment must be made readily available to those suffering from opioid addiction. Searidge Foundation has specialized treatment plans for individuals suffering from opioid addiction, empowering them to overcome their addiction and live a meaningful, opioid-free life.