One of the exchanges we had went like this:
Oxy Watchdog: What are your thoughts on the role of the pharmaceutical industry and the rising rates of prescription drug addiction?
BD: The makers of OxyContin have to know that well over 50 percent of their drug is hitting the streets. The pill is selling great, and they want to act like everything’s fine. Purdue’s pamphlet on OxyContin is four pages long and actually says that the proper way to dispose of unused Oxy is to flush it down the toilet. If they write it down that way, they don’t have to come up with a plan to recapture the unused drugs. They’ve literally flushed their problem down the toilet. It’s really comical that they would have the guts to do this. They’ll just change the formula, introduce a drug with a different name, and continue making money.
I want to talk about this a bit more. You may think I’m being a bit hard on Big Pharm. After all, haven’t we all thanked them at one time or another? Whether it was after my wife’s back surgery, or that time I broke my rib, or when Aunt Mary was going through stage 4 cancer. But check this out:
In 2007, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, was ordered to pay $600 million in damages and their top three executives were banned from doing any work with taxpayer financed healthcare for falsely marketing Oxy as having a low potential for addiction or abuse. This decision was upheld in court in 2010.
Now, there’s apparently a new, safer, version of the drug. This NY Times article talks about it.
Can we trust the next iteration of this drug or the people who push it?
A NY Press article reports that, “In its first six years of existence, news reports put revenues from OxyContin at nearly $3 billion for its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.” I confirmed that number here. That’s a lot of money, and that’s only what was generated for the company from legitimate sales of the drug. I don’t begrudge anyone making profits; this is capitalism after all, but what responsibility, if any, should the dealers of these drugs have to the larger society? They make so much money, what motivation do they have to limit its availability?
And what do we do if we have real, legitimate, pain and require a painkiller of this strength to make us comfortable? Are doctors prepared to recognize need, or for that matter are they prepared to recognize signs of abuse or warning signs? Since I’ve already made you believe I’m a NYT junkie–I’m not BTW, but their coverage of this issue is pretty stellar– I’ll direct you to one more piece about balancing pain management and addiction management. It seems that the popular view of the addictive potential of pain killers has changed over the last century even more than the drugs themselves. When doctors anticipated more addiction to opiate based painkillers, they prescribed them less. More recently, addiction has been underplayed, and look at the mess we’re in now.