Over the past number of years it has been highly publicized that America has an increasing problem with prescription medication. This epidemic has gone on to fuel an increase in addiction to the highly dangerous and deadly heroin. Combined we have millions of Americans addicted to opioids in the shape of prescription meds like Oxycontin and illegal narcotics like heroin. The connection between the two cannot be ignored and it is very obvious that our culture of pill popping has paved the way to hard drug use. Studies have shown that two thirds of heroin addicts today started with legal drugs, usually prescribed by a physician for injury or illness. The increase in addiction has resulted in four times the number of people dying from unintentional prescription drug overdoses since 1999 and four times the number of deaths by heroin overdoses since 2001.
So why are people turning to this illegal narcotic? It comes down to money and the reality is that a hit of heroin can be purchased for as little as $3 but pills can cost up to and above $50. Many people cannot afford to feed their prescription drug habit so they turn to the cheaper alternative. Prescription medication is also much harder to obtain after several government measures to tackle the epidemic of abuse. These well intentioned measures created a whole new problem, with thousands turning to heroin. The statistics are truly frightening with 4.2 million Americans reporting to have used heroin at least once in their lives and an estimated 23% addicted to the drug.
In a recent post covering Vermont’s war on opiates, we saw that their Governor was outspoken in what he believed was the cause for this epidemic. The cause he highlighted was twofold, a lack of regulation and responsibility from the FDA with respect to the potency and types of drugs being approved, and the fact the multi million dollar corporations have far too great a hold on medication and health.
The culture of medicating absolutely every ache and pain has led to a dependence and acceptance of over medicating, with once genuine patients going on to illegally abuse these drugs. Figures from 2010 show that a staggering 12 million Americans use them for non-medical purposes and without a prescription. The problem arises because the drugs approved for consumption are highly potent and addictive. Those responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of citizens have let us down. The profit driven health care system creates a situation where citizens are taking legal drugs that are nearly on a par with a class A narcotic. The focus on illegal drugs needs to change; it is legally prescribed medication as gateway drugs which are posing a far greater health problem.
The Food & Drug Administration has come under fire for its approval of such strong and dangerous medications and aside from lip service on the matter not much has changed. They continue to approve insanely powerful drugs for conditions that do not need half the potency as affirmed by doctors and scientists. Some clinicians even state that routinely prescribed drugs for minor conditions can be stronger than street grade heroin. Other doctors have been highly influenced by the aggressive advertising and despite the risks continue to hand out pills to patients as though they were candy. In some cases medications that were once only used for severe cases such as terminally ill patients are now being given to patients for back pain.
Those who are addicted to legal meds have a very expensive habit and not being able to afford the drugs any longer forces addicts to turn to street dealers for heroin. Americans pay more for medication than any other country in the world, paying any where from two to six times the cost of other countries. It is also no coincidence that medications approved need a huge amount of financial backing, the more money, the more trials, the more trials the better chance of positive evidence and this evidence results in approval. Pharmaceutical companies with millions at their disposal have a stranglehold over the FDA and our health care system.
Considering the damage and devastation, pharmaceutical companies profiting off people’s addiction should be held accountable. One city took action by filing a lawsuit against five companies for their marketing of certain painkillers despite knowing such drugs were ineffective for the purposes advertised. The city of Chicago also argued that opioid manufacturers “distorted scientific evidence for opioid use” pushing a pro-opioid message, co-opted pain advocacy and research groups, funded practice guidelines that recommend opioids for moderate to severe pain and influenced opioid related education programmes. Despite a comprehensive evidence based suit, the case was dismissed as there was insufficient evidence to suggest that advertising had sufficiently mislead doctors and patients. Essentially the issue is the profit driven nature of the health care system and until this changes and people’s well being is put first this cycle will be allowed to continue.
The likelihood of approved drugs being recalled is slim, so alternative measures to combat the abuse and addiction of opioids is crucial in preventing deaths by prescription medication and heroin. There are measures being taken across 36 states to address the problem, through delivery of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. These programs track prescription and dispensing practices for prescription drugs, from doctors to pharmacies to patients.
This culture of prescription drug abuse developed over many years and it is not something that will be easily tackled. In addition there is now the ever increasing figures of heroin addiction to deal with as a result. We need a recognition of the problem and a sense of responsibility to address it from our government, the FDA and pharma companies; as well as a move away from a profit motivated health system.
There is plenty of blame to go round but there is no doubt that the lion’s share of the problem was caused by the vulgar profit driven Pharma industry that seems to be just fine with having a major part in an epidemic which has destroyed countless lives many ending in death.