With painkillers like OxyContin, the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and detox/maintenance medications like Suboxone, the pharmaceutical industry is making a profit off people addicted to opioids at every stage.
Opioids are highly addictive and sometimes, especially in combination with other drugs, deadly. There is, as of yet, no other kind of pain medication that matches the level of relief provided by opiates, nor is there any comparable high for people who are addicted to the drug. Thus, the epidemic grows and more people die.
Some researchers are unwilling to give up on the search for a non-addictive opioid and they may be getting close to finding one. A report in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” published findings on a new opioid only named BU08028. The drug was tested on monkeys and found to be as effective at managing pain as the most powerful opioids on the market today. The uniqueness of BU08028 lies in its lack of fatal side effects. It’s non-habit forming, is believed not to bring on a euphoric high, and even at extremely high doses is not deadly. The science on this drug is still in the early phases, and some doctors have doubts over the kinds of pain it can manage and whether or not it is actually as benign as these initial tests have found.
There are many factors that play into developing an addiction. The chemical properties of a drug make up only one piece of the puzzle, but it is a piece that cannot be ignored. The human body easily becomes physically dependent on opioids in all of their current formulations. Even people who do not develop an addiction will experience a painful withdrawal syndrome if they have been taking opioids for an extended period of time. Addiction and opioids have always gone hand in hand. As more potent versions of the drug have made their way to pharmacies, more people have become addicted and more people have died.
The predisposition of opioids to being misused has been well documented over the last several thousand years. Opium, from which morphine is synthesized, was used in 1500 BCE and possibly as far back as 4200 BCE. Morphine was purified from opium in 1805 and ever since the hypodermic syringe was invented in 1853, opioids have become an increasingly deadly and widespread addiction. If we’ve known about these issues for so long, how did we let the problem get so bad?
In large part we can thank the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to 1990, opioids were only used to treat patients with severe pain, such as cancer patients. Aggressive marketing initiatives by Purdue Pharma in the 1990s advertised OxyContin as a non-addictive alternative. In reality, OxyContin is just a time release version of oxycodone, the dangers of which have been well documentedsince the 1960s. As a result of the “non-addictive” advertising campaigns, OxyContin flew off the shelves and Purdue Pharma counted the cash (in 2010 they raked in $3.1 billion on OxyContin sales alone). When it was discovered that Purdue Pharma was knowingly misleading the public they were forced to pay a fine of $635 million. The fine barely made a dent in their profit margin and it did not affect their OxyContin sales. The majority of the $3 billion that the company continues to generate annually come from that drug. The Sacklers, the family at the helm of Purdue Pharma, were added to the Forbes 2015 list of America’s richest families with a net worth of $14 billion. Read more “the fix”…