Prescription opioid medications have not always been so available to the public. Thirty years ago, opioids were so restricted that doctors could not prescribe them to help manage the pain of terminally ill cancer patients. Today, they are readily available and vital to keep the terminally ill comfortable, as well as to help treat those with chronic, and even sometimes unchronic pain.
What caused the change in healthcare to prescribe opioids more frequently? This question can be answered when you look into the power pharmaceutical companies have gained over the years and the massive amount of money that is passed between companies and doctors. Pharmaceutical companies worked there way in with medical organizations that advocated better ways to treat pain. They worked hard and spent a lot of money to pave the way for prescription painkillers.
Sales of prescription opioids increased 93 percent nationally from 2001 to 2012, up from $4.4 billion to $8.5 billion, according to IMS Health, a health care technology and information company. That fueled a dramatic spike in opioid overdose deaths. An example is the state of Ohio which had a 483 percent increase from 2000 through 2011, according to state records.
When the problems became evident, documented by federal watchdogs as early as 2003, regulators reacted slowly. This allowed opioid abuse to mushroom and build a demand for heroin, which Mexican suppliers were bringing to the United States in record quantities.
United States Senate investigators are currently examining whether big pharma and several organizations, including the largest health system accreditation group, the Joint Commission, conspired to keep the addictive powers of prescription painkillers a secret and exaggerate their benefits. The Joint Commission has close ties with Purdue Pharma. 18 years ago in 1995, Purdue released a synthetic opioid designed to provide daylong pain relief through timed release of oxycodone. This opioid is known as Oxycontin and has been a key reason as to the major increase of overdoses in the United States. The pills were easily crushed which allowed for immediate release capabilities. Abusers would chew, snort, smoke, or shoot the pills intravenously for an immediate high. In August of 2010, Purdue took this pill off the market and replaced it with a form that could not be abused so easily.
With Oxycontin's original pill off the market, other immediate release oxycodone pills quickly took over Oxycontin's place in the market. For example Roxicodone, a 30mg immediate release pill has taken the Oxycontin's crushable pill's place and heroin use has since skyrocketed. After addicts build up tolerance to shooting Roxicodone, their cheaper and more affordable alternative is heroin, leading to massive drug overdoses.
In 2003, a government report pointed to a connection involving Purdue Pharmaceutical and the Joint Commission that ultimately helped Purdue make Oxycontin readily available through primary care physicians. Because of this, Oxycontin sales for privately held Purdue jumped from $44 million in 1996 to $1.54 billion in 2003. It's obvious from the amount of profit that is available to these Pharmaceutical companies that they will do what they can to increase their bottom line, even if that means putting their customers lives in jeopardy.