Prescription opioid abuse has been on a steady incline for several years, with overdose deaths nearly quadrupling since 1999. Just to give you an example, here are a few of the current numbers. As of 2014, 2.2 million Americans are said to be addicted to prescription opiates or heroin; roughly 1 in 4 people who are prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain actually struggle with addiction; only 1 in 10 who suffer from a substance abuse disorder will receive treatment; 78 people die every single day from addiction.
One may wonder, how has it gotten so out of control? Numerous factors have played a role in the rise of opioid abuse; one main contributor being large pharmaceutical companies, otherwise known as “Big Pharma”. Now with opioid abuse at an all-time high, strategies are being put in place to curb opioid abuse, such as limiting the amount of prescriptions written, especially to minors, as well as educating physicians on proper prescribing and best practices. While some government officials are pushing for more stringent laws surrounding prescription painkillers, pharmaceutical companies are promoting a new solution.
Abuse-deterrent formulations, or ADFs, are now being aggressively endorsed by most major pharmaceutical companies as a remedy to opioid abuse. These new formulations of medication are said to be more difficult to manipulate. In other words, they are more difficult to crush or dissolve, making snorting and/or injecting less likely. Nevertheless, many critics will argue, while the manipulation may be more difficult, it is still not impossible. What’s more, while the main ingredients in these medications are similar to that of Vicodin and Percocet, many doctors are under the impression that these medications are less addictive, although there is no evidence pointing to that. A survey published in the Clinical Journal of Pain revealed that nearly half of American physicians believed ADFs were less addictive to traditional opioids.
It makes complete and utter sense to make painkillers more difficult to manipulate and abuse, but at what cost? Should it affect the average American and their budget; because it will. It appears as though these new formulations would cost the consumer increasingly more money, thus making this change another greedy move on behalf of Big Pharma. For example, Embeda, an ADF containing morphine would cost $268 for a 30-day prescription, whereas a generic form of morphine would cost roughly $38 for the average consumer. Furthermore, while only 5% of the painkillers prescribed in 2015 were abuse-deterrent painkillers, they racked in $2.4 billion in sales. Is it really any wonder how opioid abuse has gotten so out of control?
Lastly, the cost to modify the health system to integrate the newer formulations would be substantial. Dr. Bernie Good of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, who oversees medication safety, estimates the spending on opioids would increase to $1.6 billion annually. Making a very clear point, he stated at a federal meeting on drugs, “Would the excess money to pay for abuse deterrent products – mostly to pay for it in cases where it wouldn’t be necessary – be better spent for drug treatment centers?”
Although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved more than a handful of these new formulations, some regulators within the agency believe the ADFs show promise in discouraging and decreasing the rate of opioid abuse. Large companies, such as Perdue Pharma, are very much in support of these most recent medications. Perdue Spokesman Robert Josephson said in a recent statement, “Opioids with abuse-deterrent properties won’t stop all prescription drug abuse, but they are an important part of the comprehensive approach needed to address this public health issue.”
Perdue, along with other big name pharmaceutical companies, are also furthering their efforts by making “under-the-radar” lobbying attempts, endorsing the push for bills through Congress that would ultimately benefit them, and of course, line their pockets. Proposed legislation would require the FDA to use the newer, more expensive ADFs. A PR firm hired by Perdue Pharma took it one step further. Exploiting grieving family members, the well-known pharmaceutical company recruited the mother of an overdose victim to lobby the use of ADFs at the state capital in Illinois. Unaware that she had been recruited by a large pharmaceutical company, Terri Bartlett had traveled to the capital and urged lawmakers to support a bill which would require the use of the harder-to-abuse painkillers; this was just two years after her 21 year old son had died of an opioid-related overdose.
This latest “solution” sounds all too reminiscent of Perdue Pharma’s past “attempts” at dissuading opioid abuse. For those unaware, Perdue is responsible for the patent-label opioid prescription OxyContin, which has ripped through American homes for more than 2 decades now. When OxyContin was first marketed, its makers claimed, that although dependency was a possibility, the medication’s time-release coating would make it difficult to abuse. Additionally, the company branded the medication as the more suitable alternative to surgery. Perdue hoped this claim would persuade physicians and ease concerns of prescribing such a heavy opioid medication. Eventually, addicts became privy to the time-release mechanism and began finding ways to counteract it, furthering the rate of opioid abuse.
In 2007, Perdue pleaded guilty to a lawsuit in which they were accused of fraudulently marketing OxyContin as less addictive than other drugs. In 2010, the company was ordered to pay out $635 million in fines. In that same year, the company introduced a new formula for OxyContin, one that they called “tamper-resistant”. While the latest kind of OxyContin is much more difficult to manipulate, it is still all the while, possible. A survey performed by Washington University of Medicine found that a 3rd of patients admitted to 150 treatment centers within 48 states, acknowledged they were able to bypass the “tamper-resistant” mechanism in the opioids.
So we ask, how if at all, will this new formulation be any different? How will it be beneficial to America’s current addiction crisis? The reality is, when an addict has a craving and obsession to use, they will ALWAYS find a way. When roadblocks are constructed, users will find a detour or shortcut, even if that means moving on to heavier drugs, such as heroin. Drug makers lackluster attempt for addressing opioid abuse will only further the issue and prolong the inevitable.
Contact Clearbrook For Opioid Abuse Treatment
If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid abuse, we are able to help. For over 4 decades, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been treating chemical dependency and alcoholism; helping those struggling restore their lives and get on the road to recovery. If you are ready to take the first step towards change, contact our Admissions Specialists today.