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In a historic settlement, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to criminal charges related to the marketing of their opioid drug, OxyContin. The settlement states that Purdue Pharma will pay charges of $8.3 billion, which will go toward addiction treatment programs.
First produced by Purdue Pharma in the early 1990s, OxyContin is a powerful opioid drug. Over time, Purdue began marketing the addictive drug to those who suffered from chronic pain. In documents recently released to the public, Purdue’s marketing plan was revealed to include a shift from prescribing OxyContin to cancer patients, to promoting to those with “chronic non-malignant pain.”
Year after year, Purdue grew even more involved and calculating in promoting the prescription of OxyContin, even pitching it as a tool for solving the chronic pain “epidemic” in the US.
Though while OxyContin was being pitched as the cure — it had begun fueling a different disease.
Between 1997 and 2002, the number of OxyContin prescriptions skyrocketed from 670,000 to 6.2 million. From big cities to small towns, millions of Americans began taking the powerful painkillers, with many using it as part of a regimen to treat chronic pain.
While OxyContin provided pain relief to patients, using the drug for extended periods of time, rather than for acute pain, had sinister effects. For patients using the drug beyond a 30-day course, dependence take hold as the body develops a tolerance to the drug.
Despite learning more about these effects and consequences over the years, prescriptions for OxyContin and other opioids continued to be written by the dozen. As of 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted there were almost 58 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Americans.
As the body becomes dependent on opioid pain relief, some patients will begin to misuse the drug. This can result in increased side effects, such as slowed breathing, nausea, and drowsiness, though can also lead to more severe consequences, such as overdose or even death.
Opioid addictions often begin with a legitimate prescription, though due to the highly addictive nature of the drug, these legitimate prescriptions can lead to addiction. As opioids are part of the class of drugs that includes heroin, those addicted to pain relievers can progress to using synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, or illegal drugs, such as heroin.
Prior painkiller use has been widely identified as a risk factor for heroin abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that among those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent indicated that a prescription drug was their first opioid of choice.
Data from 2018 shows that 128 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The opioid crisis rages on, and millions of lives have been senselessly lost.
While Americans first became addicted to drugs like OxyContin, pharmaceutical companies told the public — and the medical community — that opioids were a safe treatment option for managing chronic pain.
As the legal battle over Purdue Pharma’s role in the epidemic comes to a close, we are reminded of the devastating impact that opioids have had on our communities. As Drug Enforcement Assistant Administrator Tim McDermott stated, “The devastating ripple effect of Purdue’s actions left lives lost and others addicted.”
With this settlement, Purdue agrees to allocate resources to make overdose reversal drugs, as well as medically assisted treatment medications.
For many Americans who have lost loved ones to the crisis of addiction, this value of this settlement represents only a fraction of what they have lost.
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