Big Pharma Companies And Myths Perpetuated About The Opioid Epidemic
Back in the 1980’s, doctors were routinely taught that opioids, although useful under some circumstances, were dangerous drugs that should only be prescribed after surgeries, serious injuries, or palliative care. In the 1990s, however, that all changed when Big Pharma companies began courting physicians, assuring them that their opioid drugs were perfectly safe.
And while the tide of the drug epidemic tends to be turning toward heroin and fentanyl use, there’s little doubt that opioid manufacturers, who have been accused of misleading both doctors and the public about the safety of their medication, are responsible for initiating the opioid crisis.
Here are five myths perpetuated by drug companies that people still swallow…
Myth#1: Opioid Are Most Effective In Treating Chronic Pain
The reality is, opioids are actually among the worst drugs you can take for chronic pain. Surveys show that they don’t work any better than other drugs, and over time, patients may become tolerant, meaning they need increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Prolonged use of opioids can actually lead to hyperalgesia, a condition that is characterized by an increased sensitivity to pain – not less.
And of course, they also increase the risk of addiction, central nervous system depression, and overdose.
There are a number of effective, inexpensive drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, lidocaine, gabapentin. Studies also show that treatments such as transcutaneous electrical stimulation, exercise, yoga, chiropractic services, acupuncture, and other therapies also can relieve chronic pain.
Myth #2: Big Pharma Is Not Responsible For The Epidemic
Going back to the 1990’s, doctors were urged by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe opioids, and given kickbacks and other perks. Those who didn’t fall in line with the drug companies were accused of letting their chronic pain patients suffer needlessly.
In the wake of the epidemic, several states, counties, and municipalities have successfully sued drug companies such as Purdue Pharma and McKesson, receiving restitution for costs related to the crisis, including addiction treatment.
And the companies continue to be sued, having already shelled out millions and millions of dollars.
Myth#3: If You Don’t Have A History Of Addiction, You Won’t Become Addicted
Anyone can become addicted to oxycodone or other opioids. People who suffer from chronic pain, especially older people, can develop a dependence, even without a family history of addiction or mental illness.
And because physicians have been put under pressure by the public to stop prescribing so many opioids, many patients are turning to heroin and other street drugs in order to obtain pain relief. According to federal data, as many as 4 in 5 new heroin users state they began their habit after first becoming addicted to opioids.
Myth#4: Abuse-deterrent Formulations Are Helping
Abuse-deterrent does not mean the drugs are less addictive – the pill is just harder to crush or dissolve into a form that can be snorted, smoked, or injected. But this is not the problem – most addicts swallow opioids, not inject them. The abuse-deterrent formation is more or less a red herring created by Big Pharma companies to keep patents and prices high and mislead the public into believing that these opioids aren’t dangerous.
Regarding these formulations, in an article published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, the authors stated that while they “wholeheartedly support efforts to make long-term opioid therapy safer, we believe a strategy that focuses on only one of the risks of opioid prescribing (intentional abuse) requires closer scrutiny.”
The paper addressed went on to address the greatest controversy about the effectiveness of the long-term treatment of opioids (see Myth #1.) It referred to a review that analyzed the findings from 26 treatment groups and nearly 4800 subjects that determined there was a lack of evidence to show that long-term opioid therapy was effective for chronic pain.
Myth#5: Opioid Addiction Is Just A Matter Of Willpower
Big Pharma companies continually deny that they have done anything wrong. So, if that’s true, then why do we suddenly have all these people addicted to opioids? Well, their refusal to acknowledge the addictive properties of opioids and their dangers leads one to think that maybe they are implying addiction is merely a personal fault.
And yet, they want doctors to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, despite the fact taking them for prolonged periods of time increases the risk of dependence and tolerance. When these patients try to wean themselves off or quit altogether, they experience terrible withdrawal symptoms.
Opioids are no different than alcohol or tobacco – they have the potential for addiction even if they are not initially abused. There’s a reason why there is a diagnosis for opioid use disorder – it’s a complex condition which yes, the user may be somewhat responsible for, but the underlying problem is this – THEY ARE ADDICTIVE.bi
Long-term use of opioids, like the drugs or alcohol, eventually alters brain functioning, including changes in the brain’s reward system, and eventually, the patient experiences less pleasure from other rewards. The brain is thus, hijacked in a sense. Opioid use becomes the person’s primary motivation, and they need to continue taking them to receive that reward.
Bottom line – there are safer treatments for chronic pain than opioids, and in fact, there is little evidence that opioids are even effective.
Big Pharma companies have misled the health care industry and the public, and left little accept addiction and death in its wake.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;1:CD006605-CD006605