Will Pharmaceutical Companies Support Non Addictive Drugs For Pain?
It’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, are largely responsible for the painkiller and heroin epidemic we are facing in the United States today. These companies have spent millions protecting their right to sell addictive drugs, which is only a fraction of the profits they have made over the past two decades.
From Big Pharma’s perspective, there are great benefits to selling addictive drugs – namely, people keep coming back for them. It’s not much different than Big Tobacco or any other such industry. If people are dependent on your product, you will sell more and more of those products.
In addition, kick-backs to physicians ensure that as long as they remain unchecked and unregulated, they can continue distributing addictive drugs to patients.
But in the midst of abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths, will Big Pharma finally grow a conscience? Will they get behind non addictive drugs for pain, even if those drugs don’t reap them the profits to which they have became accustomed?
The Opioid Of The Future: Non Addictive Drugs?
Despite the lack of help from many pharmaceutical companies, scientists have not given up hope. Indeed, they may be getting close to an alternative to addictive opioids – one that could curb the drug epidemic and cut Big Pharma back down to size.
A new report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, detailed a new drug currently being tested on monkeys. The drug, known as BU08028, has thus far been found to be as effective at pain management as the most potent opioids available. Sound too good to be true? Just wait….
The drug is reportedly non-habit forming, does not produce a euphoric high, and is not deadly, even at very high doses.
Admittedly, the drug is still in its infancy, testing-wise, and some are skeptical that it is as effective and non addictive as researchers claim.
The Nuances of Addiction
There is no one factor that can completely explain addiction. The chemical components of a substance are one piece of the puzzle, although there are many other variables at play. Not everyone becomes addicted to opioids, no more than everyone becomes addicted to alcohol.
However, there’s little doubt that opioids inherently have a tremendous potential for addiction. Indeed, many people who have previously avoided substance dependency can become hopelessly addicted, despite their perceived low risk.
There are also levels of addiction. People who take opioid painkillers for a long period of time can develop a level of dependence that results in severe side effects upon withdrawal. That’s even if they take their medication as directed, and do not abuse them.
It is these painful and unpleasant effects that have caused many to turn to heroin when their prescriptions are cut off, or they can no longer afford or obtain their drug of choice.
In fact, ironically, this dependency can lead to more pain sensitivity, a phenomenon known as hyperalgesia.
And of course, the more potent the drug, the more chance for dependency and tolerance. Tolerance is another problem, and is sometimes responsible for overdoses. It occurs when more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the painkilling effect. Just ask Prince, the artist who died from Fentanyl poisoning.
The Making of an Epidemic
Opioids are synthetic versions of a naturally-occurring substance called opium. Opium is extracted from a poppy seed. Unlike many natural substances that are made into powerful drugs (the coca leaf versus cocaine, for example) it is addictive and potentially deadly in its own right.
There is evidence of opium use that goes back thousands of years. Morphine, a chemical component of opium, was first isolated in 1805. The hypodermic needle was invented in 1853, and since that time, millions of people have injected one opioid product (such as heroin) or another.
But the current epidemic can be blamed almost solely on Big Pharma. Prior to the 1990’s, opioids were rarely used, only indicated for cancer or end-of-life patients. However, in the mid-90’s Purdue Pharma began marketing a new product, OxyContin, as non addictive. This, despite a total lack of evidence, and even evidence to the contrary.
In reality, OxyContin is just a tweaked, time-release version of oxycodone, a drug known for decades to be dangerous.
But due to clever and intense marketing, OxyContin soon became a household name. By 2010, Purdue Pharma was making over $3 billion annually – most of that income being generated from the sale of OxyContin. They were eventually fined for misleading doctors and patients, but the $635 million they were forced to pay was just a fraction of their profits.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that overdose deaths by opioids quadrupled between 1999-2014. Also, in 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were written, enough to put one bottle of pills in the hands of every adult American.
Big Pharma’s Reaction: Can We Even Predict?
So what happens if non addictive drugs such as BU08028 do eventually make the grade? Well, given its history of misleading the public and reaping profits without any discernible conscience, it’s hard to imagine that Big Pharma will open its massive arms to such a drug.
Indeed, at least 90% of opioids used non-medically are produced legally by pharmaceutical companies. How could the proceeds from non addictive drugs ever compete with the money generated from drugs which, by their very nature, keep patients coming back for more?
For example, this past year legislation was passed which essentially protects Big Pharma from legal backlash, should they fail to report suspicious drug orders. This is precisely what Purdue Pharma failed to do a few years ago, when a faulty medical clinic wrote prescriptions for OxyContin from 2008-2010.
Moreover, Purdue KNEW that the activities were fraudulent, and yet allowed them to continue. This law will, in essence, make it easier for prescription drugs to proliferate through clandestine networks, and yet continue to protect the manufacturer implicitly.
But it gets worse – Big Pharma is also getting rich off the anti-overdose drug naloxone (Narcan). This is a drug which often serves as the only means to save someone’s life in the midst of an opioid overdose.
So in essentially, Big Pharma is making money on both the CAUSE and the CURE. That’s pretty disturbing, if you really think about it.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A, Psychology