The prescription opioid epidemic is not new. It began when Pharma rolled out and aggressively marketed time-released opioids like Oxycontin, driving “pill mills” that distributed as many as 9 million Oxys in a six-month span. What is new is the media finally calling Pharma out on the many cagey ways it got people hooked on opioids and heroin (and continues to do so), how the FDA unabashedly helps Pharma with shocking new approvals, and how people in real pain, especially the poor and African Americans, are some of the hidden victims of the epidemic. When all the reports are in, the Pharma-driven opioid epidemic may be one of the biggest and deadliest cons in recent history.
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When Purdue Pharma and other Pharma companies began to aggressively market opioids for even minor pain, promising practitioners they were not addictive, it had been decades since the need to tightly control narcotics had been the mandate. Many newly graduating doctors, young medical professionals and their patients did not remember the opiate addictions of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s and the many U.S. troops who got hooked on heroin in Vietnam. (Certainly no one remembered the notorious opium dens of early America.) Why should these drugs be so highly restricted, said Pharma, banking on the U.S.’ short memory. Why should they be restricted to short-term surgical pain, accidents and treatment of cancer and terminal pain conditions?
The misinformation was abetted by a perverse pro-opioid movement of users who claim the real problem is the media’s “misunderstanding” of opioids and overly tight controls on the pills. (After all, you are never addicted until your source is cut off.) Such vocal defenders are not a coincidence. They are the result of Pharma’s deliberate, multimillion-dollar campaigns to cast chronic pain and other nonmalignant pain conditions as requiring opioids and Pharma’s thriving parallel addiction business. Twenty years ago, none of the pain conditions now presented as requiring opioids would have been presented that way. Nor were between 40 and 52 people a day dying from opioids.