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By Dr. Mercola
The U.S. has a massive opioid addiction problem. According to the U.S. surgeon general, more Americans now use prescription opioids than smoke cigarettes,1 and addiction to narcotic pain relievers now costs the U.S. more than $193 billion each year. The Manchester, New Hampshire, fire department recently said it now responds to more calls for drug overdoses than fires.2 That’s not so surprising when you consider that opioids are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.3
The following graph by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows the progressive incline in overdose deaths related to opioid pain relievers between 2002 and 2015.4 This does not include deaths from heroin addiction, which we now know is a common side effect of getting hooked on these powerful prescription narcotics. In all, we’re looking at just over 202,600 deaths in this 13-year time frame alone.5
Misleading Marketing Created the Opioid Epidemic
How did we get into this mess? Part of the problem, from the very beginning, has been false advertising. This past summer I wrote about how a single paragraph in a 1980 letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine became the basis of a drug marketing campaign that has since led hundreds of millions of people straight into the arms of addiction and/or death.
In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OxyContin (an extended-release version of oxycodone) for children as young as 11,6 thereby opening the gate for narcotic addiction among children and young teens as well. In July 2015, The Fix7,8 wrote about the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, who that year made it onto Forbes’ Top 20 billionaires list9 — in large part due to the burgeoning sales of OxyContin.
About 80 percent of heroin drug addicts report starting out on painkillers such as OxyContin.10 Indeed, prescription opioids are now recognized as the primary gateway drug to heroin and other illicit drug use, and prescription painkillers — not illicit drugs — are the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S. As noted by Zachary Siegel, writing for The Fix,11 “It’s easy to get rich when health care providers write 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, enough for every American adult to have a bottle full of pills.”
The massive increase in opioid sales has been repeatedly blamed on an orchestrated marketing plan aimed at misinforming doctors about the addictive potential of these drugs. Purdue Pharma was one of the most successful in this regard, driving sales of OxyContin up from $48 million in 1996 to $1.5 billion in 2002.12
Purdue’s sales representatives — who received handsome incentives and bonuses for OxyContin sales — were extensively coached on how to downplay the drug’s addictive potential, claiming addiction occurring in less than 1 percent of patients being treated for pain.
As noted by Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a drug…
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