Drug Addiction — The Pharmaceutical Kind

Recently I read an article in america.aljazeera. com entitled, “Painkiller Addiction Worst Drug Epidemic in U.S. History.”  According to the article:

In the United States, enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around the clock for one month.

That is a LOT of pills.  No wonder the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most lucrative money-making industries in the world!  You may recall that I wrote about an experience in my family which may not be so atypical given this article.

We have all heard about the extreme addictive qualities of  Vicodin and Oxycontin.    I had a friend who was battling cancer and her doctor had her on Oxycontin for five years.  He originally had prescribed it to her because she was feeling pain in her bones, but it was not long into her use that it was clear that she was hooked.  She made no apology and felt no remorse, choosing, understandably, a high that might decrease some of both the physical and emotional distress that her cancer was causing her.   Her story might be a justifiable one for the use of Oxycontin.  However, there are many stories of doctors who provide Oxycontin to their very wealthy patients on the most superficial of claims.

Oxycontin is the drug of choice among the wealthy and many articles have been written on the widespread misuse of this drug. In part this is because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has painted broad strokes for what constitutes enough pain to justify the use of Oxycontin.  In spite of the fact that there has been urging on the part of a group called “Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing,” the FDA has done nothing to change their denotation of what constitutes justifiable pain.  This topic is rather slippery since the claim can be made that individuals do have different pain tolerance.  However, with the high levels of abuse that have been documented in the widespread use of Oxycontin, one might wonder whose pocket the FDA may be in.

After his resignation from his post as Commissioner of the FDA in December 1969, Herbert L. Ley, Jr., in an interview with the New York Times, warned the public about the FDA’s inability to safeguard consumers. People were being misled, he believed: “The thing that bugs me is that the people think the FDA is protecting them – it isn’t. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it’s doing are as different as night and day,” he said. …… Ley was critical of Congress, the Administration and the drug industry; he stated that he had “constant, tremendous, sometimes unmerciful pressure” from the drug industry and that the drug company lobbyists, combined with the politicians who worked on behalf of their patrons, could bring “tremendous pressure” to bear on him and his staff, to try preventing FDA restrictions on their drugs. The interview concluded with Ley stating that the entire issue was about money, “pure and simple”.[47][48]

This was back in 1969.  If anything has changed since then, it is that the pharmaceutical companies have even more leverage with the FDA.

In a 2005 interview, Dr. David J. Graham, associate director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, was asked “What Specifically do you believe is broken in the FDA and what needs to be done to fix it? What must be done to improve the drug vetting system ?” his response: ” FDA is inherently biased in favor of the pharmaceutical industry. It views industry as its client, whose interests it must represent and advance. It views its primary mission as approving as many drugs it can, regardless of whether the drugs are safe or needed.”

Back to the Aljazeera article I read on the American addiction to pain killers:

Prescriptions for painkillers in the United States have nearly tripled in the past two decades and fatal overdoses reached epidemic levels, exceeding those from heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the same time, the first-ever global analysis of illicit drug abuse, published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet, found that addictions to heroin and popular painkillers, including Vicodin and OxyContin, kill the most people and cause the greatest health burden, compared with illicit drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

High-income nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, had the highest rates of abuse, 20 times greater than in the least affected countries, according to the Lancet study.

It would seem that our love affair with pharmaceutical drugs is not doing a whole lot to help us in our health but it sure as heck is helping the pharmaceutical industries to make lots of money.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013