The opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history. Death rates now rival those of AIDS during the 1990s, and with overdoses from heroin and other opioids now killing more than 27,000 people a year, the crisis has led to urgent calls for action.—Frontline
Prince. Whitney. Michael. Once again it takes the drug death of someone famous to reignite the conversation about the prescription drug abuse epidemic in this country. Sadly, this epidemic is fueled by greedy pharmaceutical companies and enabled by equally greedy physicians who place acquiring wealth above patient safety and well-being. Doctors earn billions in kickbacks from pushing certain drugs and medical devices to their patients.
In one five month period, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that payments to physicians from pharmaceutical and medical device companies reached upwards of 3.5 billion. Think about it. How often have you or a relative left a doctor’s office with drug samples or prescriptions in hand? All of us have at one time or another. But here’s the problem, the cure has become worse than the disease.
Well meaning or not, the men and women in the white coats, who we trust, are at the center of the biggest drug crisis in America. To understand how this could happen, you would need to know the unique relationship between doctors and drug companies. No doubt many of us have witnessed drug salesmen enter a doctor’s office for a quick drop off of samples of the latest “new” drug. Depending on your medical issue, the doctor might hand you one of those samples to try. As patients, we unwittingly become guinea pigs for testing new FDA approved drugs. An even more lucrative arrangement for doctors is being hired by the drug companies as a consultant
for advice and expertise on a particular medical product or treatment, typically provided under a written agreement and in response to a particular business need. These payments often vary depending on the experience of the physician being consulted.—Erin Brodwin
Then, there are the medical meetings and conventions, which provide the perfect chance for physician/drug consultants to talk to other physicians about the drugs they represent. Ultimately, those drugs get prescribed to patients. Rarely, does a busy physician take the time read the research on a drug beyond the prescribing information. Rather, they trust the information they’ve been given by their colleagues or the drug salespersons. Not all physicians fit this profile, of course, but enough of them do to make over-prescribing and prescription drug abuse the enormous problem it is today.
Everyone wants to believe that our doctors have our best interest at heart, and for the most part they do. But as patients, we need to be vigilant as well and ask questions, and do our own homework on the drugs and treatments that we and our family members are prescribed.
I can remember visiting my mother in the hospital and finding her in a state of confusion, agitated, slurring her speech and hallucinating about a man on the ledge outside her 11th floor window. I immediately asked the attending physician what drugs she had been given. I was told that she was on 11 different medications none of which were specifically for the underlying illness that put her there. As her POA for healthcare, I had the doctors stop all medications, except one. Once the drugs were removed, she was lucid and more like herself. My next move was to get her out of that hospital.
No one is condemning prescription drugs, just their abuse by both doctors and patients. Clearly, there are millions of people whose lives have been saved, whose day-to-day functioning has been bettered because of prescription drugs. For this, the pharmaceutical community deserves to be commended for its contribution to a better life for all. However, there is a dark side to the pharmaceutical industry that we simply can’t ignore, and that’s its complicity in the making of the current drug crisis.
Pharmaceutical companies have
- aggressively marketed certain high risk drugs to achieve higher profits
- provided doctors with monetary incentives to prescribe certain popular drugs (i.e. diabetes, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, heartburn, painkillers, etc)
- enabled the rise of illegal black market sales of prescription drugs by increasing the price of and demand for certain drugs (i.e. painkillers)
- a virtual monopoly on prescription drugs sold in the U.S., even though the same brand name drugs are available through Canadian pharmacies at lower costs.
At the heart of the prescription drug crisis in America is the growing addiction to painkillers. Opioid medications are the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Commonly prescribed opioids include Oxycontin, Percocet, Codeine, Morphine, Vicodin and Dilaudid. On the black market, these same drugs are sold under street names such as Apache, Murder 8, Tango and Cash and others.
Opioid painkillers can have effects similar to heroin and morphine, especially when taken in ways other than prescribed by a doctor. Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million people died from drug overdoses. 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.—CDC.gov
Most people have no problem taking opioid painkillers when a doctors’ name is on the bottle. Little to do they realize that prescription painkillers and heroin are derived from the same Asian poppy plant, making both equally addictive and lethal when used inappropriately. And doctors know this. But some physicians prescribe highly addictive and lethal opioid painkillers without advising patients of the dangers, or monitoring them them for signs of addiction.
Admittedly, there’s nothing worse than being in excruciating or chronic pain and just wanting the pain to go away. Prescription painkillers can offer some relief, but also carry significant known risks. Hopefully, being armed with this knowledge will help to prevent you or someone close to you from becoming the next drug overdose statistic.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.—from the physician’s Hippocratic oath
Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.—Jeremiah 17:14 NIV