Nearly 2 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers in the U.S., more than for cocaine and heroin combined. Who's to blame? Are these people the dregs of society who lack self-control? Or, should we blame doctors who prescribe the meds? Maybe neither.
20 years ago, doctors wouldn't prescribe opioid medication to treat chronic pain unless the patient had cancer. They feared patient addiction. However, beginning in the 90s, drug manufacturers declared that opioids were safe and their rate of addiction minimal. They published research studies and clinical trials that supported their claims in the most prominent medical journals in the nation. Relying on these studies, the FDA approved labels that stated that the risks of dependence and addiction were small. In turn, doctors began prescribing these pain medications much more liberally to patients with chronic pain.
So, how did a harmless class of drugs become a major source of addiction for so many people? The truth is that the drugs were not harmless, and they never have been. Opioid is a class of powerful drugs that includes morphine, heroin, and brand name compounds like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. In reality, reports say that 1 of every 3 patients prescribed this medication for chronic pain will become addicted, even at the prescribed dose. Over a decade later and after further investigation, experts indicate that the drug companies' studies were misleading. Most of the studies were conducted by the drug companies themselves or by some other party with a financial interest in the outcome. Furthermore, it was discovered that the adverse side effects, including addiction, were under-reported, if reported at all.
Lawsuits today seek justice for the suffering of the victims of the drug companies' deceit. The moral of the story? Corporate shame and expense from the legal system could have been avoided by simple honesty.