Prescription Drug Abuse a Major Factor in the Opioid Epidemic
Prescription drug abuse is a major contributor to the current opioid epidemic therefore it is imperative to understand the nature of the drug industry. If we are going to stop increasing rates of addiction, and overdose deaths due to opioids it is necessary for the public to consider the drug industry’s role in the opioid crisis. According to Consumer Reports, “About 45 people a day, more than 16,600 people a year, die from overdoses of the drugs, including methadone, morphine, and oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (Lortab and Vicodin). And for every death, more than 30 others are admitted to the emergency room.
What Types of Prescription Pills Are Commonly Abused?
There is a wide range of different prescription medications that can lead to addiction, and abuse. Consumer Reports states that, “ Prescriptions for the drugs have climbed 300 percent in the last decade or so. In fact, Vicodin and other hydrocodone-combination painkillers are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S ”.There are many different types of prescription medications that become addicting, and are abused. However in evaluating the most widely abused pharmaceuticals Fox news states that they fall into three categories:
- Opioids: These produce a sought-after euphoric effect due to their pain killing abilities for short-term or chronic pain.
- Central nervous system depressants: Also called tranquilizers and depressants, these include barbiturates and benzodiazepines, some of the most abused drugs. They have a calming, relaxing effect, like a warm blanket on the brain.
- Stimulants: This class increases brain activity, thereby increasing alertness and energy.
What Are Some Possible Reasons for the Increase in Prescription Drug Abuse?
According to The National Institute of Drug Abuse, “ Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem. They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. These factors together have helped create the broad “environmental availability” of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular”.
There Is an Influx in the Number of Prescriptions Written and Dispensed
Prescriptions for addictive medications continue to be on the rise, and as the number of prescriptions increase, there will continue to be increasing rates of dependence. According to the Center of Disease Control, “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills”. The rates of prescriptions being given are alarming. Similarly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that, “The number of prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone (e.g., Percocet). With the influx in the number of prescriptions being written and being dispensed it is at no surprise that prescription drug abuse is on the rise.
The Drug Industry’s Marketing Budget
With any profitable business a marketing budget is necessary. But what happens when marketing takes precedence over research when pertaining to medications supplied to the public. According to the Washington post, “ Big pharmaceutical companies are spending far more on marketing than research.” The amount of marketing spent on promoting pharmaceutical drugs is of significant concern because of the alarming rates of addiction. Pewtrusts.org states that, “In 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotions— more than $24 billion on marketing to physicians and over $3 billion on advertising to consumers (mainly through television commercials). This approach is designed to promote drug companies’ products by influencing doctors’ prescribing practices”. With the extensive marketing budget that big pharmaceutical companies have, it’s no surprise the number of their consumers. In addition to that the abundance spent on marketing to physicians appears to be their most profitable margin.
Increasing Revenue at the Cost of Addiction?
Recently there has been a lot of speculation about who is to blame for the increasing rates of prescription drug abuse. According to CNN, “For decades, certain pharmaceutical companies misled the FDA about the risks of opioid dependence in an effort to sell more of the drugs, and three top executives from Purdue Pharma even pleaded guilty to those criminal charges. Prescription pills are being presented as less addicting than they actually are in order to produce revenue for pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore opioid overdoses are skyrocketing. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin)”. Thus resulting in an addiction to prescription drug abuse, and other opioids that is beyond control for the user. However alarming rates of overdose, and death do not result in a halt to the alarming prescriptions of addictive Pharmaceuticals. . A recent study published showed that 91% of people who survived an overdose were still able to get another opioid prescription, typically from the same prescribing doctor. Taken together prescription pills seem to be the culprit of initial addiction, deaths, overdoses, continued addiction, and increasing risk for perpetuating the cycle of prescription drug abuse at its highest.
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