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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Opioids

Accountability for the Prescription Drug Crisis: Have Amends Been Made?
• Indiana Lee
Across the country, individuals, lawmakers, and insurance companies alike are calling for accountability from pharmaceutical companies, in greater numbers.


In April 2019, NPR reported that 57% of Americans believe that pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for their contributions towards the opioid crisis. Nearly a year later, the general consensus persists, and Big Pharma is finally beginning to face accountability.

For instance, a $1.6 billion settlement agreement has been reached between Mallinckrodt, considered the “largest maker of generic opioid pain pills in the U.S.,” and several states that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis. But while the hefty settlement did indeed strike a significant blow against pharmaceutical companies, the U.S. isn’t necessarily out of hot water yet.

Market research indicates that opioids bring in about $25.4 billion annually, including both short-and long-acting opioids. Thus, Big Pharma doesn’t have much incentive to change up its business model. And unfortunately, emphasizing profits over public health has been a mainstay among opioid manufacturers for decades.

Opioids as a Public Health Emergency: How Did We Get Here?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), pharmaceutical companies effectively kicked off what would eventually snowball into the opioid crisis in the late 1990s. At the time, opioids, including morphine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, were touted as effective pain relievers. Further, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community, who then spread the message to their patients, that opioids were non-addictive.

Of course, the medical community has since developed a keener understanding of the addictive nature and inherent danger of opioids. Many medical professionals have begun to speak out against Big Pharma and various advocacy groups that help spread misinformation. Millions of dollars have been funneled to advocacy groups and unscrupulous doctors over the years, who in turn promote opioids and other types of dangerous pharmaceuticals.

It’s important to note that opioids don’t always act alone. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines.” Also called “benzos,” benzodiazepines are a type of prescription sedative that are commonly used to treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia.

And benzos are a growing threat in the national public health landscape. Like opioids, they carry a high risk of dependence, and benzodiazepines can also be fatal when misused. A number of communities are beginning to take preventative measures against the emerging threat, but there’s no indication that Big Pharma has claimed any sort of accountability where benzos are concerned.

Weighing the Alternatives to Opioids

Fortunately for those patients suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, or anxiety, numerous alternatives to opioids and benzos exist. They just may not be as widely promoted, or overlooked completely, by medical professionals who have an interest in a particular pharmaceutical company. In some cases, alternative treatment methods are even vilified in the media, touted as “snake oil” or another negative moniker.

CBD oil, for instance, has seen its fair share of skeptics, but research indicates that it may be a safer alternative to benzodiazepines for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety in some cases. CBD, derived from the hemp plant, is non-addictive and sold over the counter in most states across the U.S. Finding the right strength of CBD may be the key to symptom relief, and interested parties should keep in mind that CBD potency is measured in milligrams.

As for opioid alternatives, those who have developed a dependency may need to first replace the addictive substance with a safer opioid. For many, Suboxone can be helpful in reducing opioid misuse, but treatment is best taken over the long term, for at least 24 weeks. No matter the methodology behind freeing oneself from opioid dependency, however, medical assistance is typically necessary. Opioid withdrawals can be excruciating, and without support, addicts may run back to their favorite opioid just to ease the pain of withdrawal. That sobering fact aptly illustrates the inherent dangers of prescription opioids, and how strong of a pull they can have on a dependent individual.

The Evolving Landscape of Big Pharma

Make no mistake: the repercussions of prescription drug addiction are essentially boundless. Yet pharmaceutical companies are turning a blind eye towards the poor, ill, and addicted who are overcrowding the nation’s jails and prisons. Many of these individuals have been left behind by a society that promotes pharmaceuticals but fails to take responsibility for the repercussions of those medications, from incarceration to the possibility of a fatal overdose.

We can only hope that the Mallinckrodt settlement is an indication of things to come. Perhaps it will serve as a catalyst for radical change within the pharmaceutical industry. There are plenty of amends still to be made.

Indiana © Indiana Lee April 8th 2020

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