Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Society's Killers-by-Default?

Bottles of painkillers
Photo: The Atlantic
Big Pharma is being introduced through the courts to the power of public concern over their products. The drugs, OxyContin, Percocet, Opana and a generic version of oxycodone are not illegal, they have a place in responsible use by medical professionals when the attributes they are capable of are called upon to ease peoples' suffering and pain. But their manufacturers deliberately and with the prospect of enriching themselves, launched public relations blitzes convincing prescribing doctors that these opiates are 'less addictive' than others which have been a bane to society, not a boon.

Public authorities are alarmed throughout North America at the carnage that the drugs' dependencies are wreaking through drug overdose deaths. The general public has been made aware that they live in a time where the "culture of drug dependence, dysfunction and death" has affected the larger society, not only drug addicts dealing with mental instability, crime and profit, feeding addictions, but ordinary, middle-class and upper-middle class professionals who have lost their way, becoming hopelessly in the thrall of death-delivering medications.
"[The opioid epidemic was produced by a] fraudulent scheme [engineered by Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals] to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of opioid drugs."
"They put millions of dollars into advertising. They put lots of sales forces out there. And they supported legislation that made this stuff far more available than it was before. And it's not enough to say, 'Well, people misused it'."
"When you put way too many drugs, for way too many bad reasons, into way too many people's hands, prescribed by way too many people, you get what we have in our area, which is an epidemic."
Barry Staubus, District Attorney, Sullivan County, northeast Tennessee
Photo: The Atlantic

The entire world knows about the legal battles undertaken by various governmental bodies to punish tobacco manufacturing giants in 1998 when they were accused on the evidence which revealed they were in the business of deceiving the public trust about tobacco addiction. They were ordered to pay out over $200-billion in fines to aid government in cost outlays associated with providing health care to smokers whose lung cancer was directly attributable to scientifically validated and acknowledged carcinogens present in cigarettes.

A new battle  has been mounted by public authorities whose areas have been hit with the still-emergent epidemic of drug overdoses. Attorneys general of Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma, along with counties in California and New York among others, have launched lawsuits against the offending pharmaceutical giants. This is just the beginning. There will be an increasing number of lawsuits. And, as with the battle against tobacco manufacturers when those suits have been settled, individual civil suits will be launched.

In 2015, opioid overdoses caused the deaths of 33,000 people in the United States. This is fast becoming a crisis of intense and untenable proportions, no little of the sense of urgency to do something to ameliorate the situation and name and punish the perpetrator, that white-middle-class suburbanite communities with political influence, has persuaded politicians of all stripes to become involved, as the issue keeps gaining momentum.

There is no disagreement among public health experts to the obvious; that legal painkillers are the cause of a crisis where prescription opioids steadily gained prominence through wide prescription practices, habituating users to search out ever more powerful drugs, leading them on to heroin. OxyContin maker Purdue was persuaded to plead guilty in 2007 to a criminal felony, admitting to fraudulent practices, inaccurately promoting its product as less likely to be abused than other drugs, leading to a $600-million settlement.

"The drug companies are not utterly defenceless. There are issues they can raise and they're pretty good at it", observed University of Kentucky law professor, Richard Ausness. All they have to do is point out that prescription opioids have a distinct purpose, aiding patients in coping with pain issues, as long as they are used responsibly, and therefore they have a place for good health reasons in the prescription pharmacopoeia.
Prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused because they are so addictive. <br /><br />Opioid medications bind to the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions, driving up levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain's reward areas and producing an intense feeling of euphoria.<br /><br />As the brain becomes used to the feelings, it often takes more and more of the drug to produce the same levels of pain relief and well-being, leading to dependence and, later, addiction.
Prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused because they are so addictive, binding to areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. Photo CNN

They were given a scientifically-approved clean bill of  health when government health regulators themselves studied, then endorsed prescription opioids, releasing them for wide use. In any event, it is medical professionals themselves who stand between the manufacturers and the patients. "Unlike tobacco companies, our products are medicines approved by the FDA, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists, as treatments for patients suffering pain. [The company] vigorously [denies allegations, and is] committed to working collaboratively to find solutions [to the crisis]", Purdue huffed righteously.

The maker of Percocet and Opana, Endo Pharmaceuticals, chooses to side-step any awkward acknowledgement of impending litigation: "Our top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options". How can any one argue with that selfless, public-service-focused statement, of a totally innocent manufacturer whose only interest in producing drugs is to serve the public?

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday the state is suing five pharmaceutical companies, claiming the companies knowingly understated the addiction risks of prescription opioid medication.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday the state is suing five pharmaceutical companies, claiming the companies knowingly understated the addiction risks of prescription opioid medication.(Jackie Borchardt,

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