CDC: Daily 91 Americans Die from an Opioid Overdose
More than 33,000 Americans were killed by opioids in Y 2015, and nearly 50% of them involved a Rx (prescription) for the drugs.
- Drug companies made more than 375,000 non-research opioid-related payments to more than 68,000 physicians, totaling more than $46-M
- This amounts to 1 in 12 U.S. physicians collecting money from drug companies producing prescription opioids
- The top 1% of physicians received nearly 83% of the payments, and the drug fentanyl was associated with the highest payments
- Many of the states struggling with the highest rates of overdose deaths, such as Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey, were those showing the most opioid-related payments to physicians
Each day, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose, and the numbers keep rising, nearly quadrupling since Y 2015.
Knowing that these drugs carry the serious risk of addiction, abuse and overdose, they should be prescribed sparingly and only for the most severe cases of pain, for which no other options are available.
Instead, they are often prescribed widely to treat milder cases of chronic pain, such as that from osteoarthritis or back pain. “In the past decade, while the death rates for the top leading causes of death such as heart disease and cancer have decreased substantially, the death rate associated with opioid pain medication has increased markedly,” the CDC noted. “Sales of opioid pain medication have increased in parallel with opioid-related overdose deaths.”
It’s shocking that, in the midst of this epidemic of opioid overdose deaths, the pharmaceutical industry would still be making payments to physicians to prescribe more opioid products, but this is precisely what’s occurring, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Using the online Open Payments Program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, you can easily search to find out what if any payments your doctor has received from the pharmaceutical industry, along with the nature of the payments.
The researchers used Open Payments to reveal opioid-related payments to physicians between August 2013 and December 2015.
More than 375,000 non-research opioid-related payments were made to more than 68,000 physicians, totaling more than $46-M. This amounts to 1 in 12 or 8% of US physicians collecting money from drug companies producing prescription opioids.
The Top 1% of physicians received nearly 83% of the payments, and the drug fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 percent more potent than morphine, was associated with the highest payments.
Many of the states struggling with the highest rates of overdose deaths, such as Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey, were also those showing the most opioid-related payments to physicians.
Family physicians received the most payments (close to 1 in 5 family (20%) medicine doctors was a recipient), which is “an indicator that opioids are being really heavily marketed for pain,” Dr. Scott Hadland, the study’s author, said. “The next step is to understand these links between payments … and prescribing practices and overdose deaths,” he said. “It’s very common that the first opioid … [many people are] ever exposed to is from a prescription.”
A Harvard study, “The Opioid Epidemic: Fixing a Broken Pharmaceutical Market,” explains that the over-prescription of opioids was, and continues to be, a fundamental cause of the opioid epidemic, noting that such prescriptions rose 104 percent from 2000 to 2010.
In Y 2015 alone, the report noted, about 300-M prescriptions for opioids were written, which is more than 1 for each and every US adult.
While pharmaceutical company payments to physicians may play some role in this overprescribing, the Harvard report suggests the surge in prescriptions can be traced back to the widespread prevalence, and under-treatment, of chronic pain.
This spurred a campaign for more aggressive pain management. It’s true that many Americans struggle with unaddressed chronic pain but, unfortunately, most doctors are ill-equipped to treat it.
As a result, they resort to the only treatment they know: prescription drugs. It wasn’t long ago — during the 1980’s and 1990’s — that many prominent physicians and health organizations urged the use of opioids for chronic, noncancer pain, even going so far as to state that the risk of misuse and addiction was low. The game-changer occurred in Y 1995, when Purdue Pharma received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for extended-release oxycodone (Oxycontin) for the management of moderate to severe pain.
The company launched an extensive marketing blitz surrounding the drug, including doubling its marketing team and paying $40-M in bonuses, offering free initial supply coupons to patients, and hosting “all-expenses-paid pain management and speaker training conferences at lavish resorts” for clinicians. The drug became a blockbuster, in large part due to non-rigorous patenting standards and lack of policing of fraudulent marketing, the report notes:
“Purdue’s success was attributable in part to low patenting standards that enabled the company to secure and extend market exclusivity for extended-release oxycodone, providing motivation for its aggressive marketing.
A history of tepid enforcement against pharmaceutical companies engaging in illegal marketing further incentivized Purdue to make false claims about the safety and effectiveness of the drug. Both practices helped drive opioid overuse and misuse, with tragic public health consequences.”
Before President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency on a federal level, 6 states had already taken matters into their own hands and declared it as such, in some form or another. Doing this allowed them to access certain resources that might otherwise have been out of reach outside of a declared emergency.
In some cases, such as in Arizona, the emergency declaration allowed for increased funding, which the state has used to train law enforcement officers on how to administer naloxone, the lifesaving opioid antidote.
In Massachusetts, the emergency declaration made a prescription monitoring program mandatory for physicians and pharmacies, while also allowing first responders to carry naloxone.
The irony is that taxpayer funds will now be paying drug companies for naloxone, another one of their products.
So Big Pharma gets richer off the epidemic they created, leaving US taxpayers to pay the bill. As the price of naloxone rises, so do the reported sales and profits of the companies providing the drug.
In Y 2016 the federal government proposed adding $1.1-B in the Y 2017 budget to expand Rx drug and heroin abuse treatment and make naloxone more available. The funding included millions to help individual states treat opioid abuse as well as to fund 700 health care providers within the National Health Service Corps, but ignored the many ways the government itself enabled the opioid epidemic.
Even when taken as directed, Rx opioids can lead to addiction as well as tolerance, which means you need an increasingly stronger dose to get the pain-relieving effects.
People of all ages and from all walks of life are being affected, and please understand that anyone can become addicted to opioids.
So, if you have chronic pain of any kind, know that there are many safe and effective alternatives to prescription and even over-the-counter painkillers.
Do your homework and learn about the natural pain-relief methods that follow are useful for ongoing and lasting pain relief and management.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively
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