Is Big Pharma Driving Addiction?

There’s been a lot of buzz going around about big pharma and its role when it comes to addiction in the United States. But could a company that manufactures FDA-approved drugs really be contributing to America’s addiction problem?

Painkiller Prescription is On the Rise

Prescription drugs are some of the most addictive types of drugs around, and many types of prescription painkillers are more lethal than illegal drugs. In fact, prescription painkillers kill more people in the United States than heroin and cocaine combined. Despite all of these chilling facts, doctors in the United States write over 259 million prescriptions for painkillers every year.

Most people take these prescribed painkillers without question, trusting that their doctor wouldn’t prescribe them anything that could be harmful and that the government wouldn’t approve drugs that may not be safe. However, many of these big pharma companies intentionally mislead consumers despite potentially lethal consequences. The City of Chicago recently filed a lawsuit against five big pharma companies, alleging that they deceptively marketed painkillers such as Percocet and OxyContin for chronic pain management despite knowing that the drugs were ineffective at treating chronic pain and carried a high risk of addiction.

From Prescription to Addiction

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While many Americans take their painkillers as prescribed without experiencing addiction or withdrawal, many other Americans aren’t so lucky. People can become addicted to their painkillers and start abusing them by taking them in greater doses than prescribed or by seeking out multiple prescriptions. However, only 20% of the 8.76 million people who abuse prescription painkillers within the span of the year were prescribed a painkiller by a doctor. Another 54% of prescription drug abusers got the drugs for free from family and friends.

Furthermore, 62% of teens say that the main reason they started abusing prescription drugs is because they can easily take them from their parent’s medicine cabinet. Many parents may think that they are taking their medication responsibly, especially if they don’t become addicted. But they often fail to think of how their prescription may be enabling the 15% of high school seniors who abuse prescription drugs spiral towards addiction.

The Path from Legal Drugs to Illegal Drugs

As if prescription drug abuse in itself wasn’t bad enough, studies have found that prescription drugs are a gateway to illegal drugs, especially heroin. In the 1960s, most heroin users were young city dwellers and 80% of them initiated heroin first. However, today’s heroin users are older and more suburban. 75% of them started using heroin after first abusing opioid painkillers such as Oxycodone.

Big Pharma’s Link to Addiction

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Despite the multitude of lawsuits and investigations against big pharma, they continues to sell their products. This is even considering the high level of addiction and death associated with prescription painkillers, and the fact that the amount of dangerous prescription painkillers prescribed by doctors has quadrupled over the past decade.

Recent leaked documents have found that some big pharma employees are under immense pressure to get doctors to write painkiller prescriptions of high doses for ailments such as muscle pains that do not usually warrant a heavy painkiller.

Although prescription painkillers are necessary in some cases, the rate at which big pharma pushes doctors to write addictions is worrying. Last year alone, more than 20,000 people died as a result of taking prescription painkillers—drugs that are legal and approved by the FDA.

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