Cassie Follman ’20
The opioid epidemic resulted in the direct and indirect deaths of 30,000 lives in 2015 in the U.S., according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). This number has continued to rise rapidly.
Recently, the manufacturer of the drug OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, has announced that it will no longer recommend the drug to doctors as pain killers. The announcement has special importance in Western Massachusetts, one of the areas hit the hardest by opioid addiction.
The ASAM continued to discuss the transition from misused opioids to heroin by patients. Addiction to various pain-killers such as opioids is extremely strong, and these addictions have led to more widespread use of heroin, a cheaper alternative.
According to The Verge, “[Purdue Pharma] began aggressively marketing OxyContin in 1996 as a superior pain-management drug that would last longer than other medications, which it claimed would lead to less abuse from patients.”
However, the opposite was found to be true given the many deaths and increased level of addictions that have resulted from use of OxyContin.
The recent announcement by Purdue Pharma comes in light of criticism for the promotion of the drug and the company also has laid off 50 percent of its staff.
“Opioid-related deaths in the state were more than four times higher in 2015 than in 2000,” according to Mass.gov. “This recent rate of increase is several times faster than anything seen here before. In 2013–2014 alone, opioid-related deaths occurred in two-thirds of the cities and towns in Massachusetts.” However, as WBUR reported last week, opioid overdoses fell by eight percent from 2016 to 2017.
The state passed legislation, titled Chapter 55, that shed light on the effects of addiction, but the halt of promotion of OxyContin marks the first actual control of the drug itself.
The New York Times reported on the federal government’s response. “President Trump declared the opioid crisis a ‘public health emergency’ on Thursday, though he did not release additional funding to address it. Had he declared it a ‘national emergency,’ as he promised to do in August, it would have led to the quick allocation of federal funds,” Julie Hirschfield Davis reported last October.
Stopping promotion of OxyContin is an important step towards reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S., relying on the drug companies that started the problem rather than the government.