Before Purdue Pharma released OxyContin in the 1990’s, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, and a member of the family that owns Purdue Pharma had these prophetic words to say “The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white”.
If Mr. Sackler knew then what he knew now he might not have been so proud of that fact. 72,000 people died from opioid overdoes’ in 2017, and Mr. Sackler’s comments point to one of the root causes. Yes, it’s true that pharmaceutical companies recklessly pushed prescription painkiller’s like OxyContin for years despite knowing the risks. And yes, the companies deserve to take a large portion of the blame.
But simply blaming them for the opioid epidemic missies another key factor that needs to be addressed for this problem to be solved.
Doctors still need to be held accountable for prescribing opioid painkillers to patients at an alarming rate. Opioid pain killers need to be prescribed as a last resort to manage pain, but right now they are among the first things doctors recommend. Additionally, with all the negative research available doctors need to be held accountable for not properly sharing those risks to their patients.
Furthermore, doctors need to be held responsible for not ensuring that their patients are being properly weaned off their medication. Too many times patients are prescribed opioids, only to become addicted and then have their prescription taken away. It’s then that these individuals turn to illegal drugs like heroin to get their fix.
So yes, it’s a good thing that these drug companies are being taken to court for their nefarious practices that got these drugs on the market to begin with. But by assigning blame to them we must be careful to ensure that we don’t get complacent. We still need to address how opioids are getting prescribed today, or this drug epidemic isn’t going to get any better.