It’s a view shared by anti-addiction advocates like Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, a group that wants the FDA to severely restrict pharmaceutical marketing of opioids.
“Over the past decade, there have been more than 125,000 painkiller overdose deaths because drug companies were permitted to falsely advertise these drugs as safe and effective for long-term use,” said the group’s president, Andrew Kolodny.
Experts agree that most overdoses occur in people abusing opioids at unsafe doses, often by grinding up tablets for snorting or injecting. But groups like PROP say that addiction often begins when doctors prescribe the drugs for common aches and pains. Opioids include both legal and illegal narcotics, such as heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone and oxycodone among others.
The appropriate medical role for opioids has been the subject of vigorous debate for over 20 years.
For most of the last century, doctors reserved opioids for acute pain following surgery or injury, or for severe, long-term pain due to deadly diseases like cancer. Using the drugs for more common ailments was considered too risky because they are highly addictive.
But in the 1990s, a new generation of specialists argued that opioids, when used carefully, could safely treat common forms of chronic pain, including back pain and arthritis. That message was amplified by pharmaceutical marketing for new, long-acting drugs like OxyContin, which the FDA approved in 1995.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, would later plead guilty and pay $634.5 million in fines for misleading doctors about the risks of addiction and abuse with OxyContin. But opioid prescriptions continued to rise unabated.
It’s a trend closely monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, where officials say an oversupply of painkillers is fueling the black market for both prescription opioids and heroin.
DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joe Rannazzisi says it is “outrageous” that the U.S. consumes 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone — the most prescribed medicine in the country.