By Dr. Mercola
Narcotic painkillers have become a serious problem due to their abuse potential and adverse health effects. But one
narcotic stands out above the rest for its meteoric rise in popularity—followed by an equally impressive dive into disfavor.
OxyContin is a narcotic drug,
manufactured by Purdue Pharma, and has been described as the “most dramatically successful” of the opioid drugs.
If the measure of success is its marketing campaign, then Oxy definitely takes the gold.
The Canadian documentary “OxyContin: Time Bomb” tells
the story of how Purdue Pharma steamrolled its way into the marketplace with this dangerous drug, preying on vulnerable pain
sufferers and the physicians trying to help them.
Canada is spending more than 10 billion dollars a year on narcotic pain pills—and hundreds of millions
more on the addictions they cause. However, Americans may have them beat.
According to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Americans consume
80 percent of the world’s pain pills.1 Misleading pain statistics are used to push increasingly stronger narcotics into the marketplace.
Since OxyContin was introduced
in 1996, Canada has recorded the second-highest number of prescription opioid painkiller addictions and the world's second-highest
death rate from overdoses. In the US, narcotic overdose deaths now surpass deaths from murders and fatal car accidents.
The Tiny Time-Released Time Bomb
As soon as it was released, Purdue Pharma hailed OxyContin as its new “miracle pill” for pain
sufferers. Drug company representatives told physicians and patients OxyContin was safer than other narcotics because it was
time-released, so there was essentially no potential for abuse—but nothing could’ve been farther from the truth.
OxyContin is the time-released version of oxycodone,
which is the active drug in painkillers such as Percodan and Percocet. Tolerance builds quickly, so many OxyContin users need
ever-increasing doses for the same effect. When their dose “maxes out,” some desperate patients turn to the streets.
Just a few years after its introduction,
OxyContin was one of the hottest street drugs available, with addicts chewing or snorting or injecting them for an incomparable—and
very dangerous—high, which users compare to heroin.
In fact, OxyContin has been found to be the gateway drug to heroin.2 Over the past five years,
heroin deaths have increased by 45 percent—an increase largely blamed on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such
Because of its insatiable
demand, some patients with legal prescriptions begin selling OxyContin tablets to drug dealers for a profit. The pharmaceutical
company earned billions while watching their “miracle drug” turn ordinary citizens into hardened addicts and criminals.
How many people have died as a
result of OxyContin? A firm number is difficult to ascertain. A variety of numbers have appeared in media reports, usually
lacking citations or references, and many deaths involve a combination of drugs and alcohol.3
What is known is that narcotic overdose deaths
have quadrupled in the last decade. Deaths from overdoses of drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and oxycodone/OxyContin
rose from 1.4 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.4 per 100,000 in 2011.
In 2009, 1.2 million emergency department visits involved the “nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals or
dietary stimulants” (which includes abuse). Oxycodone alone or in combination with other drugs accounted for 175,949
of those visits.4
How Did OxyContin Get So Big, So Fast?
In its first year (1996), OxyContin earned Purdue
Pharma $45 million in sales. By 2001, that number ballooned to $1.1 billion. Ten years later, sales totaled $3.1 billion with
Oxy accounting for about 30 percent of the total painkiller market.
It didn’t take long for some to realize what a dangerous drug OxyContin was, but critics’ cries
were drowned out by Purdue’s massive marketing campaign.
The drug company’s unprecedented “brainwashing” campaign got OxyContin propaganda into
the hands of physicians and patients alike, and even into medical school classrooms, giving them hope that a safe, user-friendly
pain treatment was finally available.
Purdue Pharma reps wined and dined physicians, showering them with expensive gifts and a blitz of flashy marketing materials,
from brochures and videotapes to a promotional publication cleverly disguised as a “physician’s desk reference”
for treating pain.5
In return, many salesmen profited handsomely
from the bonuses, which in 2001 ranged from $70,000 to nearly $250,000. Purdue Pharma spent $200 million marketing OxyContin
OxyContin’s Fall from Grace
The boom lasted until 2007, when criminal charges were
finally laid against Purdue Pharma for their “campaign of deception” aimed at boosting OxyContin sales. The company
was fined 600 million dollars, and three company executives paid a total of $35.4 million in fines.7
By then, however, a great deal of damage had
already been done. In Ontario, Canada alone, 36,000 were dependent on methadone at a cost of 200 million in taxpayer dollars—a
600 percent increase since OxyContin hit the market, and streets.
In the featured documentary, pain specialist Phil Berger of Toronto, Canada sums up the “perfect storm”
of malfeasance that created this public health disaster:
“Confluence of unbelievably aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical
industry that sells these drugs, plus the inadequacy of education to medical students and physicians in training and the utter
failure of regulatory bodies, the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, to reign in their membership and provide proper oversight
to how their members are prescribing medications.”
Using AND Quitting OxyContin Can Make You Very Sick
Patients taking OxyContin experience a variety of adverse effects, including depression and mood swings,
nodding off during the day, disrupted interpersonal relationships, and other problems. However, those wanting to discontinue
the drug typically have a difficult time getting off of it, often becoming quite sick.
Sometimes, long-term methadone treatment is required to break severe OxyContin
dependence, which has major risks of its own.8 Methadone, a synthetic
form of opium that’s used to get people off heroin, may have surpassed heroin as the leading cause of narcotic deaths.9 This is but one of many
serious problems stemming from the abuse of opioid drugs such as OxyContin.
There were no pain clinics when OxyContin came out—these were created largely
in response to the massive addiction and overdose problems associated with this drug and others like it. When your body
is bathed around the clock in a sea of opiates, it becomes dependent on them, and withdrawing can make you very ill. OxyContin
withdrawal typically includes symptoms such as:
1. Anxiety, restlessness
2. Abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea
3. Flu-like symptoms, including aching and chills
4. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
5. Tremors, seizures and convulsions
OxyContin’s patent expired in 2013. Normally, this opens the door for generics, but in this case, the
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned generic versions of the original OxyContin and required drug makers to develop
“abuse resistant” versions. In 2010, Purdue pulled original OxyContin from the market and introduced its own “abuse-resistant”
form, which contains a polymer that supposedly makes it harder to crush and snort or inject.
That’s great news for Purdue—the patent on its “Oxy
2.0” is good until 2025. FDA essentially rewarded Purdue Pharma with a patent extension for a drug that injured and
killed millions. In 2013, their new drug accounted for one-third of the prescription painkiller market, and with an average
cost of $7.50 per pill, generated $2.8 billion in sales.10 And this new form may not
be that abuse-resistant. About one-quarter of users claim they’ve figured out how to defeat the deterrent.11 Canadian physicians are
reporting that OxyNEO—the new form Purdue is selling in Canada—is just as addictive as original OxyContin.12 Just another startling
example of the collusion between the FDA and industry.