Prescription Opioids: American Addiction Epidemic

prescription opioids

The number of overdose deaths involving opioids has skyrocketed over the past two decades. Prescription opioids, heroin, and illicit fentanyl carry significant risks for the user; a slight miscalculation in dosing can have fatal outcomes.

Most experts agree that prescription opioids are responsible for the addiction epidemic in America. While it’s somewhat more challenging to acquire narcotics like oxycodone or OxyContin, many doctors continue to prescribe them for all things pain.

We have written about the American opioid addiction epidemic on numerous occasions. We recently shared about the maker of OxyContin – Purdue Pharma – agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges for its role in the public health crisis involving opioids.

Towards the end of November, a federal bankruptcy judge authorized a settlement between the Justice Department and Purdue valued at $8.3 billion, NPR reports. Purdue will plead guilty to three felony counts of criminal wrongdoing.

In our previous post on the subject, we pointed out that Purdue is one of many companies facing a litany of lawsuits for playing a pivotal role in the opioid epidemic. Thousands of lawsuits are pending against narcotic manufacturers and prescription drug distributors alike.

Both state and local governments want to hold companies that have made billions of dollars from the sale of prescription opioids accountable. Lawsuits suggest that ‘big pharma’ knew their products were both addictive and deadly but continued to market them as safe aggressively. What’s more, prescription drug distributors filled suspiciously large orders of narcotics to pharmacies across the country.

Prescription Opioids En Masse

As mentioned above, Purdue Pharma doesn’t stand alone in creating one of the most severe public health crises of our time. Other companies like Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors are negotiating settlements to end thousands of lawsuits relating to the opioid epidemic, The New York Times reports. If the settlement is approved, billions of dollars will go towards addiction treatment and prevention in areas hardest hit by opioids and overdose.

McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson are working on a $26 billion deal that could shield the companies from any further litigation, according to the article. The three distributors were responsible for filling more than three-quarters of the nation’s opioids orders to pharmacies.

Moreover, the companies largely disregarded suspicious orders, such as shipping enormous quantities of opioids to pharmacies that serviced small populations. For instance, the distributors shipped 21 million prescription opioids to two pharmacies in a West Virginia town of 2,900 people over ten years.

The settlement offer is $4 billion more than the offer made by the companies last year, according to the article. The distributors would pay $21 billion over 18 years, whereas Johnson & Johnson would pay $5 billion. Part of the companies’ settlement includes an agreement to strengthen drug monitoring programs.

The deal gets money to all of the communities in the United States that are suffering from insult upon injury, first from the opioid epidemic and now with Covid as well,” said Paul J. Hanly Jr., a lawyer representing several small governments. He adds, “We believe it’s in the best interest of these communities to begin receiving a payment stream. We looked at the finances of these companies and believe the numbers are now appropriate.”

Heroin and Fentanyl

America constitutes about five percent of the global population but consumes approximately 80 percent of the global opioid supply, CNBC reports. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 232,000 Americans died from overdoses of prescription opioids from 1999 through 2018. Research shows that roughly 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

Prescription painkillers have long been the gateway to illicit opioid use. Heroin and fentanyl are responsible for tens of thousands of opioid overdose deaths. The latter has made many headlines in recent years; fentanyl is often mixed into heroin to boost potency. Fentanyl is also sought out and used purposely.

Fentanyl is often the cause of fatal overdoses, and new research suggests that such deaths are on the rise in the western United States. Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Seattle have been significantly affected, NPR reports. The increase of fentanyl use in the west contributed to the 72,000 overdose deaths in America last year.

Up through 2018, the vast majority of synthetic opioid overdoses occurred east of the Mississippi River,” said study author Chelsea Shover, an epidemiologist at Stanford University. She adds, “You think you’re using heroin or you think you’re using Ecstasy or Xanax or what looks like an OxyContin pill, but it’s actually fentanyl.”

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment for Men

If you are struggling with prescription opioids, heroin, or fentanyl, PACE Recovery Center can help. We specialize in the treatment of men who are battling addiction and mental illness. We can help you or a loved one get on the path to recovery. Please contact us today to learn more about our programs and services.

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