Drugs use has always been an issue for some people. But it was always something that happened to someone else. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
What’s more, illegal drugs are not to blame for the current opioid epidemic. Your doctor is.
CDC Investigates Overdose Deaths
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1999, over 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to opioids prescribed by a doctor. (1) These numbers equate to about 125 people every day. (2)
And the CDC says these death rates have climbed faster than any other cause of death, jumping to an average of 15 people per 100,000 in 2014 from nine per 100,000 in 2003. Robert Anderson, the CDC’s chief of mortality statistics, says this trend is eerily similar to the epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s involving the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Millions of everyday Americans are becoming addicted to dangerous drugs like methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®) and other even more powerful opioids, a class of drugs that includes heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl is a prescribed painkiller that is 80 times as powerful as morphine and 100 times more powerful than heroin, according to the CDC. (3)
And opiate use statistics are terrifying: In 2016, fentanyl deaths were declared a Canada-wide disaster, killing hundreds of people across the country. In British Columbia, 300 people died in 2016 from illegal drug overdoses, according to the Coroners Service of British Columbia. They say 25 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl, a 20 percent hike compared to just three years earlier.
Unusual Drug Users
What is truly scary about these numbers, however, is that the people dying are not hard-core drug addicts. They are your neighbor or even your best friend’s kid. And it starts in many cases with your family doctor. One of the biggest issues is workplace injuries for which powerful opiates are being prescribed at alarming numbers. While these drugs can help relieve pain, there are seriously addictive.
According to Dr. Carl R. Sullivan III, the director of addiction services at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, “In the mid-1990s, there was a social movement that said it was unacceptable for patients to have chronic pain, and the pharmaceutical industry pushed the notion that opioids were safe.”
Doctors jumped on board and started prescribing these medications that often lead to a hard-core drug addiction. And when your doctor feels you have had enough time to heal, they often simply cut the patient off, leaving them in a physiologically dangerous position. These very real withdrawal symptoms that send people to the streets to get their fix.
And unscrupulous companies are taking advantage of this crisis. The market for both legal and illegal opioids is so big now that prescription pills and “hybrid pills” (fake) are mass-produced and shipped into North America from places like China and through the cartels in Mexico. (4)
Home-Grown Drug Dealers
But countries like China and Mexico are not the only ones responsible for this drug epidemic.
US pharmaceutical companies continue to develop stronger and more potent pain medications. Then, your doctor over-prescribes these drugs, often because they are paid to do so. While it’s illegal to give “kickbacks” to a doctor to prescribe a medication, it is legal to pay them to “promote” a drug. In fact, this is how some doctors make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year over and above their normal practice, according to a CBS investigation. (5)
Drug manufacturers defend this practice by claiming it actually saves lives. “The discovery of new and improved medicines is dependent on research collaborations between physicians and biopharmaceutical companies. Clinical trials sponsored by biopharmaceutical companies have led to breakthroughs for people suffering from cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” says Matthew Bennett, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
But not everyone agrees. In what is turning out to be a shocking case, several pharmaceutical executives were arrested for “scheming to create addicts.” In December 2016, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts arrested six former pharmaceutical executives of Insys Therapeutics, Inc., which manufactures a fentanyl-based pain medication known as ‘Subsys.’ (6)
Prosecutors see this as nothing more than a “nefarious” and well-organized scheme to get family doctors to overprescribe the drug and, of course, ensure patients have an endless supply. They claim this practice is nothing more than high-level drug dealing.
Opioid Epidemic In America
Fentanyl is one of the most potent, addictive, and deadly synthetic opioids in the world. Withdrawal from this medication is even called “inhumane” by those that have had to undergo this highly dangerous and truly physically and emotionally painful process. (7)
This drug is so harmful and potent in fact that is has garnered the nickname, ‘kill pill,’ and is the drug responsible for Prince’s death in April 2016. (8)
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), in 2015, more than 50 percent of the drug-related deaths were linked to prescription medications, not illegal street drugs. In comparison, the report states that 216 deaths were associated with prescribed opioid pain relievers compared to 114 caused by illegal heroin. (9)
According to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the six drug executives arrested in December were essentially involved in a “Racketeering Scheme” in which they: “…conspired to bribe practitioners in various states, many of whom operated pain clinics, in order to get them to prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication. The medication, called “Subsys,” is a powerful narcotic intended to treat cancer patients suffering intense episodes of breakthrough pain. In exchange for bribes and kickbacks, the practitioners wrote large numbers of prescriptions for the patients, most of whom were not diagnosed with cancer.” (10)
A Deadly Conspiracy Involving Your Family Doctor
What is undeniably disturbing about this case, which is touted as a high-level conspiracy, is that family doctors, the very people you essentially trust your family’s life with, are breaking that trust in the most malicious way possible.
“When you go to your doctor, you trust that the doctor is giving the best medication for you…,” says Charlie Ornstein, a senior editor for the independent, non-profit newsroom ProPublica. When that doctor is putting his or her needs before their patient’s, there is a complete break of that trust. And everyone is aware of it; expect the patient who is really nothing more than a lamb being led to slaughter, which is why officials took the unprecedented step of arresting senior pharmaceutical executives.
According to the indictment, the six execs who worked for Insys, in conjunction with physicians, allegedly: (11)
- Paid doctors to give educational lectures about the use of Subsys. (While this is not in and of itself illegal, prosecutors allege Insys paid these doctors in direct proportion to the frequency with which they wrote prescriptions for the drug, Subsys. According to the indictment, texts between Insys employees allegedly state that the doctors hired to give lectures “do not need to be good speakers,” so long as they are high-volume Susbys prescribers. It is further alleged that these “lectures,” were often nothing more than dinners between doctors and friends at high-end restaurants. One Florida doctor allegedly made $275,000 in “speaking fee” in just three years.)
- Continued to work with doctors who frequently prescribed Subsys even after they were made aware these doctors were known for running “pill mills.” (In an email between Insys employees, one employee stated, “He [an Illinois doctor the company continued to work with and pay speaking fees to] is extremely moody, lazy and inattentive. He basically just shows up to sign his name on the prescription pad, if he shows up at all.”)
- Hired support staff employees to mislead insurance companies into approving payments for Subsys prescriptions. (Support staff employees allegedly misled insurers into believing they were interacting with representatives of doctor’s offices rather than actual representatives of Insys. These employees were allegedly instructed to end the call when insurers “pursued the identity of their employer.” Support staff employees are also accused of systematically falsifying specific diagnosis information by claiming patients had difficulty swallowing, for example, a problem they knew would make insurers more likely to authorize Subsys purchases.)
How You Can Keep Your Family Safe
If you are injured or require pain medication for any reason, ask your doctor about alternatives to opiates. When something stronger is required, there are ways to ask your doctor if he or she is receiving compensation from a drug company without sounding confrontational, says Ornstein.
“You can ask about the nature of their payment,” for example, he says. “But even if you didn’t want to raise the payment (issue), you can ask about other alternatives [for pain management]. You can ask about [other] drugs that your insurance company will cover. You can ask about changing your lifestyle first.”
Drug abuse is not a road you want to travel. It ruins families, destroys communities and it kills. And if you do manage to make it back up this road, it is a long and painful trip. “The surge in opioid deaths is one of the reasons that united states life expectancy declined in 2015 for the first time in 22 years. In that same year, Insys reported a profit of $58.5 million.” (12)
Pharmaceutical medications like oxycodone, Vicodin, codeine, Percocet, morphine, fentanyl and any other number of painkillers are far too easy to obtain today. Because these drugs are so addictive and expensive, they are a natural gateway to heroin use, according to authorities.
We were warned years ago to” Just Say No,” when it came to illegal drug use. It’s a sad day when patients have to learn to “Just Say No” to their family doctor.