Monday, May 14, 2007

Big business flogs addictive opiates

Almost all painkillers can be abused and all opiate-based pain killers can be addictive. And markets are, yes, wonderful institutions – try to prohibit use of something which kills and damages people and, yes, markets will deliver an alternative. Profits will be earned, junkies will get the dope they want and a beloved 'welfare triangle' of gains will result for society.

But the positive consumer outcomes here require truthfulness. In a remarkable judgment PurduePharma, the manufacturer of the legally prescribed painkiller OxyContin, has been filled US$600 million for lying about this drug's potential to be abused and to be addictive. Three executives have been fined $34.5 million for 'misbranding' the product. The lies included spreading the message than the drug was less addictive than morphine and that it would not generate euphoria.

While drugs such as heroin and morphine remain illegal large pharmaceutical producers provide a variety of substitute products (e.g. methadone, buprenorphine) which are just as addictive. These producers skillfully exploit the market for legal addictive painkillers. Drugs such as OxyContin can also be used as substitutes for illegal narcotics. Demand for all of these products is often demand over a lifetime – they tend to be used indefinitely rather than as means to mend an addiction, demand is highly price inelastic because of their addictive character and a ready supply of addicts is provided from the ranks of addicted illegal opiate users.

Methadone is produced by Eli Lilly while buprenorphine is produced by Reckitt and Coleman.

Many of these drugs are rationalized by their pharmaceutical promoters as harm-minimization alternatives to drugs such as heroin. Maybe they are better alternatives but certainly they are far from being safe. Moreover their commercial promoters should not be allowed to lie about their properties and to conceal their dangers.

Soma-style solutions are always second-best outcomes. Humans have better ways of dealing with life’s problems than being doped to the eyeballs.

And doctors who suggest that a solution to drug problems can involve substituting one addictive drug, that kills, for another, that also can kill, should be cooked down into decorticated canine preparations.


Francis Xavier Holden said...

I'm a bit bemused that it comes as some surprise to some people that a narcotic (oxycontin) has the potential for abuse.

And although I'm not a great defender of Big Pharma, and I do think that the nature of direct to patient advertising in USA presents some problems, I would have thought it was reasonable to suggest that a long release, 10 - 12 hour, strong opiate, might be less inclined to facilitate abuse.

As for the matter of "euphoria" - so what.

thejunkyswife said...

I'm glad that the Big Pharma rich guys are going to have to pay, even though it likely won't put a dent in their substantial wallets and won't stop them from engaging in such reprehensible behavior in the future.

My husband's heroin addiction started with an Oxycontin problem. I know that he's an addict and he would have found a high however he had to...but it certainly was easy when the crap was prescribed...

hc said...

FXH, That's true its been sound wisdom for decades that painkillers can be abused. Of course with abuse not administered as intended.

I am not a killjoy - the problem with euphoria is that it invites repetition.

Junky'swife, Certainly the fine didn't make a big dent in their profits. Your point is right - makes it easier.

Damien Eldridge said...

jHarry, in addition to its use as a heroin replacement for people trying to quit, methodone is also a painkiller that may be appropriate in some circumstances. These narcotics are not illegal. They are restricted. You need a prescription to obtain them. As such, you need to convince a medical doctor that you need them. That seems to be a reasonable restriction on their availability that still allowes for their legitimate use. Of course, misleading and deceptive conduct, such as false advertisong, should still be illegal.