The opioid crisis, fueled by the aggressive marketing strategies of prescription opioids conducted by pharma companies from the mid- to late-1990s, shows no sign of ending.
While the crisis also involves the use of illegal drugs such as heroin, the prescribing of moderate and strong opioid painkillers has also played a role in creating it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined from 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses of prescription opioids such as methadone, oxycodone,and hydrocodone, and approximately 46 people die every day.
Much has been already done to combat this crisis. There have been numerous lawsuits brought against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. Many states are suing Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, an opioid pain reliever it marketed and promoted aggressively in the mid-90s. New York, which filed a lawsuit on August 14, became the latest of 27 states to sue Purdue.
In 2017, McKesson paid a $150 million penalty for failure to report “suspicious orders” for oxycodone and hydrocodone.
On June 22, the House passed a comprehensive package, including the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which will provide access to treatment, help with research of non-addictive medications, and direct $4 billion to address the opioid crisis.
On August 16, President Donald Trump announced he wants the Department of Justice to bring a federal lawsuit against drug manufacturers that have contributed to the crisis. It will be interesting to see what actions the DOJ takes to address this issue.
As pressure to address the opioid crisis continues to mount, it is clear pharma companies must change their approach regarding how they market and promote opioids, thus becoming part of the solution versus remaining the source of the problem.
Martina Rozumberkova is director at risk consulting firm Control Risks.