“Their chemical composition is such that the U.S. is just a few carbon molecules from being a nation of heroin addicts.”
That’s a pretty harsh quote from this recent article from CNN. And it’s just the start in this latest entry about the U. S. and our dependence on prescription pain killers. Some facts to back up this assertion:
- 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the U.S. in 2010, according to Wall Street analysts Cowen & Co.
- Enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to “medicate every American adult around the clock for a month,” the federal Centers for Disease Control reported on Nov. 1.
- It estimated that “non-medical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.”
- Opioids generated $11 billion in revenues for pharmaceutical companies, says market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
- 15,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2008
- Two decades ago opioid sales were a small fraction of today’s figures, as such drugs were reserved for the worst cancer pain.
Why this recent spate of attention on Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin? Last year they began selling a reformulated version that should help reduce the worst form of abuse. The original drug had a time-release mechanism that could be defeated by crushing the pill and snorting it, smoking it, or adding water to the powder and injecting it for a heroin-like high. By contrast, the new version breaks into chunks rather than a powder; if water is added, the result is a gelatinous goop. But at the same time, taking that step lifts a stigma from the drug and may make doctors more comfortable prescribing it, an outcome Purdue is hoping for. The result could be an even greater number of invisible addicts. Read more…