by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News
The heroin and opioid painkiller overuse, addiction, and resulting death toll that averages out to 78 deaths per day has become an epidemic that continues to grow, except in states that have liberal medical marijuana laws.
The CDC concedes that at least half of those statistics are fueled by opioid painkiller prescriptions of Oxycodone, as used in OxyContin®, Hydrocodone, with Vicodin® for example, and Methadone, ironically often prescribed under several brand names to assist those withdrawing from heroine. (Source)
Methadone is a synthetically derived opioid developed by German scientists during WW II to replace its morphine shortage and it can be prescribed as a pain killer. Very little is mentioned about morphine derived from opium with oral, injectable, and IV applications available.
Morphine is usually administered by drip IV to hospitalized cancer patients and those assigned to hospice. Recent research has raised suspicions that morphine increases cancer cell progression and susceptibility due to opioid receptors in the body’s reception of externally applied opiate based opioids such as morphine. (Source)
The Alarming Increase in Opioid Addiction and Using Prescription Opioids as a “Gateway Drug” to Heroin
Image from Sports Illustrated.
The FDA has recently approved Oxycontin for kids as young as 11. A June 2015 Sports Illustrated article titled “How painkillers are turning young athletes into heroin addicts” focused on what happens when high school and collegiate athletes’ painkiller meds are no longer prescribed. Then the addiction takes over. From that article:
According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a full 80% of all users arrive at heroin after abusing opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. While opioid painkillers can cost up to $30 per pill on the black market, heroin, which is molecularly similar, can be purchased for $5 a bag and provides a more potent high. “It’s an easy jump,” says Harris Stratyner, a New York City addiction specialist. (Source)
This implies that some of the deaths attributed to heroine overdose originated from opioid painkiller addictions. It could be said that opioid painkillers are truly gateway drugs. Ironically, opioids are often somewhat less effective at reducing chronic pain than cannabis. Initially prescribed doses don’t last very long over time, leading to higher doses. Then the “abuse” begins.
In less than two decades, opioid sales, especially Oxycontin, have quadrupled. The opioid overdose death rate has uniformly corresponded with that increase. Former FDA head from 1990 to 1997 Dr. David Kessler conceded during a CBS News interview that there is an opioid epidemic, adding,
“This has been one of the great mistakes of modern medicine.”
How One Family Became the USA’s 16th Wealthiest from Oxycontin Sales
The name of the company is Purdue Pharma. The painkiller is Oxycontin. During the 1950s, the three Saxler brothers, all practicing psychiatrists, bought a small struggling pharmaceutical company in NYC that eventually became Purdue Pharma based in Connecticut.
The rise from obscure minor drug manufacturer in NYC to Purdue Pharma’s $3 billion dollar annual USA sales, almost totally from Oxycontin, has been attributed to the late Aurthur Saxler’s marketing skills. He was the first to be placed in the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (MAHF) beginning in 1997.
He and others listed in the MAHF are praised for innovations and successes with marketing drugs that prior to the 1960s were not the driving force of the pharmaceutical industry. Now we have perfectly legal pharmaceutical-to-consumer advertising on TV, radio, and print media.
This Medical Advertising Hall of Fame could be considered satire or dark humor, but it’s all too real. (Source)
Purdue Pharma is owned solely by Saxler family, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes as $14 billion. Of the three founding brothers, only Raymond at age 94 remain. Their wealth was accumulated through marketing Oxycontin as an abuse-proof safe painkiller because of its time release formula in 1995.
That claim turned out to be not entirely true. Oxycontin was abused and became addictive and lethal for the same reasons all opioid painkillers become addictive and lethal. In 2007, the Department of Justice fined Purdue Pharma $635 million in fines for false marketing. Currently, the state of Kentucky has a pending lawsuit on the company for deceptive advertising that could wind up with even a larger sum.
All these fines and lawsuits are merely the cost of doing business as Purdue Pharma rolls on with the biggest share of the opioid drug business. (Source)
The Deterrent to Opioid Abuse Dangers is Legal Medical Cannabis
A study using Medicare part D drug sales records by a father-daughter team, David and Ashley Bradford, demonstrated a huge drop in opioid purchases in states that are medical marijuana friendly.
“What we hope people take away from this is that when marijuana becomes available as a clinical option, physicians and patients together are reacting as if marijuana is medicine,” David Bradford, told TIME magazine.
In states where the purchase of medical cannabis is legal, doctors on average doled out 1,826 fewer prescriptions for painkillers. The Bradfords learned that states with cannabis-friendly laws saved $165.2 million per year in medical-related fees.”
The Bradford study used Medicare part D records, which cover drug costs. Considering that Medicare D is usually but not always attached to Medicare A or Medicare A and B, there could be an even greater drop of opioid drug sales. Medicare is the public health insurance coverage for folks 65 and older receiving social security.
Medicare part D can be attached to some private insurance coverages. But many patients under 65 don’t use that option while some over 65 don’t either. This potentially adds several more who were formally prescribed opioid painkillers but are now taking advantage of medical marijuana legalization and using cannabis for pain instead of opioids.
Medical marijuana legal states are reaping high revenues from cannabis sales as well as spending less for government health insurance programs. They’re happy with cannabis legalization. So the pharmaceutical and liquor lobbyists have to focus on agents in the federal level and states considering medical cannabis legalization to impede pro-cannabis legislation.
Perhaps their influence was part of the DEA’s recent refusal to upgrade cannabis on their controlled substance list by using the FDA’s claim that there is not medical merit to cannabis while the FDA issues permits to drug companies who wish to produce synthetic cannabis products for medical drugs. (Story here.)
In other words, the FDA caters to its pharmaceutical clients while the DEA uses the FDA to determine medical applications of cannabis. The federal government is acting as the law and the principal drug dealer.
Marijuana or cannabis from plant sources has historically been scapegoated as a gateway drug. It has not only been safer, but more effective with the right combination of THC and CBD at the right dose for reducing chronic pain than opioids, according to an interview of medical cannabis expert Dr. David Sulak covered in an earlier Health Impact News article.
In fact, cannabis is the pain solution for both not entering the gates leading to opiate “hard drugs” but also for rescuing those who have been addicted to them before it’s too late. You can get more details on the types of cannabis strains most useful for chronic pain reduction here.
Dr. Sulak’s three Maine clinics are having extreme success at getting addicted opioid users off the drugs without serious withdrawal issues and virtually no relapses. Continuing pain relief from cannabis at “safe levels” is easy since cannabis for pain has a bell curve of efficacy for pain.
Excess cannabis use for chronic pain results in less pain relief. There is a “sweet spot” that has to be determined with medical guidance or trial and error. Besides, nobody has died or suffered chronic disability from cannabis. Medical cannabis pain medication experts recommend less is more for cannabis pain relief. (Source)
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