The U.S. is facing an opioid epidemic with more than 40 people dying every day due to accidental drug overdose.
The problem has prompted the White House to propose stricter measures to prevent abuse, a move that could potentially help about 2 million people in the country who abuse painkillers.
Now, a new report suggests that America's opioid problem could be partly blamed on Purdue Pharma, maker of the opioid drug OxyContin.
Two decades ago, the drugmaker launched a marketing claim that one dose of its drug relieves pain for 12 hours.
The effect supposedly lasts more than twice as long as those by generic medications, which means that one tablet in the morning and one before bed would suffice. Patients would no longer need to wake up in the middle of the night to take their medication.
With such claim, Purdue's OxyContin became the bestselling painkiller in the U.S. The effect of the drug, however, lasts much shorter in many people.
Investigation by the Los Angeles Times showed that despite marketing a 12-hour pain relief, Purdue was aware that OxyContin wore off earlier in many patients.
Before the company launched the drug into the market, clinical trials reportedly showed that the drug does not give 12-hour relief to many patients. Doctors and sales representatives also reported and complained that the drug does not deliver its promise of long-duration pain relief.
Purdue, however, clung to its 12-hour claim. This posed a problem because when the effects of the drug do not last, patients may experience symptoms of withdrawal that include craving for the drug spurring likelihood for addiction.
Health experts said that gaps in narcotic effects may cause patients to suffer from nausea, body aches, anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms, which motivates them to take more drugs. This creates a cycle of pain and euphoria that drives addiction.
Peter Przekop, a doctor who oversees treatment of painkiller addicts, said that repeated episodes of withdrawal from the drug increases risks that the patient will abuse it.
"You are messing with those areas of the brain that are involved in addiction, and you are going to get the person dependent on it," Przekop said.
In response to the report, Purdue released a statement on Thursday discrediting the claims in the story including those that question its 12-hours prescription for OxyContin.
"Scientific evidence amassed over more than 20 years, including more than a dozen controlled clinical studies, supports the FDA's approval of 12-hour dosing for OxyContin," Purdue said.
OxyContin has become one of the most widely abused drugs in the U.S. Figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that more than 7 million Americans abused the drug.