Connecticut-based drug maker Purdue Pharma has come under fire after a new report tagged the company's wonder drug, OxyContin, as one of the likely reasons why opioid abuse in the United States had increased significantly over the past two decades.
According to a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, Purdue Pharma's complicity in the increase of opioid addiction stems from its marketing of OxyContin's pain relieving properties, which supposedly lasts for 12 hours.
The drug company had informed doctors that patients only need to take one tablet in the morning and another one before going to sleep at night in order to benefit from "smooth and sustained pain control" the entire day.
However, many patients reported that the drug easily wore off after only a few hours after taking it. Since OxyContin shares many chemical properties with heroin, the supposed painkiller left people to experience severe symptoms of withdrawal, such as an intense craving for the medication, as soon as it wears off.
The Times article asserted that based on internal documents gathered from Purdue Pharma, the drug maker continued to push for patients to use OxyContin as a 12-hour medication even though it was well aware that the drug's pain relieving properties dissipate early in many people.
Clinical trials conducted by Purdue Pharma revealed that many of those who were given OxyContin asked for additional doses even before the 12-hour period was up.
The Times also cites an analysis made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on one OxyContin study wherein one-third of 164 participants who were subjected to Purdue Pharma's painkiller dropped out of the treatment. The patients said OxyContin was "ineffective" at helping relieve their pain.
As a result, the drug maker's researchers modified the rules of their study to allow participants to take supplemental pain relief drugs in between receiving 12-hour doses of OxyContin.
Another study found that 95 percent of the 87 cancer patients who were given OxyContin resorted to using alternative painkillers instead of staying exclusively on Purdue Pharma's medication.
Despite reports that OxyContin was ineffective for many people and doctors recommending patients to use the drug only as an eight-hour medication, Purdue Pharma still marketed the painkiller as a 12-hour drug to drive sales because it provides a marketing edge over many of its rival medications that only had shorter durations, the news article said.
Purdue Pharma strongly denies the points mentioned in the Los Angeles Times report, stating that it disregards the clinical and regulatory data that the drug company submitted to the news agency that would contradict the accusations.
"Unfortunately, the paper disregarded this information, instead publishing a story that's long on anecdote and short on facts," Purdue Pharma said.
The drug maker added that the Times report could cause more confusion among people regarding the opioid epidemic that is currently plaguing the country.
As of the moment, OxyContin continues to be one of the most popular painkillers in the United States, with 5.4 million prescriptions written for the drug's use in 2014.
During the same year, more than half of those under the medication for more than three months were given OxyContin doses of at least 60 milligrams. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told doctors that they should avoid prescribing such doses of the drug or to carefully justify why it is needed.
How To Prevent Opioid Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has identified multiple types of interventions that can help people avoid the abusive use of opioid medications.
1. Launching educational initiatives that could be delivered in schools and communities
2. Supporting the consistent use of programs for prescription drug monitoring
3. Implementing programs for naloxone distribution directly to identified opioid users as well as educating people on the effects of opioid overdose
4. Strictly enforcing the law against pill mills and the practice of doctor shopping
5. Diverting people suffering from substance use disorders to drug courts instead of regular ones
6. Allowing more people to have access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction
7. Creating better formulations for opioid-based analgesics that could discourage abuse
NIDA is also supporting additional research on the effectiveness of a multidisciplinary approach to determine the most appropriate form of treatment for chronic pain patients. The agency hopes that this could eliminate the practice of some doctors who choose to prescribe opioid medications because of the belief that they are the easiest and least expensive way to relieve pain.