What Is The Culpability Of Our Nation?
We have become a nation of pill poppers. Pain tablets are the prime culprits — more specifically, opioids. A broad category of drugs derived from natural or synthetic forms of opium or morphine. Many of the medications in the group, which includes everything from Percocet to OxyContin to Fentanyl. Their chemical composition is such that the Canadain’s just a few carbon molecules from being a nation of heroin addicts.
Two decades ago opioid sales were a small fraction of today’s figures, as such drugs were reserved for the worst cancer pain. Why? Because drugs whose chemical composition resemble heroin’s are nearly as addictive as heroin itself, and doctors generally wouldn’t use such powerful medications on anybody but terminal cancer patients. But that changed years ago, and ever since, addiction to painkillers has become a staple of news headlines. More often, there are the celebrities, such as Rush Limbaugh, who admitted on his radio show years ago that he was addicted to painkillers, or actor Heath Ledger, who was found dead with oxycodone in his system, or rapper Eminem, who entered rehab to address his reliance on Vicodin and other pills.
No one is more successful — or controversial — than Purdue Pharma, maker of the No. 1 drug in the class: OxyContin, which generated $3.1 billion in revenue in 2010. Purdue and its marketing prowess are the biggest reasons such drugs are now widely prescribed for all sorts of pain, “Purdue played a very large role in making physicians feel comfortable about opioids.” And as we’ll see, Purdue’s past and present go a long way toward explaining how so many Canadians came to be in the grip of potent painkillers.
When it was introduced into the U.S. and Canada in the late ’90s, OxyContin was touted as nearly addiction-proof — only to leave a trail of dependence and destruction. Its marketing was misleading enough that Purdue pleaded guilty in 2007 to a federal criminal count of mis-branding the drug “with intent to defraud and mislead the public,” paid $635 million in penalties to the U.S. alone, and today remains on the corporate equivalent of probation.