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Opioid Industry Suits Are a Misguided Cash Grab Against Politically Unpopular Target

April 16, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron, Laura Nicolae

Jeffrey Miron and Laura Nicolae

Prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors are under
legal siege. Nearly 2,000 lawsuits from states,
municipalities, and hospitals allege that these companies are
responsible for the opioid epidemic. Purdue Pharma, which makes
Oxycontin, recently settled one such lawsuit for $270 million, but
most will continue, with the first trial set for May 28.

These lawsuits rest on the proposition that opioid makers
misled doctors, hospitals, and patients about
the risk of addiction to prescription opioids, thereby generating a
boom in opioid overdoses.

Whether these companies broke the law is for juries to decide.
But regardless of the outcome, the opioid epidemic has resulted
mainly from the prohibition and regulation of prescription opioids,
not excessive prescribing. Current regulations harm millions of patients with severe or chronic
pain by limiting their access to opioids.

During the early 1980s, doctors prescribed opioids for short-term pain and for
palliative care of terminally ill cancer patients, but rarely for
chronic conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, or
fibromyalgia. In the late 1980s, however, prescribing for chronic
and acute pain increased. This change reflected concerns about
undertreating pain and new evidence that, under medical
supervision, opioids were not unacceptably addictive or
dangerous.

Pharmaceutical companies embraced the new medical attitudes and
scientific evidence. In doing so, they may have understated the
risk of addiction from prescription opioids. Yet the medical
literature since the 1980s is clear that the risks of addiction
from medical use are low: in published studies, the rate of opioid
addiction in chronic pain patients averages less than 8 percent.

Moreover, increased prescribing during the 1990s is not what
catalyzed the opioid epidemic.

After Purdue’s introduction of OxyContin in 1996, prescribing grew at the same rate as before.
Marketing of the drug produced no perceptible change in the
non-medical use of narcotics by high school seniors, which had been
consistently increasing before 1996. Growth in
opioid overdoses actually slowed in the late 1990s.

Further, most overdoses involve illicit opioids, not
prescription drugs. Overdoses involving heroin and synthetic
opioids such as fentanyl now account for roughly 80%
of all opioid overdose deaths, up from 35% in 2011. These drugs
have driven an acceleration in opioid overdoses since 2011, even
while prescribing has decreased. In 2017 alone,
synthetic opioid overdoses increased by 45%, pushing total opioid
overdoses to a record high.

So why did overdoses from illicit opioids spike? Because of
restrictions on legal access.

Prescription opioids are not bought and sold in the same way as
legal goods; consumers can access …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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