CBS Evening News just ran a story about the explosion in prescriptions of the morphine-like painkiller Oxycontin—something like 3 billion doses per year (could that possibly be?)—much of it diverted to illicit use. The curious aspect of the report, which featured a Michael Moore-ish confrontation with a suspect pharmacist in Florida, was that there was not ONE mention of the company that produces this drug now being siphoned off in vast quantities to the contraband market.
We’re particularly aware of pharmaceutical opiates here in New York after the gruesome and terrifying pharmacy massacre that occurred on Long Island this past June in which a crazed addict mowed down two druggists and two unlucky bystanders during a robbery. The bizarrely casual mayhem gave us a clue to the dangers of this new mass addiction, one that hasn’t fully penetrated pop culture just yet.
A fellow I met a while back who works in drug counseling in an upstate New York city told me that addiction to pharmaceutical painkillers is the number one problem they see today. Once the addicted run out of pharmacy options, they then turn to street heroin buys—quite a reversal from the classic drug scenes of yesteryear.
For the record Oxycontin is produced Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Connecticut. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Purdue’s Olympic-level figure skating along the edges of legality:
In May 2007 Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $19.5 million in fines relating to aggressive off-label marketing practices of OxyContin in 26 states and the District of Columbia. In specific, the company encouraged dosing more frequent than the recommended interval of 12 hours and did not fully disclose the risk of hazardous or harmful use.
Later in May 2007 Purdue Pharma and three of its top executives pleaded guilty in a Virginia federal court to charges that they misbranded OxyContin by representing it to have ‘less euphoric effect and less abuse potential’ than it actually has and by claiming that people taking the drug at low doses could stop taking it suddenly without symptoms of withdrawal. The FDA had not approved these claims. The company and the executives were to pay $634 million in fines for felony and misdemeanor misbranding.
In October 2007 officials in Kentucky filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for misleading health care providers and consumers ‘regarding the appropriate uses, risks and safety of OxyContin’; as of mid-2008, however, the case had been ‘consolidated with other lawsuits into a single multi-litigation suit’ in a federal court in New York.
A lone pharmacist in a pathetic strip mall with a dubious prescribing history is an easy target for big, bad TV guys. But given the relevance of the producer company’s aggressive promotion of its drug and the increasing social cost of this vast web of over-prescription, wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the CBS ‘reporter’ to have unleashed his cameras on the top executives of Purdue also? Could the huge amount of televised drug-pushing, er, advertising, which earns large sums of money for CBS’s owners, have anything to do with this glaring omission?