We’ve talked a lot in the past about how big corporations like GM, Ford, Guidant, and others sometimes act in ways that are helpful to corporate profits but harmful to consumers. Did you know that in just the past decade, people dying from prescription drug abuse in the U.S. has more than doubled, coinciding with a tenfold increase in the number of opiate painkiller prescriptions written for patients? The CDC reports that prescription drug misuse now kills more people in this country than car accidents and firearms – and calls this current drug epidemic the worst in U.S. history.
Drugs that used to be prescribed for cancer and surgical patients are now routinely prescribed for patients with mild pain – especially older patients. In just the last eight years, opiate prescriptions written for patients 60 years old and older has increased by 32%. Sadly and perhaps tellingly – the United States (less than 5% of the world’s population) consumes 80% of the world’s supply of painkillers and more than two million are addicted.
How is this happening?
Well, since the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to influence Congress, researchers, physicians, and the public, advocating the greater use of these drugs. In the process, national guidelines for treating things like chronic pain have become far friendlier to drug makers. Just five years ago, the American Geriatrics Society supported other groups calling for greater use of these drugs for patients over 75 – despite acknowledging the “weak scientific evidence” to support the idea. Interestingly, of the ten experts on the Society’s panel making this recommendation – six had direct financial ties to the manufacturers of the drugs.
Dr. Jason Jerry, a psychiatrist and addiction expert at the Cleveland Clinic, says that just a decade ago, few physicians would have considered using prescription painkillers for problems like low back pain. “They were for end-stage cancer pain or patients who had recently undergone surgery,” he says, adding, “the marketing practices in the pharmaceutical industry shifted the culture of medicine to the point that there was a fifth vital sign in medicine: pain.”
In early June, some government officials decided they had had enough when the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the makers of two of the more popular prescription painkillers – Percocet and Oxycontin, alleging that the companies were promoting the drugs even while knowing they were ineffective for chronic pain and carried a very high risk of addiction. Purdue Pharma L.P., Cephalon, Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Endo Health Solutions Inc., and Actavis plc have been named in the suit.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
- Learn the facts about any medication being recommended by your physician. Understand the benefits AND risks (including side effects) of each drug.
- Keep all unused medications in a secure location. Family and friends are most often the source for the prescription drugs that cause addictions.
- If you find yourself becoming dependent on a drug – seek expert help immediately.
If you or a loved one is ever the victim of a defective drug or the improper prescription of drug therapy, call a qualified Connecticut medical malpractice lawyer. A knowledgeable malpractice attorney can help to ensure that your rights are protected.
RisCassi & Davis has handled hundreds of defective drug and medical malpractice cases over our almost 60 years serving the people of Connecticut.
The consultation is free and there is no obligation of any kind.