America Runs on Prescription Drugs
The United States of America heavily relies on prescription drug use. In fact, over 131 million adults take some type of prescription drug, which means that there is a high demand and high profit within the pharmaceutical industry. Opioids are a popular drug that makes pharmacies large sums of money, and even though the damage from the opioid crisis has been catastrophic, some doctors prescribe opioids irresponsibly because they are influenced by opioid manufacturers. The pharmaceutical industry believes that no alternative drug can compete with opioids, so for them, the benefits outweigh the deadly cost. The response from the government about the opioid epidemic has been ineffective, since the crisis has only worsened with the past three decades. With Big Pharma lobbyists within the government, no research is being funded by the government to find a solution. The pharmaceutical industry refuses to consider other types of pain medication and the government’s neglect towards medical research funding caused the opioid crisis.
Opioids are used as pain-relievers, and can be prescribed by doctors for many types of physical ailments. But the United States is facing an opioid epidemic, so the number of opioid prescriptions should be decreasing or at least be heavily discouraged, but that is not the case. In 2017, CNN and Harvard T.H. Chan released a study titled Physicians’ opioid prescribing patterns linked to patient’s risk of long term drug use where they compared databases that tracked how much pharmaceutical companies paid doctors and the number of prescriptions doctors wrote, which revealed that, “among doctors in the top 25th percentile of opioid prescribers by volume, 72% received payments,” and that “among the very biggest prescribers — those in the top 10th of 1% — 95% received payments.” The article explained how drug manufacturers can pay doctors to consult and provide other services, but doctors cannot accept more payment for prescribing more. The loophole around this law is that opioid manufacturers will have doctors who are frequent prescribers consult with them rather than doctors that don’t prescribe opioids as frequently. The pharmaceutical industry believes that opioids are the most effective pain killer available, and manufacturers do anything to ensure that opioid use never ends. The doctors are just as corrupt in this situation, and are just as responsible as the opioid manufacturers for causing the opioid epidemic.
The government’s handle on the opioid epidemic has done little to help victims of reckless prescribing practices . In an article titled, Are Substance-Use Disorders in the USA a Crime or Crisis? Restorative Justice to Reclaim Voting Rights for Disenfranchised Nonviolent Offenders, writer Tyriesa Howell states that “while many states, cities, and counties are initiating lawsuits against prescription opioid producers for their roles in the opioid epidemic, a federally responsive war on pharmaceutical opioid sales has not been initiated and physicians have only been recommended to reduce overprescribing pain medication through the use of prescription drug monitoring programs.” The government has laws in place that punishes those in possession of illegal drugs and frequently acts on those laws, but legal drug dealers like doctors and opioid manufacturers are not being punished by the federal government. The government’s answer to fighting the opioid epidemic has been to put people in jail, but this does not help them with their addiction, and many people relapse once they are released. The opioid epidemic affects more than the health of opioid users, it affects their family, their job, and their reputation. If the government had supported research to find alternatives instead of criminalizing nonviolent drug users, then less people would be in those illegal situations in the first place.
Even though not every person prescribed an opioid becomes addicted, the increase in opioid use inevitably leads to an increased risk of a person succumbing to an opioid addiction. Harvard T.H. Chan’s study also revealed that, “one out of every 48 people newly prescribed an opioid will become a long term user.” Prescription opioid medications are commonly used by people who suffer from chronic pain. Manufacturers capitalize on this, and make opioid medications very expensive since people need it to function throughout the day without pain. The government only helps those who can be covered by medicaid, and has done very little to help the other thousands of people who cannot afford their medications. If people can no longer afford their medications, they might turn to more dangerous options.
The illegal drug market is equally as large as the United States’ pharmaceutical industry, and both profit off people that become addicted to opioids. People who can no longer afford a pharmaceutical medication often replace their medications with an illegal drug. The sole purpose of opioid use in medicine is to treat pain, and since it has shown to be the most effective in doing so, most illegal drugs won’t satisfy opioid users. Heroin is an opioid that is even stronger than prescription pills, so it is likely that people who can’t afford prescription medication will turn to heroin since it is even more effective than opioid pills. Heroin is the most dangerous type of opioid and is considered to be a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is not used in any type of medication and is considered highly addictive according to the DEA. Now these regular people who simply wanted to find affordable treatment are involving themselves in illegal activities with potentially dangerous drug dealers, putting themselves in more desperate situations. Even if opioid users do not turn to illegal drugs, there are other ways they can obtain the drug that will relieve their pain and cravings. Some people injure themselves enough to where they can be given pain relievers in the emergency room. A disturbing act like that shows how disorienting opioid use can be, and what lengths people will reach to relieve their cravings.
Instead of trying to find an alternative drug, the government continues to allow doctors and pharmacies to distribute drugs to people who could be using alternative pain therapy that has less damaging repercussions. Unfortunately, there is little research being done on possible alternatives. There is currently no drug within the pharmaceutical industry that has enough credibility to be a reliable source of profit, and if the industry cannot profit, then they will certainly have no interest in it.
Physicians’ opioid prescribing patterns linked to patients’ risk for long-term drug use. (2018, June 22). Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/opioids-addiction-physicians/
The more opioids doctors prescribe, the more they get paid. (2019, September 16). Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/opioids-doctors-prescriptions-payments/
University, G. (2019, February 13). Prescription drugs. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://hpi.georgetown.edu/rxdrugs/#:~:text=More%20than%20131%20million%20people,and%20those%20with%20chronic%20conditions.
Tyriesa, H. H. (2019). Are substance-use disorders in the USA a crime or crisis? restorative justice to reclaim voting rights for disenfranchised nonviolent offenders. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 4(2), 103-107. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1007/s41134-018-0069-0