Big Pharma and the Opioid Addiction Gold Mine
There’s hardly a better way for a company to get eyes on its product than buying advertising time during the Super Bowl. The commercials themselves have become an event with morning news shows and social media platforms listing which spots were the funniest or most original. The reason advertisers are willing to spend as much as $5 million for a 30 second spot is the overwhelming attention of nearly 112 million viewers.
By far the oddest commercial out during Super Bowl 50 had to be AstraZeneca’s ad, titled Envy, about Opioid-Induced Constipation (OIC). As the United States faces epidemic levels of addiction to prescription opioids and heroin, the message of this commercial might as well have been, “We’re making it easier to stay addicted to opioids!”
For some advertisers, a one-time shot at a Super Bowl ad is their entire annual advertising budget, but it’s a chance they take to get in front of so many people all at once. For bigger advertisers, they sometimes run their Super Bowl ad only once during the game and rely on residual views online and media commentary to keep it in play. Not AstraZeneca. The ad for their Opioid-Induced Constipation drug has been in full rotation on television and radio every day since it’s first airing nearly a month ago because they know there is a huge market for their product.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of fatal overdoses in 2010 involved pharmaceutical drugs, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Opioids have taken an incredible toll on the country because, in large part, the pharmaceutical companies misled doctors about their addictive properties and have continued to push their blockbuster products.
Here are Additional Opioid Related Statistics:
- Enough opioid painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every adult in the United States all day every day for a month
- Clinical use of opioids has more than doubled from 2000 to 2014
- Fatal drug overdoses have risen in nearly every county in the United States
- People addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin
- The use of heroin in the United States increased by more than 60 percent between 2002 and 2013
Instead of working on solutions, such as drug-monitoring programs that make it harder for people to get addicted to prescription painkillers, pharmaceutical companies are releasing new drugs to counter the uncomfortable side effects of their best selling, but extremely addictive products. It’s as if these companies are worried that investing in people’s recovery might cut into their profits.
Caught in the crossfire of this problem are those with a legitimate need for these medications. In October 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved many opioid medications from Schedule III to Schedule II, making it harder for people to misuse this class of medications, but making it more difficult for those living with chronic pain to get the treatment they need. Big Pharma should be working with the government to set up safeguards so this population of people doesn’t have to seek illicit drugs and self-medicate.
Everyone from the White House to presidential candidates to state lawmakers and healthcare professionals are looking for ways to curtail the epidemic of opioid addiction. With everyone onboard, pharmaceutical companies have taken little to no responsibility for this crisis. Maybe there’s just not enough money to be made in a healthier, happier and more productive society.
On a positive note, medication assisted therapy for addiction is a real solution to this problem and there are already medications on the market, such as Suboxone, that actually help people kick their addiction to heroin and opoiods. Or Narcan, which can help overcome an overdose.
Maybe one day, commercials for these drugs will have their place in the limelight too, and viewers will find the answer to getting off opioid drugs instead of staying on them longer.
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