Opioid Manufacturers Outed for Being Their Own Competitor; Now Want to Cash In on Treatment for the Addiction

Just when you thought the tale of the opioid epidemic couldn’t get any worse, the billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma, which created OxyContin, have been outed for double-dipping on the crisis. Or, perhaps you should call it triple-dipping, as it turns out they not only created a generic company competing with their name brand, but now hold a patent for a drug meant to treat the addiction their drugs cause. The treatment drug, according to Salon, is a reformulation of buprenorphine, which is a milder form of the opioid that helps blunt withdrawal symptoms from the full-strength version.

The brazen greed of the family behind these drugs — Richard Sackler, et al — is almost incomprehensible. Under Purdue Pharma, which is now the subject of hundreds of lawsuits alleging that Purdue not only exaggerated the benefits of OxyContin, but lied to doctors about its addictive properties, the Sacklers’ avarice seemed so cavernous that I couldn’t imagine it possible for it to go deeper.

But deeper it did go, so deep that even today it’s mind-boggling, eye-blinking, unbelievable. Yet, it’s true: Once their OxyContin patent ran out, the Sacklers created a generic version of their own drug, and competed with themselves to cram their coffers on the backs of people desperate for pain relief. Then, when they no longer could deny the epidemic and thousands of deaths that addiction to their drugs were causing — they created a gold-digging “solution” to the problem with a new drug for people trying to wean off the old drug.

When you think that, in 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to charges of misbranding "with intent to defraud and mislead the public," and paid $634 million in fines — an amount said to represent 90 percent of its profits from OxyContin sales during the time of the offense, you can’t help but wonder how the Sacklers can even raise their heads in public. But they do.

And here is how they get away with it: Part of the problem is the fact that no specific individuals have ever been charged. That’s right. None of the members of the Sackler family was ever charged with any kind of misdeed, and they have walked away scot-free, and have continued to sell the drug in both its name-brand form and its “competitor” generic — and, now, with the treatment for the deadly side effects their drugs cause.

The Sacklers did so well at this that they made it onto Forbes' Top 20 billionaires list in 2015 — in large part due to the burgeoning sales of OxyContin. When you consider that about 80 percent of heroin drug addicts report starting out on painkillers such as OxyContin, there is no amount of disdain that would be great enough for this family’s greed.

Rather than wonder to go on about how could anyone in that family can look themselves in the mirror, instead, I want to stress that there are options to opioids, and if your doctor suggests opioids, that you can ask for alternative relief methods before opting for them.

Pain relievers are clearly valuable medications in many instances, and even opioids have their place (such as for treating severe pain in end of life care), but do use caution, no matter which kind you take. And if you do use an opioid, be aware that there's a high risk for addiction and, with that, overdose death.

My article, “Do We Really Need Opioids for Pain?” goes into detail on ways to treat pain before you resort to an opioid. Besides the natural healing methods listed on this page, if it’s legal in your state, you might also try medical cannabis, which has proven beneficial as a pain reliever for many.

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