Painkiller epidemic was driven in part by drug makers’ financial relationships with researchers who discounted the risks

For almost a decade, medical officials and experts claimed OxyContin rarely posed problems of addiction for patients. The drug’s label, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, said addiction risks were small. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine also said OxyContin wasn’t addictive; so did a study in another journal, which OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma reprinted 10,000 times. Since the drug first hit the market, it has fueled a large-scale swath of prescription pain killer addiction, beginning in Central Appalachia, that has grown into a national epidemic, especially in rural areas.

The epidemic was driven in no small part by doctors’ lack of knowledge about OxyContin, which was perpetuated by the drug’s manufacturer through false claims that became scientific consensus. But now, “Many in the medical profession have rediscovered the destructive power of opiates,” and are calling that consensus into question, Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post reports. “A closer look at the opioid painkiller binge, in which retail prescriptions have roughly tripled in the past 20 years, shows that the rising sales and addictions were catalyzed by a massive effort by pharmaceutical companies to shape medical opinion and practice.”

Doctors were wary of prescribing painkillers to any patient except those with cancer for years. But manufacturers and some pain specialists “helped create a body of scientific research assuaging the long-standing worries about opioids and pushed to expand the use of the drugs in people with chronic pain: bad backs, arthritis, sore knees,” Whoriskey reports.

Through an examination of key scientific papers, court documents and FDA records, the Post found that many of the studies claiming OxyContin wasn’t addictive were supported by Purdue Pharma. The conclusions those studies reached were sometimes not supported by data, and when the FDA needed to develop an opioid policy, it turned to a panel of doctors who had financial relationships with Purdue Pharma and other drug makers. (Read more)

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