As America and the world mourns the death of music icon Prince, there has been speculation that his death was the result an opioid overdose. Yet, the music icon was known for his healthy lifestyle and his rejection of the drug culture that has become a cliché when talking about rock stars. The death of Prince underscores the opioid abuse epidemic in America that is created by the over-prescribing of opioids to treat pain known by names like Percocet, OxyContin, Fentanyl and Vicodin.
Last year, American doctors prescribed enough opioids to give every American adult a one-month supply. 30 tablets that could lead to a dependence on a drug that is a stone's throw away from heroin, which is where some who become addicted to prescription opioids end their journey. Since 1999, the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States has quadrupled; in 2014, 18,893 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in the United States, another 10,574 from heroin overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
How do you die from opioids? Generally, the opioid simply stops you from breathing. The drug depresses your central nervous system which controls involuntary actions like your heart beating or simply taking a breath.
There are so many Americans on prescription opioids that it has generated a new class of drugs; pills to deal with opioid induced constipation and drugs to bring people back from opioid overdoses. The pharmaceutical gets paid three times; once for the opioid prescription, once for the pill to deal with opioid induced constipation and again for the drugs that save people from opioid overdoses. Name another industry that can make money from the crisis it created. It would be like the auto industry asking you to pay for the replacement of your recalled airbag.
What's worse? The Purdue Frederick Company, maker of OxyContin one of the original opioids, was fined $634 million in 2007 for fraudulently marketing the drug as less addictive, less subject to abuse and withdrawal symptoms than other pain medications. The Purdue President, Chief Legal Counsel, and former Chief Medical Officer were convicted of misdemeanors with associated multi-million dollar fines. A small price to pay considering sales for OxyContin last year were over $2 billion. Sales of the drug have propelled the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, to be #15 on the Forbes America's Richest Families List. This week, to protect itself and the industry from experiencing what the tobacco industry has, Purdue is trying to prevent the unsealing of documents from a settlement in Kentucky related to how the company marketed its powerful opioid medication.
Who is bearing the cost of highly addictive opioids? Families from Maine to California, Washington to Florida. The scourge of over-prescribed opioids touches every demographic. The substance use treatment industry also is overwhelmed with the onslaught of opioid addicted patients who frequently relapse.
Isn't it time that the pharmaceutical industry and doctors be held to account for the opioid addiction crisis that is killing 51 people each day who are addicted to prescription opioids? If Prince's death begins that conversation, then his legacy will be much more than his music.