Author: Justin Mckibben
Overprescribing of powerful prescription medications is just one part of how the current American opioid crisis came to be. While incredibly dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl came pouring in from across the globe, the pharmaceutical industry right in our own backyard thrived off of the devastation it was helping create. And as more people became aware of how prescription drugs were contributing to one of the worst drug epidemics in the country’s history, Big Pharma has come under fire for a number of things over the years. To name a few, we’ve seen arguments against drug companies for:
With recent reports, such as the explosive piece of 60 Minutes last month, we have also been exposed to the corruption, greed and a disregard for the well-being of the consumer.
The Big Pharma propaganda machine has paid out countless dollars for criminal and civil settlements over the years. Now even state officials are resorting to lawsuits against drug manufacturers in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis.
So how did all this happen? How deep does the Big Pharma propaganda go? Some of this you might already know, but some of it might actually surprise you.
In case you didn’t know, the pharmaceuticals and health products industry spends the most money on lobbying politicians. And not even by a little.
Big Pharma and Health Products spent $3,714,580,815
That means that Big Pharma spends:
- $1,134,783,913 more than 2nd place- Insurance Companies
- $1,717,237,691 more than Oil/Gas Companies
The pharmaceutical industry, including dealers of medical products and nutritional/dietary supplements, is consistently a top contributor more to federal campaigns than any other industry.
In essence, drug companies spend big money on politics.
Whether we can always see it or not, this kind of financial incentive is more than likely playing into our current work on policy. For example, moves to pass legislation earlier this year were called into question by one source who pointed out 13 senators who were trying to push through a bill that would benefit the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from these companies between 2010 and 2016, including:
- Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led the way with more than $471,000
- Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell with over $433,00 in donations
FUN FACT- Many lobbyists working on behalf of Big Pharma companies have previously held government jobs.
Truthfully, drug companies spend several years before a drug even makes it to the market on planning a strategy for selling it to you. Part of that strategy is proving drugs have value for treatment. However, according to some industry insiders, a lot of the time there is not enough comprehensive data to prove that value.
What you might also find surprising is that some of the earliest information drug companies have published about their products aren’t actually from credible sources. Ad agencies will hire writers to produce articles on behalf of the drug maker highlighting benefits of a drug. But the data is often cherry-picked and incomplete.
These articles are then sold to the public as ‘scientific’ because they are printed and published by some of the biggest scientific and medical publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Those articles are then picked up by television and other news sources.
So essentially, drug companies often team up with marketing companies to fool not just doctors, but the public into thinking their product provides something that has yet to be proven. Big Pharma propaganda corrupts the research into their drugs and makes people believe their products are safer and more effective than they are.
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Big Pharma’s Billions in Ads
It isn’t just behind the scenes that Big Pharma propaganda takes place. Drug makers spend around $21 billion a year just to pedal products through advertising. One big problem for Americans is that many of their promotional techniques have been called out for being false advertising or misleading, to say the least.
- 2015, the industry spent a record-breaking $5.4 billion of direct-to-consumer ads alone.
- The same year, Americans spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs.
Some sources indicate there are about 80 drug advertisements per hour. While drug companies want people to think it is raising awareness, it is most definitely a commercial to sell you something.
Many pharma companies even have deep financial ties to medical communication companies (MCC) like WebMD or Medscape. This is just one more way they can influence physicians and consumers without people realizing the drug makers are funding the information.
Doctors Recruiting Doctors
But the drug makers don’t stop with recruiting politicians to support them. They also utilize doctors to help them push their products. The main target audience in most of the campaigns pushed by Big Pharma propaganda is not necessarily the consumer as much as it is the person who writes the prescriptions.
Drug companies giving kickbacks to doctors is nothing new.
So drugmakers create an advisory board, where some of the most successful and well-respected doctors are put on the payroll with huge payoffs to help drug companies design a marketing campaign that will help promote the drugs to other doctors. Once these doctors have helped highlight the best ways to convince other physicians these drugs work, they themselves validate the drug in a way that encourages other doctors to prescribe the drug.
Drugs to Treat Drugs
A while back there was an ad that ran during the Superbowl that caught the attention of a lot of people. It was an ad selling an anti-constipation drug for those so dependent on prescription opioids that they were suffering from constipation as a side effect.
This is another huge problem with how drugs are marketed to us… in tandem.
Instead of suggesting an alternative treatment, drug companies want to give you more drugs to combat the effects of other drugs. Doctors will often prescribe a second medication for no other purpose than to treat the effects of the first medication. Big Pharma propaganda can literally sell you the illness and the medicine in the same marketing campaign. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine describes this as “prescribing cascade”.The study indicates that the practice of using drugs to treat problems with other drugs is a key component to the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals in healthcare.
Another devastating way this has taken place is when doctors prescribe powerfully and potentially habit-forming narcotic medications to combat illicit drug use and substance use disorder. Heroin addicts are being treated with other strong narcotics, which can actually have their own withdrawal symptoms and side effects. They even highjacked the opioid overdose antidote and several makers gouged the prices to offensive new heights during the rise of the opioid epidemic.
Drug Companies Abuse of Americans
Now let us be fair; modern medicine does provide us with some life-saving resources that can be paramount to the health and wellness of our population. Thanks to great strides in medicine doctors are able to treat some conditions or illnesses that were once thought of as a death sentence. Today, we have some of the greatest opportunities to receive quality care with innovative and well-researched treatments.
However, the fact remains that drug companies have been caught red-handed more than a few times misrepresenting their products, hiding the side-effects, falsely advertising their benefits and even recently some huge names in pharmaceuticals have been accused of bribery and racketeering to sell potent and extremely dangerous drugs.
So, what can be done?
- We can take a closer look at how Big Pharma propaganda influences or elected representatives and their decisions on policy.
- We can pay attention to how the information provided by pharmaceutical companies or marketers is not always as reliable as it may seem.
- Look into excessive advertising for potent drugs
- Do more to combat drug makers from paying doctors to promote their drugs to other doctors.
- Pursue other forms of treatment that don’t require expensive and powerful drugs.
When it comes to drug abuse, maybe we shouldn’t let the drug companies continue to make massive profits from a problem they have a large hand in creating. There needs to be more commitment to finding alternative treatments that don’t rely so heavily on drugs in order to help people get healthy.
Holistic drug addiction treatment is a unique and effective way of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. The fact that powerful drugs help cause addiction, let us not forget the value of offering healing options that don’t require more drugs. Building a strong foundation with personalized therapy and innovative treatment opportunities helps thousands of people all over the nation overcome addiction. Palm Partners Recovery Center is committed to providing quality care for those dealing with drug abuse, whether it is illicit drugs or prescription drug dependence. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Along the U.S. – Mexico border, authorities seized a record amount of heroin: 2,162 kilos last year, up from 367 kilos in 2007.
This is an indication of an alarming and fast-growing trend: Mexican farmers and Mexican drug cartels are diversifying their business, turning to the manufacture and trafficking of heroin in place of marijuana.
This is an unintended result of the decriminalization of marijuana in the U.S. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling, Mexican drug farmers are growing opium poppies in their fields instead of cannabis crops.
“When you have a product losing value, you diversify, and that’s true of any farmer,” said David Shirk, a Mexico researcher at the University of California at San Diego. “The wave of opium poppies we’re seeing is at least partially driven by changes we’re making in marijuana drug policy.”
With the legalization and/or the allowing for medical marijuana in 20 American states as well as the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown right here on American soil, contributing to the fall in marijuana prices. Mexican farmers are increasingly unable to compete with marijuana growers here in the U.S.
Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other DEA officials say the spread of heroin is the result of a clever marketing strategy on the part of Mexican traffickers. They are targeting areas with the most severe prescription pill abuse by sending heroin pushers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics,” one DEA agent said.
Prescription painkillers continue to be more widely abused, accounting for far more fatal overdoses in the U.S. but, heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Pike.
As U.S. authorities try to contain the prescription painkiller epidemic with crackdowns on so-called ‘pill mills,’ tightening control over synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and oxycodone (OxyContin), Mexican heroin is flooding into the country. The efforts to control abuse of prescription pills have resulted in making them more difficult to come by as well as much more expensive. American pill-poppers are increasingly turning to the cheaper and more potent heroin. And Mexican trafficking organizations are jumping on this trend – finding new markets for heroin in places where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.
There’s a place in the Mexican state of Sinaloa known as the “Golden Triangle,” which is notorious for the country’s most infamous gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests. And yet, the farmers here say they are no longer planting marijuana crops. The plant’s wholesale price has drastically decreased in the past five years, going from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.
“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
According to a new report in Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, Florida drug abuse has the 11th highest drug overdose death percentage in the United States, with 16.4 per 100,000 people suffering drug overdose mortalities. The amount of drug overdose losses – a majority of which are from prescription drugs – in Florida doubled since 1999 when the rate was 6.4 per 100,000.
Florida Drug Abuse: The Epidemic
Prescription drugs have become an epidemic and the center of Florida drug abuse. Every day in populations from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale, thousands of quantities of potent narcotics like oxycodone are distributed in pain clinics — storefront operations also named “pill mills.” About 30 years ago, the Broward County Sheriff’s office was raiding crack houses and busting junkies and now the drug dealers are working out of strip malls, stated Al Lamberti.
Lamberti heads the sheriff’s office in a region that contains Fort Lauderdale. It’s a town that has become a endpoint not just for spring breakers but also for addicts and drug traffickers. “We have more pain clinics than [we have] McDonald’s [restaurants],” he stated. “They’re taking their toll.” Lamberti newly united with a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement officials at a news conference held to publicize a most important shutdown on Florida’s pill mills. It was a sequence of raids, from Palm Beach to Miami, which involved more than 20 arrests and the confiscation of more than $22 million in cash, striking cars and real estate.
Florida Drug Abuse: Oxycodone Prescriptions
Doctors in Florida advocate 10 times more oxycodone pills than all other states in the country united. Individuals come from all over the Southeast to visit the state’s pain clinics. Usually, doctors give them a fast exam and then a prescription for a strong painkiller. Occasionally, they even fill the prescription on the properties. Special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mark Trouville, says that over the previous year the combined law enforcement operation has made more than 300 undercover drug purchases from pain clinics — and more arrests are pending. At the news conference, Trouville had a notice for pill mill workers: “If you’re a clinic owner or a doctor or an employee knowingly working at one of these pill mills, we have probably bought dope from you. And we are probably coming to see you soon.”
Florida Drug Abuse: There is No System for Monitoring Prescriptions
A major reason pill mills have multiplied in Florida is because, different from most other states, it doesn’t have a system for observing drug prescriptions. Law enforcement officers say that would support preventing “doctor shopping” — individuals who travel from one clinic to another, purchasing hundreds of amounts of prescription drugs. In fact, Florida does have a prescription drug databank. After years of petitioning by law enforcement, the state Legislature approved a bill last session to generate one. It just didn’t deliver money to pay for it. A private foundation marched in and began raising moneys for the databank. But newly, Gov. Rick Scott has come out against it. Scott hasn’t said much about why he wants to eradicate it. When pressed at the latest news conference, he stated: “I believe it’s an invasion of privacy and … it appears that the money’s been wasted.”
Florida Drug Abuse:
In the previous few weeks, an increasing amount of declarations in Florida and outside the state have called on Scott to drop his disapproval to the drug monitoring program. Several of Scott’s criticizers come from states with their own oxycodone rises powered by addicts and drug traffickers who make consistent trips to Florida. It’s a trip down Interstate 75 some now call the “oxy express.” In Florida, law enforcement authorities say the restriction on pill mills will carry on but that they can’t arrest their way out of the issue. They’re calling for firmer regulation of doctors and backing for the statewide drug databank. At this time, all they have to do is persuade the governor. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.
There has been a surge in heroin overdoses in Delray Beach and local police are appealing to the public for information in an effort to understand what is happening. Since Dec. 1, the Delray Beach Police Department has “handled in excess of 20 cases” of heroin overdoses, the agency announced in a press release issued Monday afternoon.
The overdose cases are being investigated by the Vice, Intelligence and Narcotics Unit, while detectives are working alongside the Sheriff’s Office drug lab in testing the seized narcotics.
“We have seen a significant increase in the amount of heroin overdoses this month,” said Delray Beach police acting public information officer Rachel Vanness, and added that this spike in overdoses “speaks for itself, there’s something not right.”
Of the twenty or so heroin-related overdoses, one has been fatal, however police are still awaiting toxicology reports in order to confirm this.
Although it hasn’t yet been confirmed, speculation as to what is causing this potentially fatal potency. Local addicts are saying that this bad batch of heroin is cut with fentanyl – a highly potent prescription narcotic painkiller used for managing pain. Both heroin and fentanyl are opiates so, by using this combination, the user gets a double dose of narcotic, which suppresses bodily functions including breathing. This is when overdose occurs.
Florida’s Pill Mills
A few short years ago, the news was splashed with reports of mass raids on pain management clinics, doctors, and pharmacies that were illegally dispensing prescription drugs and at an alarming rate – dubbed “pill mills.”
Over the course of two years, federal agents shut down the $40 million businesses that operated in the south Florida counties of Broward and Palm Beach. Federal DEA agents used collected evidence via phone taps and even by posing as patients, which allowed them to put together 1.2 million pages of records and statements used in the prosecution of several suspects.
Florida’s successful crackdown of its so-called pill mills had an unintended consequence, however, as the state has seen an increase in heroin use.
A New Epidemic: Resurgence of Heroin
A major unintended effect of Florida’s crackdown on its pill mills has been an increase in the use of heroin. As the number of pill suppliers decreased and pills were harder and more expensive to obtain, people who were addicted to narcotic painkillers began turning to heroin, because the ‘high’ is similar to that of painkillers and because it became easier and cheaper to get ahold of.
Why Delray Beach?
South Florida is known as the “recovery capital” with the Delray Beach area as its epicenter. This is because of the saturation of drug treatment programs, halfway houses, and meeting places. And with addiction recovery can also come relapse. Savvy drug dealers target this area because it’s simply good business strategy. With so many addicts in one place, the area is prime real estate for dealers.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
“You don’t take anything??” My old using buddy, Matt, asks me incredulously. “You don’t even drink?”
“Nope, I’m clean and sober,” I tell him.
“What’s that like?” He laughs a little.
It’s good to hear him laugh. When we first got on the phone, he sounded completely hopeless.
“I’m miserable,” he tells me at the beginning of the call. “I’m off the roxys. I’m getting subs now, but I’m still miserable.”
“Roxys” refers to Roxicodone (generic name oxycodone) which was my (and his) drug of choice. “Subs” means Suboxone (generic name: buprenorphine), a drug similar to methadone. It was originally developed for short-term use to ease the pain of withdrawal for people coming off opiates like prescription painkillers and heroin. Now more and more doctors and treatment centers are using it for long-term treatment. Proponents view long-term buprenorphine treatment as the best available solution not only to the life of crime, unemployment, poverty and cravings led by many addicts, but also to the chronic depression that can follow detox.
“It’s funny,” he says to me. “I go to the same doctor that gave me the roxys. He closed his pain management clinic, and opened a Suboxone clinic across town.”
“Jesus.” I say.
This is not the first time I’ve heard this. When Florida started cracking down on so-called “pill-mills,” many of the doctors closed up shop and/or switched to prescribing Suboxone. The same patients that they had been treating for “pain” now come to them to get treatment for their addiction to pills.
My Introduction to the “Pill Mill”
It was actually a friend of Matt’s that introduced me to pain management pill mills for the first time. I’d been seeing a “normal” doctor for a while. He took insurance, and had a tightly regulated practice. He’d been prescribing me pain medication for the past six months, but he wouldn’t give me anything stronger than Percocet. My addiction was in full swing at that point. I’d usually finish my month’s prescription within the first week or two after my visit and then buy pills on the street to get me through the rest of the month. It was getting expensive.
Matt’s friend, let’s call him Chris, had been selling us 30 mg roxys at $15-$20 a pop, depending on how many we bought. One day when I was completely broke, begging him to front me a couple, he presented a different solution.
Chris asked me if I wanted to be his “proxy” at a pain management clinic.
He said he’d pay for the visit, the MRI, and the prescription if I gave him most of the pills out of the first prescription.
“They’ll probably give you 180 of them on your first visit”, he told me. “So you give me 120, keep 60, and then you can go back every month for more and keep them all.”
“They’re going to give me one hundred and eighty pills on my first visit??” I asked him incredulously.
“Yep.” He said. “And by the second or third month, you’ll probably get 240, plus 90 Valium or Xanax.”
At this point I was prescribed four 10mg Percocet a day at my “legit” doctor. He was telling me I would now get six 30 mg Roxiodone pills a day, with potential to get more. I was sold.
I made an appointment the next day. The place wasn’t like any doctor’s office I’d ever seen. In fact, it wasn’t even an office, it was a house, set way back into the trees in a residential neighborhood. There were cheap metal folding chairs in the living-room-slash-waiting-room, and the receptionist sat behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass.
The place was packed, and many of the patients seemed to know each other. Whole families were there together, and one couple told me they drove down every month from Georgia to see the doctor.
I immediately felt out of place. I’d come on my lunch break from the law office where I worked, and I was dressed in a skirt and twinset. The other patients were comparing tattoos, catching up, and sharing cigarettes. One girl kept nodding out. I sat in a corner and tried not to make eye contact with anyone.
After 2 hours, my name was finally called and I went up to pay. A visit cost $240. They only took cash and there was no refund under any circumstances.
I was ushered into a little room off to the side. The doctor’s assistant asked if I’d had my MRI results. Luckily, I had known to get the MRI before going in. Everyone had to have one, and if you didn’t, they’d send you out to another place (a cash-only diagnostic facility that was down the street from the clinic) and you’d have to wait in line over there for another few hours.
She took the MRI report and stuck it in my chart without even glancing at it, and then turned to me and asked “What do you want?”
I’d been prepped for this part too and I told her I wanted 180 30mg oxycodone and 90 10mg Valium. She wrote the scripts and then disappeared. A few minutes later she came back with them signed, gave them to me, and told me to come back in a month. I never saw the doctor.
From Roxys to Subs
A couple of years later, after hitting an emotional, financial, and spiritual bottom due to my Roxicodone addiction, I decided to try Suboxone maintenance program. My first visit at the Suboxone clinic was eerily similar to that first experience at a pill mill.
The office only took cash. I never saw the doctor, and there were at least 50 people in that waiting room, one of them nodding out. Most of the patients waited in front, chain smoking and joking with each other.
When I went in the back, they asked me two questions:
1. What were you on?
2. How long has it been since you’ve used?
I told them how many pills I’d been taking, and that I’d just used before coming in. The assistant wrote a script for the highest dose, and told me not to take the first for 24 hours. (Taking Suboxone too soon after using heroin or painkillers can cause you to go into immediate, intense withdrawal.)
She gave me my prescriptions and told me to come back in a month.
“Pill Mill” or Detox Clinic?
A pill mill masquerading as a detox clinic isn’t exactly new. Back in the height of Florida’s pill mill epidemic, many pill mills would claim they could help you get off the pills. Their ads would proclaim “Addicted? We can help!”
Those “in the know” realized that these were just pill mills looking to fool law enforcement agencies, but I imagine more than one addict went there looking for help and was told they must “wean off slowly” before being handed a prescription for enough pills to kill a small horse.
Now that the ruse has been discovered, it seems as if at least a few of these same doctors have decided to stop prescribing painkillers altogether and have switched completely to Suboxone. They’ve found a way to make more money off the same poor souls that they got addicted in the first place.
Suboxone is more regulated than pain management, and I suppose that’s the only good news. These doctors must get special licensing and are only allowed to treat up to 100 patients at a time.
However, visits cost between $200-$300 cash, and with 100 patients, that’s still $20,000 to $30,000 a month; a nice little profit with virtually none of the risk associated with shady pain management.
Many of the doctors who didn’t get out of the pain management game before the crackdown have had their medical licenses revoked, and a few are even doing jail time.
I tell Matt about my experience. How abstinence and the twelve steps saved my life, and my sanity.
“I can’t keep doing this.” He says. “I want to punch that doctor every time I see him. I’m so angry that he got me hooked on pills.”
He sighs in defeat. “But I can’t. I still need him to give me Suboxone.”
If you or someone you know is in need of painkiller or Suboxone addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.