Continued from Part One.
Aging population, aggressive marketing
An investigation found these reasons for the increase:
- The population is getting older. As age increases, so does the need for pain medications. In 2000, there were 35 million people older than 65. By 2020, the Census Bureau estimates the number of elderly in the U.S. will reach 54 million.
- Drugmakers have embarked on unprecedented marketing campaigns. Spending on drug marketing has zoomed from $11 billion in 1997 to nearly $30 billion in 2005, congressional investigators found. Profit margins among the leading companies routinely have been three and four times higher than in other Fortune 500 industries.
- A major change in pain management philosophy is now in its third decade. Doctors who once advised patients that pain is part of the healing process began reversing course in the early 1980s; most now see pain management as an important ingredient in overcoming illness.
Retired Staff Sgt. James Fernandez, 54, of Fredericksburg, Va., survived two helicopter crashes and Gulf War Syndrome over 20 years in the Marine Corps. He remains disabled from his service-related injuries and takes the equivalent of nine painkillers containing oxycodone every day.
“It’s made a difference,” he said. “I still have bad days, but it’s under control.”
Such stories should hearten longtime advocates of wider painkiller use, such as Russell Portenoy, head of New York’s Beth Israel pain management department. But they have not.
“I’m concerned and many people are concerned, that the pendulum is swinging too far back,” he said.
- More people are abusing prescription painkillers because the medications are more available. The vast majority of people with prescriptions use the drugs safely. But the number of emergency room visits from painkiller abuse has increased more than 160 percent since 1995, according to the government.
- Spooked by high-profile arrests and prosecutions by state and federal authorities, many pain-management specialists now say they offer guidance and support to patients but will not write prescriptions, even for the sickest people. The increase in painkiller retail sales continues to rise, but only barely. There was a 150 percent increase in volume in 2001. Four years later, the year-to-year increase was barely 2 percent.
- People who desperately need strong painkillers are forced to go long distances — often to a different state — to find doctors willing to prescribe high doses of medicine. Siobhan Reynolds, widow of a New Mexico patient who needed large amounts of painkillers for a connective tissue disorder, said she routinely drove her late husband to see an accommodating doctor in Oklahoma.
Perhaps no place illustrates the trends and consequences for the world of pain better than Myrtle Beach, S.C., a sprawling community of strip malls, hotels and bars perched along a 60-mile strip of sand on the Atlantic Ocean. The metro area is home to 350,000 people but sees more than 14 million tourists annually, drawn to its warm water, golf courses and shopping.
During the eight-year period reflected in government figures, oxycodone distribution increased 800 percent in the area of Myrtle Beach, partly due to a campaign by Purdue Pharmaceuticals of Stamford, Conn. The privately held company has pleaded guilty to lying to patients, physicians and federal regulators about the addictive nature of the drug.
Use of other drugs soared in the area, too: Hydrocodone use increased 217 percent; morphine distribution went up 180 percent; even meperidine, most commonly sold as Demerol, jumped 20 percent.
It is no small wonder that federal authorities suspected the area was home to a notorious “pill mill,” or a clinic that dispenses prescription medication without verifying that it’s needed.
The U.S. attorney for South Carolina secured a 58-count indictment in June 2002 against seven physicians and one employee of the Comprehensive Care and Pain Management Center, a nondescript storefront on Myrtle Beach’s main drag.
Tipped off by local pharmacists concerned about an increase in the volume of painkiller prescriptions, the federal investigation created a furor in the medical profession. The owner, D. Michael Woodward, was sentenced to 15 years in the case and has relinquished his license.
A second physician, Deborah Bordeaux, had worked at the clinic less than two months before quitting in disgust. Bordeaux, now serving a two-year prison term, was threatened with a 100-year sentence if she did not help the prosecution.
Officials with the Justice Department and DEA would not discuss what some activists say is a “war on doctors.”
The Pat Moore Foundation is a non-profit alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Orange County, CA, that provides information, resources and treatment for people dealing with the life-shattering cycle of substance abuse and addiction. If someone needs immediate help, call 24-hours a day at(888) 426-6086 or contact us online.
Call now for help. Available 24-hours (888) 426-6086.