Drug Industry Seeks To Curb Opioid Addictions And Side Effects With More Pills

Doctors treating addiction with more drugs

Researcher Jonathan Moss believed he could help cancer patients to relieve the pain and the discomfort that comes from using too many opioid painkillers – constipation. Yet, no drug company was keen on hearing his ideas to relieve suffering among the dying. Instead, Moss, along with his colleagues, began to acquire small grants and by 2007 gained the permission needed to test their treatment. The new treatment was not to be tested on cancer patients, however. Instead, the federal government urged the researchers to use a group that was less feeble, drug addicts who have been caught up and victim to the nationwide opioid epidemic as it exists today.

Moss states that after that point, he had investors wanting to learn more.

“As clinicians, we wanted to help palliative patients,” said Moss, a professor and physician at the University of Chicago Medicine. “The company that bought our work saw a broader market.”

At this point, what started as a side project for the professor is now set to be the next billion-dollar drug. The pharmaceutical industry that once was anything but interested is now educating doctors and public with details about the effects of prescription painkillers.Opioid-induced constipation, known as OIC, is one of the main side effects which the drug developed by Moss, aims to relieve.

The Washington Post shares about the consequences of a society that is becoming increasingly more drug-dependent.

“The story of OIC illuminates the opportunism of pharmaceutical innovators and the consequences of a heavily drug-dependent society. Six in 10 American adults take prescription drugs, creating a vast market for new meds to treat the side effects of the old ones.”

The number of prescriptions yearly for opioids alone have shot from 112 million in 1992 to 249 million in 2015, and American’s dependence on such drugs have reportedly reached “crisis levels.” Millions are abusing or are addicted to painkillers including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people have died in the United States from prescription opioid overdoses and has contributed to an increase in early mortality, especially among white females, which has hit the hardest in rural communities and small towns.

It seems ironic that the pharmaceutical industry’s response to treating opioid side effects and addictions is to administer more drugs. The market for opioid medications is now worth almost $10 billion a year in sales within the United States, and this market has expanded to include the medications which aim to treat the secondary effects of the opioids rather than controlling pain.

The Post notes the drugs that now fit into the expanded list of those which treat the secondary effects.

“There’s Suboxone, financed and promoted by the U.S. government as a safer alternative to methadone for those trying to break their dependence on opioids. There’s naloxone, the emergency injection and nasal spray carried by first responders to treat overdoses. And now there’s Relistor, the drug based on Moss’s work, and a competitor, Movantik, for constipation.”

Analysts of the industry now estimate that each submarket, targeting either addiction, overdose or side effects, is worth at least an added $1 billion a year in sales. Experts also add that such submarket drugs work against the efforts to end the opioid epidemic.

It seems the pharmaceutical industry is more focused on the “expansion opportunity” that exists in the “opioid use disorder population.” As the publication notes, if opioid addiction suddenly vanished, it would wipe billions of dollars from the drug companies’ yearly profit.

Examples of pharmaceutical giants, include Indivor, which is a specialty company that sees around 2,5 million potential patients, with the majority addicted to prescription painkillers. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals also highlights that millions of additional Americans not yet identified are also likely to be dependent on opioids.

Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, noted how it is a slippery slope when prescribing multiple drugs to a patient to offset side effects of others administered.

“Many patients wind up very sedated from opioids, and it’s not uncommon to give them amphetamines to make them more alert. But now they can’t sleep, so they get Ambien or Lunesta. The amphetamines also make them anxious, paranoid and sweaty, and that means even more drugs.”

[Featured Image by Toby Talbot/AP Images]