CDC Report: Scary Rise in Narcotic Use!

I’ll never forget the pesky Oxycontin rep that invaded my office about 15 years ago. He was armed with a fistful of research papers written by fancy university professors showing just how non-addictive his new drug was and he couldn’t understand why I avoided him like the plague. Fast forward 15 years and we all now know that the nefarious trend this company started has swallowed the lives of more patients than we can count. New data from the CDC this month quantifies this tragic seed change in national narcotic use.

Oxycontin is a drug that was built to be stronger than morphine. It hit a very skeptical market of family doctors in the late 90s who had all been trained to fear narcotic prescribing. However, its maker Purdue Pharma created a perfect marketing snow job that was exquisitely executed. The company hired a bevy of esteemed university researchers to convince physicians that narcotic use should be destigmatized. The university song and dance team even had studies that seemed to “prove” that Oxycontin was different. It was a new “long acting” drug, one that released slowly in the body and didn’t give the “high” that an addict craved. Much like cheap swampland in Florida being sold via newspapers in the 1920s Northeast with majestic beach scenes, this all seemed too good too be true, but in the end the message turned out to be as surreptitiously addictive as the drug. Just as many patients got hooked on Oxycontin as it’s older cousin morphine and worse, Purdue unleashed a street drug on society that when crushed and snorted, made heroin look like so much diluted holy water. In addition, other pharma companies, once they got a whiff of the mountain of cash that Purdue was amassing, launched a train of copy cat drugs that made the problem exponentially bigger.

This tragedy has been all over the news for years, but the new CDC report seems to have put a solemn period at the end of a horrible sentence in the annals of the history of medical misadventures:

-From about 2000 to 2012, the percentage rise in narcotic use of users who used a drug stronger than morphine more than doubled.

-Narcotics sales quadrupled from 1999 to 2012.

-The rate of narcotic induced deaths tripled during that same time period!

The upshot? The Oxycontin story, and the legalized drug dealing that it launched, illustrates the dark underbelly of medicine where profit drives expert opinion which then convinces the medical masses to do something they know in their gut is wrong. Regrettably, unwinding this nasty mess will now take society at least a generation or two. In the meantime, maybe the rank and file physician has learned something-beware of professors on the dole with deeds to swampland showing serene slides of beachfront property!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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