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How an Opioid Pill became a Killer Outbreak

It takes just one single pill to be a “killer.” This is a term for a person who has become addicted to the opioid pain reliever infamously termed also as Killer or the Rich Man’s Heroin. Sadly, this is what the talented late actor Heath Ledger, singer artist Courtney Love and host writer Rush Limbaugh is guilty of. They are all “Killer” addicts.

The pervasiveness of opioid stems from different factors but one of the key reasons as to why these illegal drugs seep through every corner is because it is a widespread business. And when you are in business the bull’s eye is always on profit.

Purdue Pharma prides itself as the frontrunner in creating and producing medicines to alleviate pain. They are known as the manufacturer of OxyContin, a drug which is similar in morphine in its effect. It is a mixed formulation of oxycodone which is an opioid pain reliever. This drug along with hydrocodone has been popularly rising as a prescribed reliever during the last ten years. To date, opioid medical authorization has been given out annually to American citizens in a one-month supply quantity. Given such quantity, the tendency toward addiction and overdose is at an all-time high.

Birth of OxyContin Painkiller

Carrying the tagline Innovative Healthcare Solutions, Purdue Pharma has paved its way to the top since its beginning in the 1990s in the city of New York. The firm was bought by the Sackler brothers who were all physicians and they began the manufacture of opioid pain relievers.

It was in 1996 when Purdue Pharma released the formulation of oxycodone. It was known as OxyContin which is a drug marketed as having a low risk of addiction. The drug was marketed with much effort and one strategy was to conduct conferences about managing pain as well as training for speakers in the sunny states such as California and Florida attended by over 5,000 physicians, nurses and pharmacists who were invited to function as speakers afterwards in Purdue Pharma’s bureau.

Aside from the conferences and information access, the company also instituted a bonus system to reward the medical representatives in increasing the OxyContin sales wherein the average bonus topples the agents’ yearly earnings. Purdue Pharma is not alone in this undertaking.

Oral-Spray Painkiller’s Effect

There is Insys Therapeutics which is known for their marketing as being the most unconscionable as stated by Oregon assistant Atty. General David Hart. He led the investigation against Insys Therapeutics which derives their revenue from an addictive opiate fentanyl branded as Subsys Fentanyl.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny who is the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid explained that the opiate fentanyl is the most potent and dangerous opioids in the market. It is considered to be many more times powerful than morphine and is absorbed faster into the bloodstream because it is sprayed under the tongue.

The company has been put under scrutiny because of reports saying that the addictive drug is being pushed beyond patients who need it. More so, there are also illegal marketing practices involved in the process. One of the allegations is “diversion,” which is a form of medical fraud wherein doctors prescribe drugs for reasons other than its intentional purpose. Diversion also includes the selling of regulated drugs to the illegal marketplace occurring in several channels, such as its manufacturing and distribution to wholesalers, physician, retail pharmacy or the to the patient himself. If you want to know more and be guided against these illegal malpractice, visit

In the case of Insys Therapeutics, authorities with the Food and Drug Administration outlined that the orally-sprayed painkiller drug is only intended to be used to manage late-stage cancer pain. It was specific for adult cancer patients who are immune to consistent dose of opioid therapy to alleviate pain. However, evidence from witnesses and records from Insys reveal that their workforce was subjected to far too much pressure, which included threatening employees with termination in order for them to desperately persuade doctors to give more prescriptions and high dosages of their product, even if they are not really needed by the patients.

With such extreme marketing, their sales as of June 30, 2015 were $ 147.2 million, with $148.4 million as their total revenue. Nonetheless, they are still subject for further investigations as to their sales and marketing methods by the federal and state authorities in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Arizona and Illinois. As for the time being, Insys refuses to give a comment relative to this sensitive issue.

The RX Effect

In a 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health, prescriptions from OxyContin rose from approximately 670,000 in 1997 to almost 6.2 million in 2002. What is important to note is that the increase in this figure is from prescriptions for non-cancer patients. While it may be blamed from pharmaceutical company’s marketing, there is also a factor in the shift of Americans when it comes to pain alleviation brought about by some doctors’ influence.

Sometime in the 1990’s a small group of doctors funded by pharmaceutical firms began questioning the rigid protocols of the medical industry when it comes to pain treatment. They pointed out that medical practitioners may have been overlooking the advantages of actually using drugs as pain killers because of the stringent protocols applied to the drugs’ use. They influenced the rest of the industry to be more open minded in their prescription of opioids as pain killers. True enough, they succeeded in their lobbying and there were patients who gained from pain treatment. By 2002, the Joint Commission which accredits hospitals required healthcare organizations to include in their services assessment their treatment of pain. Due to this requirement, prescribing opioid painkillers most especially OxyContin, began to rise.

OxyContin RX Domino Effect

Dominating 30 percent of the overall painkiller industry by 2012, Purdue Pharma’s $200 million marketing investment in 2001 proved to be a success. In a span of one year from their initial rollout in 2001, sales by 2002 exceeded their $1.5 billion mark. This success does not only translate to the company itself but also in the number of opioid prescriptions in America which has a drastic increase from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013. Vis-a-vis such humongous increase in prescriptions, is the saddening increase also in cases of addiction, overdose and mortality. On account of such disturbing result, the Department of Justice reacted and charged Purdue Pharma with incorrect branding of the drug in 2007. Consequently, Purdue Pharma was found guilty and paid a $600 million fine. The company’s three executives were also not exempted from criminal charges and they pled guilty of not disclosing the drug’s disadvantages.

The charges did not deter the company and in 2010 they released a new formulation of OxyContin. They improved the drug with an anti abuse formulation. In their new formulation the drug is harder to crush or dissolve making the intake less effortless compared to the original formulation. All original formulations were taken off the shelves and were not given approval by the FDA even when made as a generic version. Charges against Purdue are not yet over as a news website on health and medicine sued the company to unseal records of its officials regarding their intentional nondisclosure of the drug’s addictive potential.

Obama’s Fight Against Opioids

The outbreak of painkillers started by the introduction of OxyContin poses a difficult challenge to fight its effect and its distribution. There is now an estimated two million US citizens who are addicted to prescribed pain relievers. Likewise, drug overdose became the number one cause of accidental deaths, topping deaths from vehicular accidents. It is ironic that prescribed drugs cause more deaths than illicit street drugs. Overdosage stems from a patient’s misuse of a painkiller prescription. Once they are addicted to their prescribed opiate and are unable to obtain or afford their medications, they tend to switch to heroin which is more affordable and accessible. Accordingly, the Obama administration has made it easier for physicians to utilize anti-addiction drugs in the fight against the epidemic use of prescription drugs. The director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli said that expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorders is in Obama’s top priority. This approach when combined with behavioral therapies is proving more effective when it comes to sustaining recovery and prohibiting overdose. This includes efforts to widen addiction treatment and bumping up coverage for mental health and drug abuse services. A $1.1 billion budget was allocated for this project.