International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31 each year.
This somber day functions as a remembrance of more than 500,000 lives lost and a reminder of how far we have come in combatting addiction across America.1 True awareness requires reflection on the crisis’ origins, actions to mitigate its consequences, and ideas to move us forward to overcome this opioid pandemic.
Several factors initiated the opioid pandemic and propelled its growth. The American Pain Society introduced pain as the fifth vital sign in 1995.2 That same year, Purdue Pharma marketed oxycodone (OxyContin), employing marketing campaigns that emphasized the benefits that extended pain relief provided while downplaying the implications. Purdue, as well as Allergan, Endo International, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, also downplayed the serious risk and likelihood of addiction that occurs with their opioids.
Fast-forward 17 years, and prescribers had written more than 259 million opioid prescriptions, enough for every adult in the country to have a bottle of pills.4
Advertising and false information concerning extended-release opioids’ addictive properties are not the only reasons this epidemic continued to spiral.5 The FDA found that several major drug distributors were complicit in the unregulated narcotics distribution.
Distributors shipped a staggering number of shipments to retail pharmacies across the country, neither questioning nor reporting them to the Drug Enforcement Administration.3
Chain retailers operated within loopholes of the law to dispense opioids to an unwitting public.
Some tactics include providing seminars on pain management and safety, self-policing opioid orders without oversight, and using work-arounds to evade hard limits on purchasing.