How the opioid addiction is being supported by the pharmaceutical industry

Is opioid addiction a 21st-century crisis?

As it turns out, everything points towards that conclusion. We are talking about painkillers that are being used nowadays more than they have ever been, especially, but not limited to, in cancer patients. Ever since their effectiveness has been proven, the pharmaceutical industry has developed quite a significant market for opioids, selling almost 250 million units in 2015, as opposed to below half that of 20 years ago.

Now there is a new problem in town, linked to opioid addiction, called OIC (Opioid-Induced Constipation). It appears in patients of all ages, medical conditions and rate of usage and it raises an alarm signal regarding the regular usage of painkillers in particular. But this is not the real problem here. The problem is that “legal” opioid addiction has reached critical levels in the US especially.

What is the real problem?

According to the latest statistics, millions of people worldwide, especially in developed countries, are victims to opioid addictions and what is even worse is that many of them do not even seem to realize the danger. They abuse painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, taken on prescription and the figures provided by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) look grim, to say the least: over a period of 1999 and 20014, a little over 165,000 Americans died due to opioid addiction, as a direct result of overdosing.

The real problem, according to the numbers, is that, as it seems, opioid addiction is real and the ill effects outweigh the benefits considerably. There are over 9.5 billion dollar sales of painkillers in the US, with probable unwanted side effects. The response of the pharmaceutical industry? Releasing drugs that are intended to treat the side effects of the previous drugs. As a result, the newly developed opioids treating addiction are worth 1.4 billion dollars, those that are meant to treat overdosing are worth 1.3 billion dollars and those destined to treating the painkillers side effects are somewhat around 1.9 and 4.8 billion dollars. If you think that this does not sound bad enough, these are the numbers representing one year’s market income.

The effect on the population is drastic

Although the opioid addiction can be arguably easy to deal with in healthy individuals, those who suffer from chronic diseases cannot escape the mechanism set in motion. Cancer patients, for instance, fall prey to the opioid addiction, simply because they need the means to keep the pain under control. Then the side effects kick in, like losing the appetite, heavy sedation in most of the cases, followed by a loose of concentration, and even the rise of anxiety, paranoia, and depression in some cases.

But that is the least of their problems, because the vicious circle of opioid addiction only then begins, as they need to treat those very side effects with another set of prescription drugs. According to the latest numbers, more than 57% of the working women are addicted to opioids and have currently up to 4 prescriptions active. The percentage of men is lower, only at 41%.

Now, even though opioid addiction related deaths have risen over the past 16 years from 3.800 to well over 14.500, this is not the problem we need to keep our eyes on. The real fact of the matter is constipation attributed to opioid addiction. It seems it is so spread among the users, that it has been included in the yearly medical training of future doctors and nurses.

Although it may not seem like a big deal, the actual problem is when we look at the cancer patients, whose condition could quickly worsen by the day. Opioid addiction can trigger constipation because of the fact that the drugs that are being used greatly diminish the secretion of gastrointestinal fluids, as well as inhibiting the muscular contractions of the intestinal tract, used in the process of defecation. It is such a big issue that some of the cancer patients it appeared in had to undergo a medical procedure to help them flush the stool.

What is the necessary course of action?

We have two answers in this regard, one favorable, one not so much. The favorable ones refer to healthy individuals, who become victims of opioid addiction without the factors that could deem the situation unavoidable. They are used to treat mild affections and pains with drugs, thus falling victims to the vicious circle of treating one drug-induced problem with other drugs.

Instead, specialists recommend us to avoid using prescription medication, if the situation does not require it imperatively. Instead, look for alternative methods of relieving the suffering, going for natural treatments, depending on the affection needing to be treated and after previously consulting a specialist.

However, when talking about cancer patients, opioid addiction seems rather unavoidable, so in their case things might not work out so easily. But there is hope, because of a new drug being released last year on the market, called NKTR-118, proven to limit the aftermath of the opioid addiction and treat many of its side effects, specifically recurring constipation that follows.

Other than that, it cannot be denied that we are living in an opioid addiction marked century and while some solutions may look promising, we still have a long way to go before being completely cleared.

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