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By Dr. Mercola

Narcotic painkillers have become a serious problem due to their abuse potential and adverse health effects. But one narcotic stands out above the rest for its meteoric rise in popularity—followed by an equally impressive dive into disfavor.

OxyContin is a narcotic drug, manufactured by Purdue Pharma, and has been described as the “most dramatically successful” of the opioid drugs. If the measure of success is its marketing campaign, then Oxy definitely takes the gold.

The Canadian documentary “OxyContin: Time Bomb” tells the story of how Purdue Pharma steamrolled its way into the marketplace with this dangerous drug, preying on vulnerable pain sufferers and the physicians trying to help them.

Canada is spending more than 10 billion dollars a year on narcotic pain pills—and hundreds of millions more on the addictions they cause. However, Americans may have them beat.

According to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s pain pills.1 Misleading pain statistics are used to push increasingly stronger narcotics into the marketplace.


Since OxyContin was introduced in 1996, Canada has recorded the second-highest number of prescription opioid painkiller addictions and the world's second-highest death rate from overdoses. In the US, narcotic overdose deaths now surpass deaths from murders and fatal car accidents.

The Tiny Time-Released Time Bomb

As soon as it was released, Purdue Pharma hailed OxyContin as its new “miracle pill” for pain sufferers. Drug company representatives told physicians and patients OxyContin was safer than other narcotics because it was time-released, so there was essentially no potential for abuse—but nothing could’ve been farther from the truth.

OxyContin is the time-released version of oxycodone, which is the active drug in painkillers such as Percodan and Percocet. Tolerance builds quickly, so many OxyContin users need ever-increasing doses for the same effect. When their dose “maxes out,” some desperate patients turn to the streets.

Just a few years after its introduction, OxyContin was one of the hottest street drugs available, with addicts chewing or snorting or injecting them for an incomparable—and very dangerous—high, which users compare to heroin.

In fact, OxyContin has been found to be the gateway drug to heroin.2 Over the past five years, heroin deaths have increased by 45 percent—an increase largely blamed on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such as OxyContin.

Because of its insatiable demand, some patients with legal prescriptions begin selling OxyContin tablets to drug dealers for a profit. The pharmaceutical company earned billions while watching their “miracle drug” turn ordinary citizens into hardened addicts and criminals.

How many people have died as a result of OxyContin? A firm number is difficult to ascertain. A variety of numbers have appeared in media reports, usually lacking citations or references, and many deaths involve a combination of drugs and alcohol.3

What is known is that narcotic overdose deaths have quadrupled in the last decade. Deaths from overdoses of drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and oxycodone/OxyContin rose from 1.4 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.4 per 100,000 in 2011.

In 2009, 1.2 million emergency department visits involved the “nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals or dietary stimulants” (which includes abuse). Oxycodone alone or in combination with other drugs accounted for 175,949 of those visits.4

How Did OxyContin Get So Big, So Fast?

In its first year (1996), OxyContin earned Purdue Pharma $45 million in sales. By 2001, that number ballooned to $1.1 billion. Ten years later, sales totaled $3.1 billion with Oxy accounting for about 30 percent of the total painkiller market.

It didn’t take long for some to realize what a dangerous drug OxyContin was, but critics’ cries were drowned out by Purdue’s massive marketing campaign.

The drug company’s unprecedented “brainwashing” campaign got OxyContin propaganda into the hands of physicians and patients alike, and even into medical school classrooms, giving them hope that a safe, user-friendly pain treatment was finally available.

Purdue Pharma reps wined and dined physicians, showering them with expensive gifts and a blitz of flashy marketing materials, from brochures and videotapes to a promotional publication cleverly disguised as a “physician’s desk reference” for treating pain.5

In return, many salesmen profited handsomely from the bonuses, which in 2001 ranged from $70,000 to nearly $250,000. Purdue Pharma spent $200 million marketing OxyContin that year.6

OxyContin’s Fall from Grace

The boom lasted until 2007, when criminal charges were finally laid against Purdue Pharma for their “campaign of deception” aimed at boosting OxyContin sales. The company was fined 600 million dollars, and three company executives paid a total of $35.4 million in fines.7

By then, however, a great deal of damage had already been done. In Ontario, Canada alone, 36,000 were dependent on methadone at a cost of 200 million in taxpayer dollars—a 600 percent increase since OxyContin hit the market, and streets.

In the featured documentary, pain specialist Phil Berger of Toronto, Canada sums up the “perfect storm” of malfeasance that created this public health disaster:

“Confluence of unbelievably aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry that sells these drugs, plus the inadequacy of education to medical students and physicians in training and the utter failure of regulatory bodies, the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, to reign in their membership and provide proper oversight to how their members are prescribing medications.”

Using AND Quitting OxyContin Can Make You Very Sick

Patients taking OxyContin experience a variety of adverse effects, including depression and mood swings, nodding off during the day, disrupted interpersonal relationships, and other problems. However, those wanting to discontinue the drug typically have a difficult time getting off of it, often becoming quite sick.

Sometimes, long-term methadone treatment is required to break severe OxyContin dependence, which has major risks of its own.8 Methadone, a synthetic form of opium that’s used to get people off heroin, may have surpassed heroin as the leading cause of narcotic deaths.9 This is but one of many serious problems stemming from the abuse of opioid drugs such as OxyContin.

There were no pain clinics when OxyContin came out—these were created largely in response to the massive addiction and overdose problems associated with this drug and others like it.  When your body is bathed around the clock in a sea of opiates, it becomes dependent on them, and withdrawing can make you very ill. OxyContin withdrawal typically includes symptoms such as:

1. Anxiety, restlessness and insomnia

2. Abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea

3. Flu-like symptoms, including aching and chills

4. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate

5. Tremors, seizures and convulsions

‘OxyContin 2.0’

OxyContin’s patent expired in 2013. Normally, this opens the door for generics, but in this case, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned generic versions of the original OxyContin and required drug makers to develop “abuse resistant” versions. In 2010, Purdue pulled original OxyContin from the market and introduced its own “abuse-resistant” form, which contains a polymer that supposedly makes it harder to crush and snort or inject.

That’s great news for Purdue—the patent on its “Oxy 2.0” is good until 2025. FDA essentially rewarded Purdue Pharma with a patent extension for a drug that injured and killed millions. In 2013, their new drug accounted for one-third of the prescription painkiller market, and with an average cost of $7.50 per pill, generated $2.8 billion in sales.10 And this new form may not be that abuse-resistant. About one-quarter of users claim they’ve figured out how to defeat the deterrent.11 Canadian physicians are reporting that OxyNEO—the new form Purdue is selling in Canada—is just as addictive as original OxyContin.12 Just another startling example of the collusion between the FDA and industry.


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