Pharma company Insys Therapeutics has become the first opioid manufacturer to file for bankruptcy. This follows it agreeing a $225 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over claims it had bribed doctors to prescribe fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is over 100 times stronger than morphine.
Beginning in the late 1990s there was a rapid increase in the use of prescription opioid drugs. By 2011 prescription opioids had become the most prescribed class of medications in the United States. Chemically related to heroin, and with similar effects, prescription opioids are highly addictive. As a result, between 1999 and 2017, statistics show that almost 218,000 Americans died from overdoses related to these drugs.
U.S. drug company Purdue Pharma is seen by many observers as having been largely responsible for the rise of this situation. After introducing OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller, in 1996, Purdue proceeded to market it aggressively as a drug that was supposedly less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause narcotic side effects.
A decade later, Purdue executives admitted in court proceedings they had marketed and promoted the drug with the intent to defraud or mislead. In 2007 in one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history, the company was fined $600 million. Compared to the $35 billion or so that OxyContin had reportedly helped net for Purdue, however, the fine was essentially small change.
To learn why we say addressing the opioid crisis should be the first step towards treating the drug industry like the tobacco industry, read this article on our website.