By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is planning to introduce a bill into the Senate that would require drug makers to report payments that are made to nonprofit organizations and patient advocacy groups (Silverman, 2018). This is an issue that HEAL Blog, as well as the Community Access National Network’s HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch publication, has repeatedly brought up in our reporting.
State and Federal lawmakers have been attempting to place prescribing and use restrictions on prescription opioid drugs for the better part of two decades. There is a natural opposition that state and Federal lawmakers face from opioid manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, the first prescription opioid drug made available and marketed to average consumers rather than for use in palliative care and severe injury. But, that’s not where the pressure on lawmakers ends.
Where McCaskill’s proposal comes into play goes back much further, with pharmaceutical companies creating and funding nonprofit organizations to advocate for a single issue: Pain. Pain Advocates, since the late-1980s, have been actively lobbying Congress, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and state legislatures to push for easier access to these powerful drugs. Every time a legislator or the FDA attempts to reign in what was once virtually unfettered access to
Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body and reducing the sending of pain messages to the brain, thereby reducing the feeling of pain. For Pain Advocates who claim to represent patients whose levels of daily or regular pain leave them unable to function normally, these drugs have been seen as necessary for their survival. What drug manufacturers who fought for easy access to these drugs failed to mention (despite knowing from their own research) is that opioid drugs are highly addictive.
I’ve personally encountered several pain advocates whose opposition to my advocacy for opioid prescribing restrictions in the state of West Virginia has been boiled down to this line of thinking: “How am I supposed to be a functional human being without these prescriptions?” In a state like West Virginia, which has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation (52 per 100,000) and potentially the highest rate of Hepatitis C (HCV) in the nation (7.2 per 100,000), this comes across to me as them really saying, “My pain is more important than the preventable spread of disease or others’ lives.”
As the rate of new HCV infections continues to rise, in some states like WV, exponentially, is that opioid drug abuse is directly tied to this meteoric increase. In a report from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institute on Drug Abuse, data indicate that the incidence of heroin initiation (beginning to use) was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not. Further, a separate study cited by the NIH found that 86% of young, urban heroin injectors had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and that their introduction into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, and personal prescriptions (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018).
Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at how opioid diversion from legitimate prescriptions can potentially lead to addictions that can increase the risk of acquiring Hepatitis and HIV as a result of Injection Drug Use.
- Silverman, E. (2018, March 09). McCaskill plans a bill to force pharma to disclose payments to nonprofits and advocacy groups. Boston, MA: STAT: Pharmalot. Retrieved from: https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2018/03/09/mccaskill-pharma-payments-opioids/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Drug Abuse: Publications: Research Reports: Prescription Opioids and Heroin. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
- West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. (2018, January). HEPATITIS B AND HEPATITIS C INFECTION IN WEST VIRGINA – An Evaluation of 2016 Surveillance Data. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources: Bureau for Public Health: Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services: Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology. Retrieved from: https://dhhr.wv.gov/oeps/disease/viral-hepatitis/Documents/HBV-HCV_Surveillance_Eval.pdf
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.