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BAD PR: How Pharmaceutical Companies Deal With Addiction

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Advances in chemistry, research and technology have been helping people live longer, healthier lives for the past several decades. Pharmaceutical companies employ some of the most innovative minds in the fields of science and technology – and these men and women have helped saved countless lives with the medicines they have developed.

Unfortunately, many advances in medical science come with a price. A number of the prescription drugs created to ease pain, fight infection or increase focus have also led to drug addictions for many of those individuals who use them. And on the “black market” some of the most widely-used drugs in the world have become those very same medications that were created to heal rather than do harm.

The focal point of this fact has been the pharmaceutical companies themselves – as they walk a fine line between the research and development that goes into to creating these prescription drugs and the fall-out that often leaves them as the defendants in high-profile law suits around the world.

Big Pharmaceutical Companies and High Prices

Perhaps the biggest knock at “big pharm” companies is the high cost of their products. The drugs they produce are intended to save lives, but often, the cost attached to these vital medications puts them out of reach of most individuals who need them most. Complicating matters, many companies have embarked on huge direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns in TV, print and online mediums. These campaigns are designed to spread awareness of the products (thereby helping more doctors and patients become aware of their benefits) but the same conglomerates often list their high-price tag as a reason for rising costs of the medications themselves.

More seriously, some individuals who learn about these drugs through marketing campaigns may not fully understand their particular side effects. This leads to addiction and other health problems for thousands of men and women each year who either become addicted after using the drugs for legitimate purposes, or buying them illegally and using them in inappropriate ways.<>/

A Lack of Attention to Addiction

While millions and millions of dollars go towards promoting different prescription drugs, far less is spent helping raise awareness about the potential for addiction, or helping those who have developed a dependence on the drugs. In fact, the significant cost of potential law suits over the misuse and abuse of particular drugs means that most pharmaceutical companies will deal with addiction through long strings of legalese that warn individuals about present dangers, rather than helping them through drug rehab programs once the problems have presented themselves.

This is particularly true with prescriptions painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Purdue, the makers of OxyContin had a particularly bad run of PR when, in the early stages of the drugs availability, addicts discovered that by crushing the drug and snorting it (or mixing it with a liquid and injecting it) they were able to achieve a more intense high off the drug. Unfortunately, releasing all the opiates at once led many individuals to overdose which caused a number of deaths, countless emergency rooms visits and a nightmare for Purdue.

This nightmare arrived in the form of thousands of lawsuits filed against Purdue. Most of the class-action suits were filed by those individuals who began taking the drug for legitimate purposes – such as a recovering from surgery or chronic pain. These parties claimed that they were unaware of the strong addictive nature of OxyContin when they began taking it – and that addiction left their lives in ruin. And although Purdue won most of these cases, the damage had been done and the negative public relations surrounding OxyContin stuck like glue.

The Purdue-OxyContin example is but one of several instances where a major pharmaceutical company spend millions of dollars defending a law suit, but far less educating the public about the potential dangers of their product – or to take it a step further, making their drugs less addictive in nature by removing the opiate elements in them.

Certainly, given the advances we have seen in medical technology, chemistry and engineering over recent years, one would think that there would be a way to deliver the important medications without their addictive properties. Yet, it is the year 2009 and millions still fall victim to prescription drug addiction and the companies do little to help ease their pain.

Until then, big pharmaceutical companies will continue to cope with the addictive nature of their drugs much in the same way that those individuals who become dependent do – one day at a time.