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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Statement on Opioids, Chronic Pain, and the Pharmaceutical Industry

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) applauds the efforts of Congress and the Administration to address the rising rates of opioid addiction and overdose in this country. The rate of opioid abuse quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found opioids to be involved in a record 28,647 deaths in 2014. This is an extremely important public health issue and we are very pleased to see it being addressed.

While working to address opioid overdoses, it is important to keep in mind that this country is facing two major and interrelated public health crises: opioid addiction and chronic pain. A 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report found that more than 100 million American adults live with chronic pain, with a 2014 Journal of Pain study finding that 39.4 million people experience pain most or every day. While an evidence-based review found that only 3.3% of chronic pain patients will become addicted with chronic opioid therapy, a recent survey found that eight in 10 people abusing prescription medications said they were doing so to treat pain. Restricting access to medications, especially without providing effective alternatives, will not solve either problem. Any true solution to the problem of opioid addiction will be unsuccessful if the underlying public health crisis of chronic pain is not addressed as well.

We would also like to address the role the pharmaceutical industry has played in these epidemics. NCIL rejects placing blame for this crisis on patients, which has been all too common. Further, while there is certainly a need for improved guidance and further research on prescribing practices by physicians, much of the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the pharmaceutical industry. Since the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies have been aggressively using manipulative and dishonest marketing strategies to increase sales, putting profits above good practice. Reports of falsifying medication effectiveness and safety, spending billions on drug promotions, and paying doctors to recommend their products have become commonplace. An LA Times article from earlier this month describing Purdue Pharma’s deceptive marketing of OxyContin is the most recent example of this. The pharmaceutical industry’s strategies have been extremely profitable for the companies, and extremely detrimental to patients.

We hope that the major role the pharmaceutical industry has played in the rise of opioid addiction and overdoses will no longer go ignored. Opioid addiction and chronic pain are both significant problems that impact the lives of many Americans. We applaud the actions that Congress and the Administration have taken thus far, and we urge them to consider the needs of both those living with opioid addiction and those living with chronic pain in future policy decisions. We also urge Congress and the Administration to carefully consider the pharmaceutical industry’s role in these issues, and to hold the industry fully accountable for the harm they’ve caused.

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