December 20, 2016

Exporting Pain: Here’s Why Some Doctors are Labeled ‘Opioiphobic’

Exporting Pain: Here’s Why Some Doctors are Labeled ‘Opioiphobic’

While patients and medical professionals in the United States have wised up to the potential harm of prescription opioids like OxyContin, its manufacturers aren’t willing to sell any less, instead choosing to pursue an aggressive marketing campaign internationally rather than give up on potential profits. This move is a threat to the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide.

There’s no need for other countries to make the same mistakes we’re still overcoming. America is in the thick of an opioid addiction and overdose crisis that started in the 90s and is showing no signs of slowing down. It is expected that 50,000 lives will be lost in the USA to accidental overdose this year. If other countries choose to allow the aggressive marketing of prescription opioids as a safe, low-risk drug while downplaying the possibility of developing addiction, a similar public health crisis will be on their hands.

Unfortunately, Mundipharma, a group that sells pharmaceuticals, seems open to repeating the mistakes made in the United States, for the sake of enhancing profits. It wants to use the same marketing techniques that stocked opioids in medicine cabinets in the United States, in nations all around the world.

These marketing practices are troubling, notably because they include bullying physicians into prescribing. For example, doctors reluctant to prescribe opioids are described as ‘opioiphobic,’ or irrationally afraid of opioids. This label minimizes the many legitimate reasons a doctor might think twice before prescribing a substance with potentially deadly consequences like overdose and addiction. When doctors express concern over a particular drug or substance, we should take their concerns seriously, not gaslight them.

Mundipharm’s incorporation of pseudoscience into marketing campaigns is dangerous as well. More and more, we are beginning to understand the significance of the biological components of addiction. Based on a growing collective of research, it is more clear to us than ever that compulsive abuse of an addictive substance is not a moral failing, but a combination of faulty neural wiring and unhealthy learned coping mechanisms that change the structure and function of the brain. This is the science that needs to be fostered internationally. Opioids have a real downside that must be addressed.

The nuances of individual care and treatment are lost in this blanket campaign to treat any kind of long-lasting pain with opioids. The best treatment will always take into account an individual’s personal history and unique strengths or challenges. Companies like Mundipharm would lump all pain from every injury or cause into one category, chronic pain, which can then be treated with their prescription opioid product.

Expanding profits by peddling addiction is behavior we expect from drug cartels and the mafia; it should not be the business of corporations charged with helping and healing the ill. Most of the world’s pain problems can be solved with non-pharmaceutical treatments or inexpensive opioids like morphine. If pharmaceutical companies like Mundipharm want to brand healthcare professionals as ‘opioiphobic’ for avoiding prescription opioids, perhaps it is a term we should embrace. If more doctors were ‘opioiphobic’ perhaps fewer individuals would become addicted to prescription opioids. The fight against addiction would be much stronger without a bottle of OxyContin in every medicine cabinet in the world.

Richard Taite
About Richard Tate