Marketing Opioids: Prescribed Use and Dependence

Opioids are a class of drugs prescribed to alleviate pain; however, their addictive nature has caused many patients to become dependent upon them. The aggressive marketing of these drugs has created a public health crisis that has had a devastating impact on millions’ lives across the country and beyond.

Aggressive Marketing

When OxyContin, a highly addictive, slow-release form of oxycodone, was introduced in 1996, it was heavily marketed and promoted by the pharmaceutical company that introduced the drug. The article, The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, published by the National Institute of Health, states that sales of the drug “grew from $48 million in 1996 to almost $1.1 billion in 2000. The high availability of OxyContin correlated with increased abuse, diversion, and addiction, and by 2004 OxyContin had become a leading drug of abuse in the United States.” 

According to the article, the pharmaceutical company that sold OxyContin knew a market existed for their drug and exploited that market to their advantage, promoting it heavily to doctors. As a result, there was an uptick in using opioids to treat pain, specifically non-cancer-related discomfort. 

Pharmaceutical companies track geographical areas where opioids are prescribed more often than other places. As a standard practice, they target doctors in those regions who prescribe their drugs most often and who frequently prescribed opioids to non-chronic pain patients. The tracking also identified doctors who were more relaxed in prescribing opioids to their patients.

Based on the data produced by this tracking, pharmaceutical companies flooded areas reflecting the highest rates of opioid prescriptions with sales representatives. These sales representatives received substantial bonuses if their sales of drugs like OxyContin reached predetermined levels. 

To gain favor with physicians and their staff, sales representatives left behind promotional items and coupons when visiting practices. They also provided other incentives. One pharmaceutical company produced several all-expenses-paid national pain-management and speaker conferences across the country. Pharmaceutical companies also recruited doctors and nurses to speak about and prescribe OxyContin. While many doctors said these conferences did not influence how they prescribe an opioid, trends conflict with the doctors’ assertions.

Pharmaceutical companies and their sales representatives shifted their gaze from the malignant market—cancer patients or others with chronic diseases to the non-malignant market—to those with injury-related pain. The doctors who prescribed to this group of patients were primary care physicians unaware of the risks connected to long-term opioid use. Compounding the danger was the constraints placed upon the time such physicians had to perform comprehensive evaluations on their patients. The lack of a comprehensive assessment or follow-up left patients vulnerable to developing an addiction to opioids.

The Effect of Opioid Use

The increased prescribing patterns of opioids from family or primary care doctors affected children, teens and adults. Pharmaceutical sales representatives misrepresented the risk of addiction to doctors. The companies downplayed the risk and the studies which showed the increased risk of opioid abuse among its users compared to those receiving other medications to manage their pain. 

The highly addictive nature of opioids left many of those who had been prescribed the medications substance dependent. The success in marketing OxyContin directly correlated to the rise of abuse and addiction cases in patients prescribed opioids. 

The Impact on Families

Families and communities across the nation felt the adverse effects of the opioid epidemic in the forms of abuse, addiction and opioid-related deaths. Opioid abuse or addiction is not limited to one race, gender or age group, though youths have experienced a significant impact. Children or teens prescribed opioids for routine procedures such as dental procedures, surgery, or other procedures or incidents that result in pain can quickly become addicted. Those who have proven to be particularly vulnerable are individuals who sustain sports-related injuries. 

Treatment Options

Treatment for opioid abuse or addiction depends on the severity of abuse or addiction. While some can benefit from outpatient therapy, many do well in an in-patient setting. Many high-profile individuals or people who are particularly concerned with confidentiality seek treatment at centers dedicated to their privacy and well-being. Treatment centers that are private, secure and offer individualized attention to patients offer the best refuge for those seeking help with their addiction. Attention to detail and understanding of a patient’s needs while in treatment allows them to focus on their recovery. 

Opioid addiction isn’t a cause for embarrassment or shame. Patients caught in the web of dependence have usually been placed in that position through no fault of their own. Compassion, empathy and comprehensive treatment provided by a reputable organization can help navigate the path back to an addiction-free life.


Opioids don’t discriminate — people of any age, race, gender identity or economic background can become addicted. Cliffside Malibu provides private, personalized treatment in a luxurious setting. If you think you have an opioid addiction, call us at (855) 403-5641 to learn how we can help.