You would think a group which helped create the opioid epidemic, which certainly has profited from it, and which is acknowledging that its products continue to fuel the epidemic, would offer more to help solve the epidemic than a catchy phrase, a website and a complete abrogation of playing any role in cleaning up the mess.
Yet, that’s what a newly formed group called “My Old Meds” has done. The sponsor of this group is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), made up of representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these people and the firms they represent are making a lot of money from the sale of prescription painkillers, firms like Purdue Pharma, the people who brought us OxyContin and, more recently, OxyContin for kids.
Over the past few days “My Old Meds” has come to Massachusetts to emphasize the importance of the safe disposal of unused opioid medications, advise people that unused drugs are often diverted and are becoming the drugs that teenagers and others first use without direction, and that are fueling the opioid epidemic. The group advises and encourages that old meds be disposed of in the trash or at government sponsored drug disposal sites.
In so advising, the sponsors of “My Old Meds” wash their hands of any responsibility for the disposal of unused medications, and place it on the patient and the taxpayer.
Their theory is: sell more pills than people need, reap the profits, and make others pay for the cleanup.
The result is: patients pay for more pills than they need. Those pills lead to addiction. Patients pay still higher premiums and co-pays for addiction treatment, and higher taxes for government funded treatment programs. And even more devastatingly, families everywhere suffer immeasurable heartache and loss.
Over the last several years, as we’ve tried to address the opioid epidemic, we’ve called upon doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, insurance companies, and patients to step up and help, to play a role in stemming the flow of prescription painkillers that have paved the road to this epidemic.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry continues to play no role. Their balance sheets grow in step with the excessive number of pills sold.
Amazingly, the pharmaceutical industry and many others seem at ease with this arrangement. Well, I’m not.
Rather than all of a sudden advising patients how to safely dispose of unused medications, the pharmaceutical industry should pay for the safe disposal, just like manufacturers of other dangerous products are already required to do.
The Senate in October 2015 passed Senate Bill 2022, An Act Relative to Substance Use Prevention. The bill contained a Drug Stewardship Program, which would require each pharmaceutical company selling schedule II or III drugs in Massachusetts, including oxycodone and hydrocodone drugs, to operate or fund a program to safely dispose of unused pills.
The components of a comprehensive substance use prevention bill, including those offered by the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Governor, are being worked out by a “conference committee” of the Legislature. The Drug Stewardship Program should be included in the final bill. The pharmaceutical industry is trying to make sure it won’t be included. That’s why in the last few days they’ve introduced their catchy phrase and website. They want to appear to be helpful. Let’s not be fooled.
The pharmaceutical industry is the one problem creator who has so far escaped responsibility for the opioid epidemic. It’s time they take responsibility. It’s time they contribute to the solution. It’s time the pharmaceutical industry takes back their unused, addictive products.