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    The Life Sciences industry aids all of us in different ways, from the over-the-counter medications we take to help us with headaches and the common cold to life-saving therapies that have revolutionised the world of medicine. 

    The industry has come under scrutiny many times, and the opioid crisis has brought to light the dark side of legal drugs and the damaging effect that they can have – regardless of how they’ve been regulated.

    Addiction is a complicated and misunderstood disease, and although it’s considered a medical condition, it’s still largely stigmatised. For example, treating an addict who is dependent on heroin is achieved through prescribing methadone, another opioid that can help with withdrawal symptoms. Despite its successes, it’s still treating addicts with addictive substances, and methadone can be just as damaging as heroin. 

    Although methadone treatments are incredibly effective, they can be seen as a double-edged sword. Treating an addict with another addictive method fuels the need for methadone, and fuels the need for organisations who provide these medications to continue profiting from the disease that is addiction.

     

    The Opioid Crisis: where are we at now?

    The US opioid epidemic has increasingly worsened, too: “In recent years, synthetic opioids, and fentanyl in particular, have been driving a dramatic spike in overdose deaths. After its development in the 1960s, fentanyl was legally manufactured and prescribed as an intravenous anaesthetic. And while it remains an important drug in health-care settings, its illegal manufacture and distribution has become a major threat to public health.” [source]

    The pandemic worsened the epidemic, and as of 2021- the death toll of fentanyl surged to 80,411 – which is 10x the number of military killed in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with fentanyl, other prescription drugs sold over the counter have left patients hooked and a national epidemic in full swing. 

     

    So, what does this have to do with the Life Sciences industry?

    There are many organisations across the world who are working to tackle the opioid crisis, however, there are still organisations who have come under fire for fuelling the crisis rather than hindering it.

    The billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma had thousands of lawsuits filed against them for manufacturing and selling highly addictive drugs (OxyContin) that were worsening the opioid issues within the United States. 

    Purdue Pharma promoted opioids as non-addictive painkillers, and the company has previously pleaded guilty to charges relating to its opioid marketing. The Sackler family has denied wrongdoing.” [source]

    Aside from pharma giants in the USA who are manufacturing the drugs, there is also a huge lack of education around opioids – particularly prescriptive drugs – and the damaging effects they can have. Just because they’re legal, doesn’t mean they’re safe. The lack of information coupled with dependent addicts has created an opioid crisis that simply isn’t slowing down. Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic. 

    “Big pharmaceutical companies, doctors and pharmacy chains were accused of turning a blind eye to the problem, leading to criminal charges and billions of dollars in civil litigation.” – [source]

     

    Is it a double-edged sword?

    Companies such as Indivior (previously Opiant Pharmaceuticals) and Hikma, are working tirelessly to aid the crisis, but even the Life Sciences industry recognises that they have contributed to the problem. However, change is on the horizon, and organisations such as the aforementioned are transforming patient’s lives and helping the opioid crisis. 

    Although the pharmaceutical industry has had great influence on the crisis, it can also be the catalyst for change. Addiction, like any other disease, requires research, time, and a multi-channel approach. 

    The opioid crisis is a stark reminder of the devastating impact of addiction and the importance of addressing it as a public health issue. There can’t be a one-size-fits-all drug, nor can there be a one-size-fits-all therapy. The crisis requires desperate attention from Life Sciences organisations and governments alike to work together and create meaningful change. While progress has been made, there is much more work to be done to combat one of the most pressing health challenges facing the United States today, while also holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its role in this crisis.

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