In the latest installment of his ongoing investigation for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, John Fauber looks for the source of America’s prescription painkiller boom (graphic), outlining what he describes as “a network of pain organizations, doctors and researchers that pushed for expanded use of the drugs while taking in millions of dollars from the companies that made them.”
Beginning 15 years ago, the network helped create a body of dubious information that can be found in prescribing guidelines, patient literature, position statements, books and doctor education courses, all which favored drugs known as opioid analgesics.
Apparently, that network has been effective. Federal data shows that prescription painkiller sales have quadrupled in the past decade or so, Fauber found, and some of those sales may not have been warranted.
A band of doctors who get little or no money from opioid makers has begun to challenge the hype behind the drugs. They say pharmaceutical industry clout has caused doctors to go overboard in prescribing the drugs, leading to addiction, thousands of overdose deaths each year and other serious complications.
Several of the pain industry’s core beliefs about chronic pain and opioids are not supported by sound research, the Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation found. Among them:
- The risk of addiction is low in patients with prescriptions.
- There is no unsafe maximum dose of the drugs.
- The concept of “pseudoaddiction.”
That concept holds those who display addictive behavior, such as seeking more drugs or higher doses, may not be actual addicts – they are people who need even more opioids to treat their pain.
His investigation dips deep into each of those beliefs and how they helped push painkillers. For a case study, see this companion infographic.