Baby Boomers and the Opioid Epidemic – Part 2

In my March 21, 2018, post, I wrote that the opioid epidemic knows no age – that baby boomers are affected as much as younger generations.

Center for Disease Control Statistics

The CDC has published information on just how much the opioid epidemic has affected lives. In its report, the CDC stated that from 1999-2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from prescription opioids. Deaths in 2016 were five times higher than in 1999. In 2016, more than 40% of all U.S. opioid deaths involved a prescription opioid. These are stunning numbers and makes you wonder how and when this got so out of hand.

The Dawn of the Opioid Crisis

In the mid 1990’s, the Sackler brothers and their company, Purdue Pharma, made the drug OxyContin and marketed it as a cure-all with no addictive tendencies. In my March post, I wrote about a great article in the New Yorker that went through the history of the Sackler brothers and how they turned OxyContin into a gold mine through their marketing efforts. When confronted with the possibility that OxyContin was addictive, they kept denying its abusive effects, all the while reaping in the cash. Well, the New York Times just published an article showing that Purdue Pharma knew about the abuse in the first few years after OxyContin was on the market and that the company hid the information. The Justice Department investigated Purdue Pharma for four years and recommended charges be brought against company executives. Rather than indict, in 2007, the US Government settled the matter with minor penalties and a big fine. The Justice Department thought that by charging executives and giving Purdue Pharma a hefty fine, that the penalties would deter other drug companies from flooding the market with prescription drugs.

They were wrong. The opioid markets were saturated with pills. And here we are today.

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Baby Boomers and the Opioid Epidemic

Addiction Perils from the 1960’s and 1970’s

For those of us growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we were lucky if we made it through our teens and 20’s without experiencing any kind of addiction. Back then, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, mescaline, Quaaludes and the like were easy to obtain and gave baby boomers a sense of freedom and camaraderie when experimenting with friends. None of the drugs typically used back then were prescription, and as we ventured forward in life, marriage, children and responsibility crept up on us. For those not addicted, the drugs went by the wayside, either used infrequently or not at all.  But there is a new concern about drugs and it is Baby Boomers and the Opioid Epidemic.

World – Meet the Sackler Brothers

Meanwhile, during the 1960’s, the prescription drug world was fast taking over our parents. The New Yorker has a wonderful article about the Sackler brothers, Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond, of Purdue Pharma. The brothers were inventors and master marketers. Millions were made off of marketing to lonely housewives and anxiety-ridden fathers. Not content with their existing wealth, in 1995 the Sackler brothers were able to get OxyContin, an opioid, approved by the FDA without having submitted any studies as to the addictive aspects of the drug. Then, the hyper-marketing of OxyContin began.

Baby Boomer Opioid Addiction is Real

Fast forward to today. Opioid prescription drug addiction has become an epidemic in this country. The addiction knows no age. However, for those over 50, who already average four prescription drugs per day, getting a prescription pain killer with an opioid, and the interaction with the other prescription drugs they take, can cause serious consequences. Addiction may be easier or overdose may be easier, depending on the other prescription drugs in their system. Baby boomers have to be careful not to fall victim to this scheme. Even though some of the symptoms of prescription drug addiction is similar to the natural aging process, discerning between whether you are truly going through the aging process or becoming a slave to prescription drugs can be hard if you are trying to self-diagnose. Friends and family have to be aware of signs and symptoms of addiction when they know a loved one is taking prescription medicine that involves opioids and narcotics. Forgetfulness, isolation, off-balance, irritability, personal appearance issues, etc., are all signs of both aging and addiction. Getting to the bottom of the behavior is key.

Even though we are over 50, we have many good years ahead of us. Our evolution from experimenting with non-prescription drugs during the 1960’s and 1970’s is completely different than the dangers the prescription drug industry has gotten us into today. Let’s hope that the lessons we have learned throughout our life will serve to help us recognize when we may be going down a path of self-destruction, and the strength to stop it. And for those that have not recognized their addiction, let’s hope that friends and family will step in and help them.