In The Week, reprinted from Pacific Standard, Mike Mariani outlines how OxyContin, which was allegedly known to be addictive by its manufacturers, was pawned off on the public as a safe and effective, and decidedly non-addictive, painkiller. Now, the State of Kentucky has brought civil action against Purdue Pharmaceuticals and while increasing use of OxyContin may be a thing of the past, America’s addiction to opioids is not.

As an addiction treatment professional, I have personally seen the rise in prescription addiction at my treatment center and others. The statistics on prescription drug abuse, particularly prescription opioids (drugs which mimic heroin and its derivatives), are staggering in their scope. “ rising to almost 17,000.” Kentucky, where the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma has been launched, is one of the worst hit states in the nation.

One of the areas in which Purdue Pharmaceuticals may be particularly vulnerable to the state’s case is with regard to its aggressive marketing tactics. According to Mariani’s article:

“Between physician databases, incentive-happy sales reps, and an aggressive blitz package of promotional ephemera, Purdue’s multifaceted marketing campaign pushed OxyContin out of the niche offices of oncologists and pain specialists and into the primary care bazaar, where prescriptions for the drug could be handed out to millions upon millions of Americans. The most scathing irony is that what allowed OxyContin to reach so many households and communities was the claim that it wasn’t dangerous.”

Sadly, this information has come to light as much as a decade too late for tens of thousands of individuals who have accidently overdosed from OxyContin or other opioids. One of the major issues with regard to accidental overdose is that many substance users, especially the young and the elderly, don’t realize how drugs interact with one another. For example, an elderly person could take a blood pressure medication in the morning, a painkiller in the afternoon, have a drink in the evening and an over-the-counter sleep aid at night, and never wake up. Even in small amounts, mixing drugs can be very, very dangerous.

While it is true that OxyContin abuse is decreasing, the epidemic of prescription drug abuse hasn’t gone away. Now, those who are no longer able to get hold of prescription opioids are switching to heroin. The report concludes:

“Many are now arguing that the epidemic hasn’t gone away so much as it has evolved: Heroin use is again on the upswing. Like a shrewd virus that mutates once it confronts a vaccine, Americans’ addiction to opioids has survived the government crackdown on OxyContin and fled to the seedy asylum of heroin. It’s a kind of evolution in retrograde, with pill users turning to an old 20th-century scourge that once flourished in urban decay and is uglier, more stigmatized, and more lethal than its pharmaceutical counterpart. But for OxyContin, a drug that, despite its manufacturer’s many clever disguises, was always frighteningly close to heroin, there’s a morbid sort of symmetry.”

If you or someone you know has abused OxyContin or any other prescription opioid in the past or is using heroin now, please get them to seek help. Even if they are not yet an addict, there is help for substance abuse and there are safe, effective treatments for chronic pain that do not require opioid treatment.