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Thursday, April 17, 2014
Bloomberg Data: How Americans Die
Fascinating interactive infographics. Note the dramatic rise in drug deaths, which (surely by coincidence!) correlate with the aggressive marketing of opiate painkillers by the pharmaceutical industry.
Consider these statistics, all for 2010: 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the U.S., according to Wall Street analysts Cowen & Co. Enough painkillers were prescribed to "medicate every American adult around the clock for a month," the federal Centers for Disease Control reported on Nov. 1. It estimated that "nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs." Opioids generated $11 billion in revenues for pharmaceutical companies, says market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Sellers include giants such as Abbott Labs (ABT), Novartis (NVS), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and (in the future) Pfizer (PFE), as well as smaller fry like Endo Pharmaceuticals (ENDP) in Newark, Del., which makes Percocet, and UCB of Belgium, which makes Lortab. Most opioids are made by big generics companies such as Watson Pharmaceuticals (WPI), with companywide sales of $3.6 billion last year, and Covidien (COV) of Ireland, with $10.4 billion.
Two decades ago opioid sales were a small fraction of today's figures, as such drugs were reserved for the worst cancer pain. Why? Because drugs whose chemical composition resemble heroin's are nearly as addictive as heroin itself, and doctors generally wouldn't use such powerful meds on anybody but terminal cancer patients. But that changed years ago, and ever since, addiction to painkillers has become a staple of news headlines. There are periodic lurid crimes, such as the quadruple homicide in a Long Island pharmacy this summer committed by an addict desperate for hydrocodone. More often, there are the celebrities, such as Rush Limbaugh, who admitted on his radio show years ago that he was addicted to painkillers, or actor Heath Ledger, who was found dead with oxycodone in his system, or rapper Eminem, who entered rehab to address his reliance on Vicodin and other pills.