Government Statistics: OxyContin Did Not Create Opioid Crisis

U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids: 1979-1996[1]

US Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids: 1979-1996

Estimated Numbers of Persons Who First Misused Prescription Pain Relievers in the U.S.: 1965–1996[2]

Estimated Numbers of Persons Who First Misused Prescription Pain Relievers in the US: 1965–1996

“The roots of the problem go back a long way. Since the 1980s, America’s drug-overdose death rates have increased at the terrifyingly steady clip of 7.6% per year.”

The Economist, July 2021[22]

“To see the opioid crisis as new and unprecedented in this way required a radical act of forgetting. During the last 150 years, small town and suburban white communities have suffered repeated crises of addiction to pharmaceuticals.”

David Herzberg, Author of “White Market Drugs” & Associate Professor of History at The University at Buffalo, October 2020[3]

(Also, in 1989, Lionsgate released “Drugstore Cowboy” illustrating how opioid abuse was growing years before OxyContin was launched.)[24]

Experts: OxyContin Did Not Create Opioid Crisis

“This is merely the newest part of a prescription opioid diversion and abuse problem that has been rising since the mid-1980s… [T]he incidence of new prescription opioid abuse and the number of new prescription opioid abusers has been rising steadily since well before the introduction of OxyContin.

Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director, HHS-SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, February 12, 2002[4]

“The U.S. drug overdose epidemic has been inexorably tracking along an exponential growth curve since at least 1979.”

September 21, 2018[6]

“Holding Purdue solely responsible for the entire opioid epidemic in North Dakota is difficult to comprehend, especially given Purdue’s small share of the overall market for lawful opioids. It is also difficult to comprehend given the large market for unlawful opioids.”

James S. Hill, District Judge for South Central Judicial District of North Dakota, May 10, 2019[8]

“Purdue is just one character on a crowded stage. During the height of the crisis, from 2006-2012, Purdue’s sales represented only 3 percent of the market.”

July 20, 2019[5]

“I was shocked; I couldn’t believe it, Mallinckrodt was the biggest, and then there was Actavis… Everyone had been talking about Purdue, but they weren’t even close.”

Barbara Boockholdt, Former Chief of Regulatory Section for DEA’s Diversion Control,
July 27, 2019[7]

“Research shows the overdose rate has been climbing exponentially since at least the late 1970s, long before the creation of the potent prescription opioid OxyContin in 1996, and continues to climb.”

December 23, 2020[9]

Opioid Prescriptions Were Rising Before OxyContin Was Introduced in 1996

“Between 1979 and 1985… consumption of oxycodone and hydromorphone rose 40 percent and 67 percent, respectively, according to DEA figures.”

January 1997[10]

Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed by U.S. Retail Pharmacies: 1991-2013[11]

Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed by US Retail Pharmacies: 1991-2013

Illicit Street Drugs Fueling Opioid Crisis

“The nation no longer has a prescription opioid-driven epidemic.”

June 2020[23]

CDC[12] & DEA[13] data show:

Overdose deaths since 2010 have been increasing because of illegal opioids (heroin and illicit fentanyl) smuggled into the U.S. from China and Mexico.

Deaths from fentanyl and other street drugs increased more than 1263% from 2011 to 2019. In 2011 there were 2,666 deaths and in 2019 that number rose to 36,359.

Prescription opioids were involved in less than a quarter of opioid deaths in 2019. Most recent data shows[12]:

  • Illicit fentanyl and other street drugs involved in 72.9% (up from 14% in 2010).
  • Heroin involved in 28.1%. 
  • Rx opioids involved in 23.8% (half of which also involved heroin or illicit fentanyl).

U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids: 1999–2019[12]

US Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids: 1999–2019

Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription Opioids Alone Peaked in 2011

Deaths from prescription opioids alone peaked in 2011[14] and were responsible for approximately 6% of opioid overdose deaths in 2019 (and no more than 4% of all drug-related deaths), according to the CDC.[15]

National Drug Overdose Deaths Involved Prescription Opioids (All Ages): 1999-2017[14]

National Drug Overdose Deaths Involved Prescription Opioids (All Ages): 1999-2017

DEA: Fentanyl Remains the Most Significant Opioid Threat[16]

Opioid Epidemic: DEA Intelligence Brief, May 2018

DEA License Required to Prescribe OxyContin

The supply of prescription opioids is set annually by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The supply of prescription opioids is set annually by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Every opioid prescription is written by a DEA-registered physician. Purdue is not involved in this decision. The prescribing doctors are all aware that prescription opioids have a potential for addiction. Under the learned intermediary doctrine, that severs the chain of causation.

Studies show the most common source for people who misuse opioids is to obtain them from friends/relatives – not doctors.[17][18]

2007 American Journal of Psychiatry study of 27,816 individuals admitted to rehab centers[19]:

  • 5% reported any prior use of OxyContin. Of those 5%:
    • 78% had never been prescribed OxyContin for any medical reason.
    • Meaning just 1% of the total group were admitted to rehab after being prescribed OxyContin.

“If Not Purdue, Who Drove the Epidemic?” Asks The Washington Post

It is one of the biggest stories of our time and it was hiding in plain sight: How did the opioid epidemic overtake America?

The prevailing narrative offered a too-easy scapegoat… But the epidemic took off after Purdue was brought to heel and fined $600 million. If not Purdue, who drove the epidemic? And why didn’t anyone stop them?

May 4, 2020[20]

Purdue Pharma, which the plaintiffs allege sparked the epidemic in the 1990s with its introduction of OxyContin, its version of oxycodone, was ranked fourth among manufacturers with about 3 percent of the market.”

JULY 16, 2019[21]

10 Biggest Prescription Opioid Manufacturers: 2006-2012[21]

ManufacturerNumber of PillsMarket Share
Actavis Pharma26,476,395,83034.6%
Par Pharmaceutical11,996,780,87115.7%
Purdue Pharma2,492,496,3193.3%
Amneal Pharmaceuticals2,257,973,1212.9%
Teva Pharmaceuticals USA686,276,0530.9%
KVK Tech580,825,2070.8%
West-Ward Pharmaceuticals384,200,9880.5%
Kaiser Foundation Hospitals366,492,0500.5%
Endo Pharmaceuticals297,306,3240.4%