OxyContin has been incorrectly blamed for triggering the opioid crisis. The reality is that opioid prescriptions were growing rapidly long before OxyContin was introduced in 1996 — and was never more than 4% of prescriptions for opioids.
Government Statistics: OxyContin Did Not Create Opioid Crisis
U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids: 1979-1996
Estimated Numbers of Persons Who First Misused Prescription Pain Relievers in the U.S.: 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
“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
(Also, in 1989, Lionsgate released “Drugstore Cowboy” illustrating how opioid abuse was growing years before OxyContin was launched.)
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
“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
“The U.S. drug overdose epidemic has been inexorably tracking along an exponential growth curve since at least 1979.”
September 21, 2018
“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
“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
“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
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.”
Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed by U.S. Retail Pharmacies: 1991-2013
Illicit Street Drugs Fueling Opioid Crisis
“The nation no longer has a prescription opioid-driven epidemic.”
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:
- 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
Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription Opioids Alone Peaked in 2011
Deaths from prescription opioids alone peaked in 2011 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.
National Drug Overdose Deaths Involved Prescription Opioids (All Ages): 1999-2017
DEA: Fentanyl Remains the Most Significant Opioid Threat
DEA License Required to Prescribe OxyContin
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.
2007 American Journal of Psychiatry study of 27,816 individuals admitted to rehab centers:
- 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
“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
10 Biggest Prescription Opioid Manufacturers: 2006-2012
|Manufacturer||Number of Pills||Market Share|
|Teva Pharmaceuticals USA||686,276,053||0.9%|
|Kaiser Foundation Hospitals||366,492,050||0.5%|