Op-ed: How pharma could globalize the opioid epidemic

The world may be poised for a drug abuse pandemic of global proportions, suggests Robert Gebelhoff in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Mr. Gebelhoff, an assistant editor for the Post's In Theory section, cites multiple studies highlighting the rising trend of prescription opioid drug abuse in a number of middle-income or developed countries.

One such study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, found rates of nonmedical prescription drug abuse among young people in Canada, Australia and Europe comparable to youth prescription drug abuse rates in the United States. With rates of U.S. opioid prescriptions on the decline, opioid manufacturers may turn to largely untapped markets in foreign nations to make up for decreasing sales.

Even more concerning, argues Mr. Gebelhoff, is how the painkillers are being advertised. International opioid marketing campaigns are embedded with messages designed to assuage fears of prescribing addictive medications, similar to ads for OxyContin in the 1990s, according to the op-ed.

"Once pharmaceuticals start targeting other countries and make people feel like opioids are safe, we might see a spike [in opioid abuse]," said Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York City and the author to the World Psychiatry study, according to the Post. "It worked here. Why wouldn't it work elsewhere?"

Mr. Gebelhoff argues the effectiveness of the medication for pain management and the inexperience of many physicians abroad with such medications could result in major drug abuse issues in foreign nations.

"We often forget that for a lot of people, opioids are a solution — however heavy-handed — to chronic pain. For that reason, the lure of strong opioid medication is particularly troubling in places outside the United States where doctors might not have much training on addiction," writes Mr. Gebelhoff.

To read the op-ed in full, click here.

More articles on opioids: 
New bill could make Georgia physicians criminally liable for untracked opioid prescriptions 
Modest use of alcohol and opioids linked to respiratory depression 
West Virginia to distribute 8,000 naloxone kits to curb rising overdose deaths

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