The American Opioid Crisis—How Sales and Marketing of Prescription Painkillers Led to a Drug Epidemic

The war on drugs is nothing new in the U.S. The famous “Just Say No” slogan was a creation of a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1980s and popularized by Nancy Reagan. Back then, it was a battle against street drugs.

Today, the most widely used addictive drugs in the country are made by big pharmaceutical companies, prescribed by doctors, and sold at local pharmacies.

Opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl are big business and mean big profits for those who make, market, recommend, and distribute them. The result is one of the greatest man-made health crises in modern American history.

One of the most popular, well-known and potentially dangerous prescription opioids is OxyContin (the brand name of oxycodone) which came on the market in 1996. Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma quickly and enthusiastically promoted their new drug, starting with the recruitment of nurses, physicians, and pharmacists who were trained as speakers for the company’s “national speakers bureau.” They also distributed brochures and videos that minimized addiction risks and urged patients to request opioids.

Pharmaceutical companies aggressively promoted dangerous drugs for profit

According to a paper published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH),

One of the critical foundations of Purdue’s marketing plan for OxyContin was to target the physicians who were the highest prescribers for opioids across the country. The resulting database would help identify physicians with large numbers of chronic-pain patients. Unfortunately, this same database would also identify which physicians were simply the most frequent prescribers of opioids and, in some cases, the least discriminate prescribers.”