When I was about to have some hip surgery a few years ago, I was told I had to have a prescription to OxyContin in place before I even entered the hospital. They wanted to know that I would have access to it “if I needed it” post surgery. Knowing that I have a high tolerance for pain, I told my physician’s assistant it wouldn’t be necessary, extra strength Tylenol would do. But, a prescription to the opioid was a must, so I complied.
As expected, there was some post surgical pain, but the Tylenol did the trick. However, now I had this very addictive pain killer in my possession that I didn’t need. I waited for one of those “dump your prescriptions” days to discard the bottle. Fortunately, I never had to touch the stuff.
Some aren’t so lucky. The stories like this one “How painkillers are turning young athletes into heroin addicts” are very sad. Perfectly healthy young and promising high school athletes who endure an injury, get prescribed OxyContin, become addicted, and that wholesome boy or girl-next-door becomes a drug addict who will do anything for their next fix.
Ironically, the healthcare industry had a lot to do with it. In this article from Modern Healthcare “The opioid abuse epidemic: How healthcare helped create a crisis” it all started seemingly innocently in 1996. That year Purdue Pharma introduced what was to be a safe drug (OxyContin) that would help people who suffered with chronic pain and “slowly release its narcotic ingredients, making it unlikely to become addictive.” Whoops.
The stats are astounding. The article says that since 1996 “The number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses jumped 242% in less than 20 years, from 7,523 in 1999 to more than 25,000 by 2014, according to the National Institutes of Health. The number of opioid prescriptions also rose significantly in the U.S., from 116 million in 1999 to 207 million in 2013, according to figures from IMS Health.”
No surprise then that Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal criminal charges regarding misinformation surrounding the time release feature of the drug and how it makes it less likely to be abused. Those addicted knew they just had to crush the pill to release the narcotic.
Needless to say, the healthcare industry and the Federal Government are finally making steps to combat this situation, including updating the FDA opioid review policy and encouraging physicians to look at alternative pain therapies.
All good things, but as a PR professional who provides advice to our clients, my first question is “What took you so long???”
Dealing with a crisis is something that brands have to deal with all the time. As we told you in our blog What NOT to do: 3 Crisis Communications Tips We Can Learn From the NFL, we always advise our clients to do the following when dealing with a crisis:
- Have a plan in place. Recognizing what constitutes a crisis is part of it. I think that was one of the problems here — the healthcare industry is so big, no one took ownership of the problem soon enough.
- Come out quick and acknowledge the problem — take ownership. This usually means the CEO or someone in authority. It took 20 years for anything actionable to really happen with the opioid crisis. When the problems were recognized years ago, the government, CDC, FDA or someone should have stepped up to address it.
- When you deal with the media in the bad times they will stick with you in the good times. So many times brands shy away from the media in crises, which only leads to more questions and suspicion.
Unfortunately, many people had to die before the healthcare industry took notice with the Opioid Crisis. Don’t let your brand follow suit, step up and take charge of the difficult situation well before it snowballs into something even worse. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.