Statistics released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse show 2.1 million Americans have become addicted to opioids. How did so many Americans become addicted to these prescription medications? Drug makers pushed doctors to prescribe these drugs for long-term pain management and other basic health problems.

In the past, opioid medications were prescribed for end-of-life care or immediately after surgery. Now they are being prescribed to just about anyone complaining of any pain. So why did the prescription guidelines for these medications change?

In the 1990s, Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson spent millions of dollars convincing doctors to prescribe these medications for chronic pain management. Drug makers convinced the medical community that prescription opioids are “safe” for these purposes. For example, Purdue Pharma claimed only 1 percent of patients prescribed OxyContin would become addicted.

As a result, doctors began to prescribe these drugs to more of their patients. Even for short-term pain problems, doctors write prescriptions that last for more than a month. This is how 2.1 million Americans became addicted to prescription opioids like OxyContin and Opana. As the number of prescriptions rose, so did the number of overdoses and admissions to addiction treatment centers. Experts agree that overprescribing pain medications has caused a very serious public health crisis.

Did Drug Makers Know People Would Become Addicted to Opioids?

Drug makers knew these medications were dangerous, but marketed them as safe to make billions of dollars. In 2007, three Purdue Pharma executives paid $600 million in fines and other payments for marketing OxyContin as “safe” to doctors, regulators and patients. Purdue Pharma knew OxyContin carried a risk of abuse and addiction, yet pushed doctors to prescribe the drug for basic health problems anyways.

Addicts are not the only people harmed by prescription opioid addiction. Family members of addicts are forced to watch their loved ones become slaves to these medications. Many will see loved ones overdose on prescription opioids.

Family members of addicts may have legal options. Discussing these options with a New Jersey defective drug attorney may help hold drug makers accountable for misbranding these dangerous drugs.