A searing new report claims opioid drugmakers spent 8 times as much as the NRA on lobbying

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A searing new report from the Associated Press claims that the makers of opioid painkillers, the dangerous drugs at the center of the tragic overdose crisis, outspent the US gun lobby on lobbying and campaign contributions by 8:1.

The report looked at the period from 2006 to 2015, when deaths from the drugs began to skyrocket. Here are some of its most striking findings:

  • Opioid drugmakers including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, spent more than $880 million, or roughly $98 million per year, on lobbying and campaign contributions in support of the drugs.
  • Drugmakers and allied advocacy groups employed a yearly average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative centers.
  • In 2015 alone, 227 million opioid prescriptions were given out in the US, or "enough to hand a bottle of pills to nine out of every 10 American adults."
  • Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, made $2.4 billion from opioid sales last year alone.

Worse still, the same drug companies now stand to make more money off of new iterations of the pills which they're marketing as safer and tougher to abuse but which may not actually work to stem the tide of overdose deaths, the report states.

Related: What opioids do to your health

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Opioid painkillers capitalize on our body's natural pain-relief system. We all have a series of naturally produced keys ("ligands") and keyholes ("receptors") that fit together to switch on our brain's natural reward system — it's the reason we feel good when we eat a good meal or have sex, for example. But opioids mimic the natural keys in our brain — yes, we all have natural opioids! When they click in, we can feel an overwhelming sense of euphoria.

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Opioid painkillers can have effects similar to heroin and morphine, especially when taken in ways other than prescribed by a doctor.

When prescription painkillers act on our brain's pleasure and reward centers, they can make us feel good. More importantly, though, they can work to reinforce behavior, which in some people can trigger a repeated desire to use.

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You may also feel sleepy.

Opioids act on multiple brain regions, but when they go to work in the locus ceruleus, a brain region involved in alertness, they can make us sleepy. Why? The drugs essentially put the brakes on the production of a chemical called norepinephrine, which plays a role in arousal.

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Your skin may feel flushed and warm.

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You'll begin to feel their effects 10 to 90 minutes after use, depending on whether they're taken as directed or used in more dangerous ways.

Some drugmakers design versions of their medications to deter abuse. Extended-release forms of oxycodone, for example, are designed to release slowly when taken as directed. But crushing, snorting, or injecting the drugs can hasten their effects.

It can also be deadly. Between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from overdoses involving opioid painkillers and heroin, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The most commonly prescribed painkillers were involved in more overdose deaths than any other type of the drug.

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Your breathing will slow as well.

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Depending on the method used, the effect can last anywhere from four to 12 hours.

For severe pain, doctors typically prescribe opioid painkillers like morphine for a period of four to 12 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because of their risks, it's important to take prescription painkillers only according to your physician's specific instructions.

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Overdosing can stop breathing and cause brain damage, coma, or even death.

2014 report from the American Academy of Neurology estimates that more than 100,000 Americans have died from prescribed opioids since the late 1990s. Those at highest risk include people between 35 and 54, the report found, and deaths for this age group have exceeded deaths from firearms and car crashes.

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Combining them with alcohol or other drugs — even when taken according to the directions — can be especially deadly.

Since they slow breathing, combining opioid painkillers with other drugs with similar effects can drastically raise the chances of accidental overdose and death.

Yet they're often prescribed together anyway, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Unfortunately, too many patients are still co-prescribed opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines [tranquilizers]," the institute said. In 2011, 31% of prescription opioid-related overdose deaths involved these drugs.

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Abusing opioid painkillers has been linked with abusing similar drugs, like heroin.

A CDC report found that people who'd abused opioid painkillers were 40 times as likely to abuse heroin compared with people who'd never abused them. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that close to half of young people surveyed in three recent studies who'd injected heroin said they'd abused prescription painkillers before they started using heroin.

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You may also develop a tolerance for the drugs so that you need more to get the same effect over time.

Tolerance to opioid painkillers happens when the brain cells with opioid receptors — the keyholes where the opioids fit — become less responsive to the opioid stimulation over time. Scientists think that this may play a powerful role in addiction.

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Suddenly stopping the drugs can result in withdrawal symptoms like shakiness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Taking prescription painkillers for an extended period increases the likelihood that your brain will adapt to them by making less of its own natural opioids. So when you stop taking the drugs, you can feel pretty miserable. For most people, this is uncomfortable but temporary.

But in people who are vulnerable to addiction, it can be dangerous because it can spurn repeated use.

"From a clinical standpoint, opioid withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving opioid dependence and addictive behaviors," Yale psychiatrists Thomas Kosten and Tony George write in a 2002 paper in the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

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According to the report, opioid drugmakers are behind state-based lobbying efforts aimed at peddling so-called "abuse-deterrent" versions of the drugs which may carry the same risks of addiction but "ultimately are more lucrative [than traditional opioids], since they're protected by patent and do not yet have generic competitors."

The opioid epidemic has already claimed more than 165,000 American lives. Deaths from the drugs — which dozens of studies have shown can be addictive since they act on the brain in a manner almost identical to heroin — have continued to skyrocket. In 2013, more Americans died from overdosing on opioid painkillers than from heroin or cocaine combined.

painkiller heroin marijuana overdose death chart 2014stockmonkeys.com

In response to the allegations made by the AP, Purdue shared this statement with Business Insider: "We support policies that align with the FDA and The White House's view that opioids with abuse-deterrent properties are a public health priority."

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