Is Opioid Addiction a New Marketing Bonanza for Pharmas? 

If you saw this year’s Super Bowl game, you might have seen an unusual ad for a health problem you’ve never heard of: OIC—opioid-induced constipation. Maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the need for painkillers so you’ve never experienced this problem. Any pain patient or heroin addict knows all about it. Any drug derived from the opium poppy or a synthetic form of this drug (an opioid) causes constipation. In one survey of opioid users, 81% of patients reported constipation as a side effect.

Pharmaceutical companies have not missed the marketing opportunity offered by the number of people using these drugs for either temporary or chronic pain. The usual constipation remedies like senna or magnesium products may not resolve the situation. And so, in the last few years, pharmaceutical companies have been developing new remedies for this more-stubborn form of chemically-induced constipation.

Now we have:

Movantik from AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo

Moventig from AstraZeneca

Relistor from Salix

Amitiza from Sucampo AG

These pharmaceutical companies are gearing up to capitalize on a very large customer base. As evidence: the estimated $5 million spent on the Super Bowl ad educating the public on opioid-induced constipation. No drugs were mentioned in the ad but the ad was “brought to you by” Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca. 

A Google search right now on “opioid-induced constipation” brings more than 300,000 results, revealing the extensive preparations of this industry to announce this health condition to the public.

Four Classes of Opioid Users are Potential Customers

Pharmaceutical companies have four different sets of possible customers for these recently-developed or new drugs:

1. People with chronic pain who rely on painkillers to maintain an acceptable quality of life.

2. People abusing and/or addicted to pain medications.

3. People using and/or addicted to illicit opiates or opioids which would include opium, heroin and the new addition to this list: illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, an extremely strong painkiller. For many years, fentanyl was used in hospitals where the dosage could be strictly controlled. But now, unscrupulous chemists are manufacturing this deadly drug in their labs and distributing it on the street.

4. People being treated for addiction with medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as methadone, buprenorphine or the buprenorphine-containing formula Suboxone and others. All these drugs are synthetic opioids, engineered to reduce their usual euphoric effects. All these drugs cause constipation in most users.

Currently, the federal government is proposing measures that will make MAT available to more people. That means that people who are being treated with MAT or who are addicted to painkillers or street opioids will need a constipation remedy for as long as these drugs are taken. However, if a person completes a program like Narconon where the goal is to help a person learn to enjoy life fully drug-free, one’s digestion and elimination can return to normal. No OIC, no constipation medications needed.

Response from Officials on This Ad’s Problems

Soon after this ad aired, a top White House official had a response. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough tweeted: “Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment.”

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management stated, “You have these ads coming out normalizing long-term use of opioids for a chronic pain problem. There’s no question that their ads make this very dangerous and questionable medical practice seem normal.”

There is Another Choice

When people go to rehab and then fail afterwards, they may believe that sobriety is unattainable. Families may give up on a loved one being able to stay sober after rehab. Or a family may despair of even getting their loved one into treatment of any kind, MAT or otherwise. For these people, MAT may seem like the only solution.

At Narconon centers around the world, we know that it’s possible to get off all drugs of abuse and return to sobriety, brightness and alertness again. We know a person can recover his own personality and integrity. Our program is designed to bring out such improvements and more.

Anyone who feels restricted to an endless program of MAT or who has tried to break free from opiates and has failed—or if this is your first time trying—should call Narconon today to learn why this rehab program is different. Be Drug Free. For Good.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.