Super Bowl drug ad spurs big backlash

opiod constipation spot
A Super Bowl commercial aimed at people suffering from opioid-induced constipation has incited public outrage.

A Super Bowl ad for opioid-induced constipation has sparked a major backlash.

The ad, which reached more than 111 million viewers, touted a drug to help opioid users suffering from irregularity. But many medical and political leaders saw it as an attempt to capitalize on the opioid epidemic that's plaguing the country.

"It's very disturbing to see an ad like that," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's normalizing the chronic use of opioids, which aren't demonstrated to be safe over the long term."

"Opioids block pain signals but can also block activity in the bowel," said the ad, which was presented by AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo. Together, they sell the drug Movantik, which treats opioid-induced constipation. Neither company produces opioids.

The abuse of opioids, which include heroin and powerful prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine, has skyrocketed in the U.S. Opioid pain meds were prescribed 259 million times in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That's enough to give everyone in America their own bottle of pills.

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On Monday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough weighed in, tweeting: "Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment."

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin tweeted on Tuesday that big pharma has "no shame," and accused drug companies of trying to "exploit a crisis for profit."

Shumlin was so outraged he also put out a statement on Thursday, demanding that the commercial be pulled from the air and questioning how the companies could justify spending $10 million on the 1-minute spot.

Vermont has had exceptionally high levels of opioid addiction in recent years, and Shumlin has been very vocal about fighting what has become an epidemic.

Nationwide, there were over 16,000 deaths tied to opioid pain meds in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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Kolodny says these opioid-related overdoses are more prevalent among older users who are prescribed the drug as a pain treatment and have more ready access to it.

AstraZeneca (AZN) and Daiichi Sankyo said in a statement that they aired the ad to raise awareness.

"The objective of the advertisement was to reach people with chronic pain taking a prescribed opioid treatment for long-term pain management and to encourage those who may be suffering from OIC to discuss their symptoms with their physician," the statement said.

Since the commercial aired on Sunday, there have been nearly 40,000 visits to the campaign's website, and the ad has been streamed on YouTube more than 2 million times.

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