In reality, however, the ad would seem to make perfect business sense for AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical giant that produced it. Prescriptions for opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet have skyrocketed in the United States over the past 25 years, going from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to 207 million in 2013, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. American doctors handed out enough painkiller prescriptions in 2012 for every single adult in the US to have a bottle of pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The trend has had two consequences. The first and most alarming has been a dramatic rise in the rates of opioid addiction and fatal overdoses. According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2013, and overdoses now kill an average of 44 people every day in the US. The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has more than quadrupled since 1999. Many prescription pill abusers have also turned to heroin, which has its own deadly consequences.
The obvious solution would be for users to stop taking so many opioids — but the drugs are highly addictive and cause intense withdrawals when users try to quit. With that in mind, AstraZeneca came up with an extremely lucrative solution: A pill to solve the problem caused by other pills. In September 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug from the company called Movantik, which prevents opioids from blocking bowel receptors.
'AstraZeneca came up with an extremely lucrative solution: A pill to solve the problem caused by other pills.'
Intriguingly, the ad never mentioned the brand name Movantik — it simply told viewers to check out the website OICIsDifferent.com, which provides general information about opioid-induced constipation. The site has a link for users to "discover a prescription treatment option," which redirects to the Movantik website. This could have something to do with the stigma associated with opioid-induced constipation — 77 percent of the respondents in AstraZeneca's constipation survey last year agreed that it's a condition "people are ashamed or embarrassed to talk about."Related: Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid By Painkiller Drug CompaniesThe other possible explanation is that by not mentioning Movantik specifically, the ad skirted rules that require pharmaceutical companies to list all of the risks and side effects of the medication that's being sold. Half of the Super Bowl ad for Xifaxan, the anti-diarrhea drug, was devoted to explaining all of the unpleasant things that can happen to people who use it.As Movantik's website explains, the drug commonly causes side effects that are very similar to opioid withdrawal, including abdominal pain, nausea, gas, vomiting, headache, excessive sweating, and excessive flatulence. Movantik also causes diarrhea, but, as anybody who watched the Super Bowl commercials is now aware, there's now a pill available to fix that too.Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton
When we need a super bowl ad for people with opioid induced constipation… It might be time to admit we have a problem.
— Aaron E. Carroll (@aaronecarroll)February 8, 2016