As the opioid crisis deepens across America, the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the crisis has gained increased attention.
What did the industry actually know about the dangers these drugs posed?
And if they knew of the dangers, what did they do, if anything, to restrain their use?
All great questions.
Now read this excerpt from the New York Times:
“Even as legal penalties accrued, the industry thrived. In 2007, three senior executives of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in connection with a marketing effort that relied on misrepresenting the dangers of OxyContin, and the company agreed to pay a $600 million settlement. But Purdue continued booking more than $1 billion in annual sales on the drug. In 2008, Cephalon likewise entered a criminal plea and agreed to pay $425 million for promoting an opioid called Actiq and two other drugs “off-label” — that is, for unapproved uses. That did not stop Cephalon from being acquired three years later, for $6.8 billion.”
Even as legal penalties accrued, the industry thrived…
Think about that for a moment.
How could that possibly be true? Where was the AMA? Where was the FDA? Where was Congress?
It turns out that many of the makers of the most dangerous class of drugs knew of the dangers – and like a pusher – drove the products into the U.S. market in any and every way they could.
In many cases, the method chosen has gained the attention of law enforcement.
Because many of the drug makers used aggressive kickback schemes to make the sale.
Put simply, doctors (particularly high-volume prescribers) were aggressively courted and got paid handsomely as speakers and consultants in exchange for prescribing opioids in its many forms.
And what were the speaking engagements?
Investigators report they were often a sham. Dinner with a few staff members from an area medical practice. No peer-to-peer discussions. No continuing education. Nothing of substance.
Their targeting of doctors was also suspect.
Records show they placed a high priority on physicians going through divorce, opening a new office, or docs who were procedure heavy… Cash-hungry and more likely to be open to accepting payoffs.
Has America seen this movie before?
Turns out we have. In the 1800s.
According to the New York Times: "The late-19th-century opiate epidemic was nearly identical to the one now spreading across the United States. Back then, doctors began to prescribe a profitable and effective drug — morphine, taken via hypodermic needle — too liberally. After a decade of overprescribing it for minor ailments and even for issues related to mental illness, a colony of American junkies began to emerge..."
What can we learn from this human tragedy?
Many of America’s largest drug manufacturers choose profits over human health and well-being. Many physicians do as well.
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