Thursday, 18 Jan 2018

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Ohio Sues Five Pharma Companies Over Opioid Epidemic

Ohio is suing five major drug manufacturers, accusing them of misrepresenting the risks of prescription opioid painkillers that has resulted in the current opioid epidemic. The Attorney General of Ohio, Mike DeWine, wants to hold big Pharma responsible for a deadly and costly opioid crisis.

Prescription opioids, including narcotics and heroin, have been linded to a record number (>33,000) deaths in the United States in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 5 people (or 2.3 million) in Ohio were prescribed narcotics last year. Which lead to Ohio having one of the nations highest overdose death rates; 4,169 deaths from overdoses last year alone.

In many instances, the victims were killed by heroin cut with fentanyl, smuggled into the country from Mexico or China, thereby rendering the product 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The suit asserts the drug companies have violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, Ohio Corrupt Practices Act, and committing Medicaid fraud and are guilty of disseminating false and misleading statements.

Companies included in the suit were Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, Purdue Pharma, Endo and Cephalon. Janssen has responded by stating "The allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded."

Other municipalities, such as West Virginia and Mississippi, have also file suits against Pharma for their opioid promotional practices.

Like the cigarette makers, the drug makers relied on "sales representatives" and influential doctors and "seemingly neutral and credible professional societies and patient advocacy groups" to tout the supposed benefits of long-term opioid use "even though there is no 'good evidence' to support" those claims, the suit states.

Disclosures: 
The author has received compensation as an advisor or consultant on this subject

Rheumatologists' Comments

Dr Cush, I practiced Rheumatology in Ohio from 1980 to 2012. During a period in the late 1980s and 1990s, I recall very clearly that we Ohio physicians were told we were undertreating pain and allowing patients to suffer needlessly. Pain was to be considered the "fifth vital sign" and we were specifically threatened with malpractice if we didn't treat a patient's pain aggressively. Opioids were definitely part of the therapeutic armamentarium". What did a thoughtful doctor do? He/she prescribed opioids, of course. So I have to say it galls me more than a little that drug manufacturers and care providers are now being criticized from all quarters for doing what was essentially demanded of them. I'm not saying we're without blame, but the history and context of this problem needs to be made clear. This is the kind of thing that can happen when non-physicians (i.e. politicians and government folks) try to dictate medical care, even when their motives are quite good. Wm Treuhaft MD Portland, OR

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