Big Pharma’s Marketing of Painkillers Launches Senate Probe

Accidental overdosing on prescription drugs now kills more people in some states than car accidents.  Now, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies that make highly addictive narcotic painkillers.

The Senate Finance Committee launched the investigation to help ensure consumers are not being misled into thinking that these opioid painkillers are completely safe. 

“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become epidemic, and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” said Senator Max Baucus, who along with Senator Charles E. Grassley has launched the investigation.

Non-Profits Promote Pain Drugs

Pain advocacy organizations have popped up in the past decade, including groups like the American Pain Foundation, which received nearly 90 percent of its funding in 2010 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.  These groups highlight the benefits of opioid painkillers and downplay the risks, which include addiction.

The American Pain Foundation has decided to dissolve amid the allegations that it has illegally marketed painkillers. However, the group has cited the decision to dissolve based on operational and financial problems.

The Senate investigation comes just months after Purdue Pharma (maker of the highly addictive Oxycontin) announced plans to release a painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin.  The painkiller contains pure hydrocodone, which doctors believe will lead to more accidental overdoses.

Three pharmaceutical companies are being investigated in the Senate probe, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.  Five different pain support groups are also being investigated, including the American Pain Foundation, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group, and the Center for Practical Bioethics.

Even the Joint Commission, a nonprofit hospital accreditation group, is being investigated for its partnership with Purdue Pharma.  The group not only brought pain management to hospitals’ attention as a national priority in 2001, but also distributed to those hospitals pain education materials promoting Oxycontin.  The group already pled guilty in 2007 to criminal charges that it understated the risk of addiction with Oxycontin.

Experts Voice Concern about Painkiller Addiction

Narcotic painkillers are currently the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, despite their classification as highly addictive substances akin to illegal drugs.

Sales of painkillers have risen nearly 300 percent since 1999, and in proportion, the number of deaths due to painkiller overdoses has also risen.  Prescription painkillers are now available even to high school students who have held “pill parties” in which they bring different medications they find around their homes, including painkillers, and take pills without knowing what those pills are.

Even newborns are being born addicted to painkillers.  The Journal of the American Medical Association recently released a report finding that newborns are being born with drug withdrawal at a rate five times that of levels in 2000.

Pain awareness groups have “helped usher in an epidemic that’s killed 100,000 people by promoting aggressive use of opioids.  What makes this especially disturbing is that despite overwhelming evidence that their effort created a public health crisis, they’re continuing to minimize the risk of addiction,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

Since the 1990s, big pharma has marketed these painkillers to more groups of people.  Before, the pills were largely used to help cancer patients, but companies like Purdue Pharma have sold doctors and consumers on broader uses for the pills, including arthritis and back pain.  Senators Baucus and Grassley noted “There is growing evidence pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioids may be responsible, at least in part, for this evidence by promoting misleading information.”

While these painkillers do have their uses in some patients, the overprescribing of these pills is clearly out of control.  Oftentimes, doctors prescribe the pills without fully explaining to the patient the risk of addiction and overdose.  Critics have said that many doctors need to be retrained on when it’s appropriate to prescribe narcotic painkillers.

I will continue to post updates about this and other pill mill news.  For the latest information on prescription painkillers and pill mills, subscribe to my blog.


Primary Care Doctors Prescribing More Anti-Depressants

Anti-depressants are the second most-prescribed drug in the United States, and are increasingly being prescribed by primary care doctors rather than psychiatrists.

Depression Pictures, Images and Photos

Over the past few years, anti-depressants have become blockbuster drugs and have skyrocketed to become the second most-prescribed drug, after cholesterol-lowering drugs.  And more primary care doctors, or other doctors not trained in psychiatry, are prescribing these powerful and potentially dangerous drugs.

Nearly three-quarters of all prescriptions for anti-depressants are written without a specific diagnosis.  This has medical experts worried that anti-depressants are being prescribed too often to patients who may not need them.
According to IMS Health, an estimated total of 254 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants last year alone, up from 231 million in 2006.  Each year, Americans spend $10 billion on anti-depressants. Additionally, seven percent of all visits to a primary care doctor end up with a prescription being written for anti-depressants.
Medical experts worry that this alarming new trend may be due to the direct to consumer advertising that so many pharmaceutical companies use to sell their drugs.  Advertisements that ask people whether they are sad or are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning are not just meant to get those who are depressed to ask their doctors for these powerful drugs, but are meant to make the general population question whether they are depressed and whether anti-depressants could make their lives better.
Studies show that many people on anti-depressants take them for minor complaints like nervousness, sleep problems, everyday stress, and an inability to quit smoking.  According to Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, the lead author of the most recent anti-depressant study published in Health Affairs and a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, “[a]lthough these drugs do not have many acute side effects, there may be more long-term adverse effects,” including withdrawal, weight gain, and diabetes.
Dr. William Narrow of the American Psychiatric Association says that most people with mild depression may do better with psychotherapy than with anti-depressants.  Dr. Mojtabai agrees, saying that there is scant evidence that anti-depressants offer relief from vague complaints like stress, relationship problems, or low self-esteem.
If your doctor is recommending you go on an anti-depressant, ask yourself “Do I fit the criteria” and “Will the medication be more effective than placebo?” before trying to find a "cure" in a pill.

Government robbed of millions for fraudulent prescriptions

Government bilked out of millions over fake prescriptions for dangerous addictive drugs. Oversight is lax at best. U.S. Senator calls for reform.

We, the taxpayers pay an estimated $60 BILLION dollars every year to criminals engaged in health care fraud. A new study reveals that the government (that’s us the hard working taxpayer) is getting robbed blind over fraudulent prescriptions for addictive drugs.

U.S. Senator Tom Carper , Democrat from Delaware called for an investigation. The results  and the report are astonishing.  The gist of it is that the government has not been checking to make sure the provider numbers on the prescriptions are valid or accurate. Furthermore, pharmacies have been pushing through prescriptions that lacked the requisite valid prescriber number. Therefore, criminals have been able to bilk us out of millions over fake prescriptions.

I was alarmed to read a quote from a government  spokesman who essentially said the government operated on blind trust. According to Peter Ashkenaz a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General (OIG),

"In the past the plan[medicare and medicaid] operated with the belief that everybody is honest. When we identify ways of finding who the bad actors are, then we take the steps to tighten it up.”

As it turns out, the study revealed that the government cannot even identify who the top prescribers of addictive drugs are. Not only would this help root out medicare and medicaid fraud, but it could also identify pill mills and keep addictive dangerous drugs off the streets.

 “Just as the disturbing as the potential misuse of taxpayer dollars is the threat that these vulnerabilities pose to American communities struggling with illegal drug use,” Senator Carper.

I totally agree with Senator Carper. You see, it’s not just the millions of dollars that are stolen from taxpayers, but think of where these drugs are going? We know there is a high demand and high street value for prescription drugs like oxycontin, xanax, hydrocodone, ritalin, soma, methadone, etc. 

Shutting down pill mills and getting dangerous prescription drugs off the streets saves lives.