New Hampshire’s footprint is only 9,350 square miles, yet this tiny state saw nearly 500 overdose deaths within its boundaries in 2016 alone. This staggering number has grown exponentially over the last decade. It’s nearly ten times more than the figure from 2000. The state of drug use in New Hampshire is such that the DEO Deputy Administrator called it “ground zero” of the opioid epidemic.
How did things get this bad? According to the CDC, most (four out of five) heroin users start with prescription opioids. Traced back even further, we find an origin source in the companies who market these drugs to doctors. Sold to physicians as “safe and effective” painkillers, opioid prescriptions fuel the rising addiction numbers and result in more deaths.
Deputy Attorney General Rice explains, “To defeat the epidemic, we must stop creating new users, and part of that is making sure these highly addictive and dangerous drugs are marketed truthfully and without deception and in such a way as not to minimize addiction risks or overstate benefits to patients.”
Attorney General Says No More, Big Pharma
In 2015, Attorney General Joseph A. Foster took a step in this direction by launching an investigation into several pharmaceutical companies. The investigation began after reviewers detected suspicious practices exaggerating the benefits of medications. This fraudulent marketing could have “misled doctors and patients and prevented them from making informed decisions about whether, when, and how to use these powerful drugs, and might have caused the State to pay for potentially dangerous and unnecessary opioid prescriptions.”
After a two-year investigation, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and other opioid products, has violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, Medicaid Fraud Act and other state laws. The civil lawsuit filed against the company consists of a 100-page complaint that includes allegations of:
- Downplaying the serious risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and other products
- Overstating the efficacy of chronic opioid therapy
- Claiming its product is tamper resistant and nearly impossible to abuse (when its tamper resistant properties are easily circumvented)
- Failing to report instances of suspicious dispensing of its products (which is required by law)
Addicting Sales Calls
As officials looked into Purdue’s sales practices, they discovered disturbing truths about the company’s tactics. These methods are the source of the numerous violations. While meeting with potential prescribers, salespeople provided a meal, coffee or other benefits and told them the following messages:
- Opioids are effective in helping patients long-term, and can be taken safely long-term, even at increasingly higher doses, without an unmanageable risk of addiction, abuse or overdose.
- OxyContin is nearly impossible to abuse.
The truth is:
- There is no credible scientific evidence that opioids are safe or effective for chronic pain.
- OxyContin can be easily manipulated for abuse.
Purdue also indicated to prescribers that illicit drug use could reflect undertreated pain rather than opioid dependence. Following this line of thinking, doctors would respond to addicted patients by prescribing more opioids!
Lastly, Purdue knew that OxyContin lasts 10 hours or less for most patients, yet emphasized 12-hour dosing. In an effort to sell a 12-hour pill, they encouraged prescribers to increase the dosage of OxyContin rather than the frequency. This causes greater risks to patients, but it seems Purdue was on a mission to increase sales, not provide better care.
Filed in early August, the State’s complaint is currently pending in the Merrimack County Superior Court.
Additional Reading: Dealers, Doctors, Big Pharma – Who Can You Blame?
Image Source: iStock