Liability Trial of Opioid Drug Maker Could Set Precedents

By Jackie Fortier, Kaiser Health News

All eyes will be on Oklahoma this week when the first case in a flood of litigation against opioid drug manufacturers begins. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s suit alleges Johnson & Johnson, the nation’s largest drugmaker, helped ignite a public health crisis that has killed thousands of state residents.

With just two days to go before the trial, one of the remaining defendants, Teva Pharmaceutical, announced an $85 million settlement with the state on Sunday. The money will be used for litigation costs and an undisclosed amount will be allocated “to abate the opioid crisis in Oklahoma,” according to a press release from Hunter’s office.

In its own statement, Teva said the settlement does not establish any wrongdoing on the part of the company, adding Teva “has not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.”

That leaves Johnson & Johnson as the sole defendant.

Court filings accuse the company of overstating the benefits of opioids and understating their risks in marketing campaigns that duped doctors into prescribing the drugs for ailments not approved by regulators.

The bench trial — with a judge and no jury — is poised to be the first of its kind to play out in court.

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Nora Freeman Engstrom, a professor at Stanford Law school, said lawyers in the other cases and the general public are eager to see what proof Hunter’s office offers the court.

“We’ll all be seeing what evidence is available, what evidence isn’t available and just how convincing that evidence is,” she said.

Most states and more than 1,600 local and tribal governments are suing drugmakers and distributors. They are trying to recoup billions of dollars spent on addressing the fallout tied to opioid addiction.

Initially, Hunter’s lawsuit included Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. In March, Purdue Pharma settled with the state for $270 million. Soon after, Hunter dropped all but one of the civil claims, including fraud, against the remaining defendants. Teva settled for $85 million in May, leaving Johnson & Johnson as the only opioid manufacturer willing to go to trial with the state.

But he still thinks the case is strong.

“We have looked at literally millions of documents, taken hundreds of depositions, and we are even more convinced that these companies are the proximate cause for the epidemic in our state and in our country,” Hunter said.

The companies involved have a broad concern about what their liability might be, said University of Kentucky law professor Richard Ausness.

“This case will set a precedent,” he said. “If Oklahoma loses, of course they’ll appeal if they lose, but the defendants may have to reconsider their strategy.”

With hundreds of similar cases pending — especially a mammoth case pending in Ohio — Oklahoma’s strategy will be closely watched.

“And of course lurking in the background is the multi-state litigation in Cleveland, where there will ultimately be a settlement in all likelihood, but the size of the settlement and the terms of the settlement may be influenced by Oklahoma,” Ausness said.

Rx Opioids ‘Useful Products’

The legal case is complicated. Unlike tobacco, where states won a landmark settlement, Ausness pointed out that opioids serve a medical purpose.

“There’s nothing wrong with producing opioids. It’s regulated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the sale is overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration, so there’s a great deal of regulation in the production and distribution and sale of opioid products,” Ausness said. “They are useful products, so this is not a situation where the product is defective in some way.”

It’s an argument that has found some traction in court. Recently, a North Dakota judge dismissed all of that state’s claims against Purdue, a big court win for the company. In a written ruling that the state says it will appeal, Judge James Hill questioned the idea of blaming a company that makes a legal product for opioid-related deaths.

“Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products,” the judge wrote, “regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give.”

Now the Oklahoma case rests entirely on a claim of public nuisance, which refers to actions that harm members of the public, including injury to public health.

“It’s sexy you know, ‘public nuisance’ makes it sound like the defendants are really bad,” Ausness said.

If the state’s claim prevails, Big Pharma could be forced to spend billions of dollars in Oklahoma helping ease the epidemic. “It doesn’t diminish the amount of damages we believe we’ll be able to justify to the judge,” Hunter said, estimating a final payout could run into the “billions of dollars.”

Hunter’s decision to go it alone and not join with a larger consolidated case could mean a quicker resolution for the state, Ausness said.

“Particularly when we’re talking about [attorneys general], who are politicians, who want to be able to tell the people, ‘Gee this is what I’ve done for you.’ They are not interested in waiting two or three years [for a settlement], they want it now,” he said. “Of course, the risk of that is you may lose.”

Oklahoma has the second-highest uninsured rate in the nation and little money for public health. Of the $270 million Purdue settlement, $200 million is earmarked for an addiction research and treatment center in Tulsa, though no details have been released. An undisclosed amount of the $85 million Teva settlement will also go to abating the crisis.

This story is part of a partnership that includes StateImpact Oklahoma, NPR and Kaiser Health News. KHN is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

How Sackler Family Built an OxyContin Fortune

By Christine Willmsen and Martha Bebinger, WBUR

The first nine months of 2013 started off as a banner year for the Sackler family, owners of the pharmaceutical company that produces OxyContin, the addictive opioid pain medication. Purdue Pharma paid the family $400 million from its profits during that time, claims a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general.

However, when profits dropped in the fourth quarter, the family allegedly supported the company’s intense push to increase sales representatives’ visits to doctors and other prescribers.

Purdue had hired a consulting firm to help reps target “high-prescribing” doctors, including several in Massachusetts. One physician in a town south of Boston wrote an additional 167 prescriptions for OxyContin after sales representatives increased their visits, according to the latest version of the lawsuit filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston.

The lawsuit claims Purdue paid members of the Sackler family more than $4 billion between 2008 and 2016. Eight members of the family who served on the board or as executives as well as several directors and officers with Purdue are named in the lawsuit.

This is the first lawsuit among hundreds of others that were previously filed across the country to charge the Sacklers with personally profiting from the harm and death of people taking the company’s opioids.

WBUR along with several other media sued Purdue Pharma to force the release of previously redacted information that was filed in the Massachusetts Superior Court case. When a judge ordered the records to be released with few, if any, redactions, Purdue filed two appeals and lost.

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The complaint filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says that former Purdue Pharma CEO Richard Sackler allegedly suggested the family sell the company or, if they weren’t able to find a buyer, to milk the drugmaker’s profits and “distribute more free cash flow” to themselves.

That was in 2008, one year after Purdue pleaded guilty to a felony and agreed to stop misrepresenting the addictive potential of its highly profitable painkiller, OxyContin.

At a board meeting in June 2008, the complaint says, the Sacklers voted to pay themselves $250 million. Another payment in September totaled $199 million.

The company continued to receive complaints about OxyContin similar to those that led to the 2007 guilty plea, according to unredacted documents filed in the case.

While the company settled lawsuits in 2009 totaling $2.7 million brought by family members of those who had been harmed by OxyContin throughout the country, the company amped up its marketing of the drug to physicians by spending $121.6 million on sales reps for the coming year. The Sacklers paid themselves $335 million that year.

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The lawsuit claims Sackler family members directed efforts to boost sales. An attorney for the family and other board directors is challenging the authority to make that claim in Massachusetts. A motion on jurisdiction in the case hasn’t been heard. That attorney hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the most recent allegations.

Purdue Pharma, in a statement, said the complaint filed by Healey is “part of a continuing effort to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

Purdue went on to charge Healey with attempting to “vilify” Purdue in a complaint “riddled with demonstrably inaccurate allegations.” Purdue said it has more than 65 initiatives aimed at reducing the misuse of prescription opioids. The company says Healey fails to acknowledge that most opioid overdose deaths are currently the result of fentanyl.

Purdue fought the release of many sections of the 274-page complaint. Attorneys for the company said at a hearing on Jan. 25 that they had agreed to release much more information in Massachusetts than has been cleared by a judge overseeing hundreds of cases consolidated in Ohio. Purdue filed both state and federal appeals this week to block release of the compensation figures and other information about Purdue’s plan to expand into drugs to treat opioid addiction.

The attorney general’s complaint says that in a ploy to distance themselves from the emerging statistics and studies that showed OxyContin’s addictive characteristics, the Sacklers approved public marketing plans that labeled people hurt by opioids as “junkies” and “criminals.”

Richard Sackler allegedly wrote that Purdue should “hammer” them in every way possible.

Addiction Treatment ‘Attractive Market’

While Purdue Pharma publicly denied its opioids were addictive, internally company officials were acknowledging it and devising a plan to profit off them even more, the complaint states.

Kathe Sackler, a board member, pitched “Project Tango,” a secret plan to grow Purdue beyond providing painkillers by also providing a drug, Suboxone, to treat those addicted.

“Addictive opioids and opioid addiction are ‘naturally linked,'” she allegedly wrote in September 2014.

According to the lawsuit, Purdue staff wrote: “It is an attractive market. Large unmet need for vulnerable, underserved and stigmatized patient population suffering from substance abuse, dependence and addiction.”

They predicted that 40-60 percent of the patients buying Suboxone for the first time would relapse and have to take it again, which meant more revenue.

Purdue never went through with it, but Attorney General Healey contends this and other internal documents show the family’s greed and disregard for the welfare of patients.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Lessons from 'American Overdose' on the Opioid Crisis

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The book “American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts” by Chris McGreal takes a hard look at the opioid crisis. The book focuses on the legal and political side of the crisis, along with a history of Purdue Pharma and OxyContin, and a detailed description of pill mills and rogue pharmacies in Appalachia.

“It is a tragedy forged by the capture of medical policy by corporations and the failure of institutions in their duty to protect Americans,” is how McGreal describes the genesis and evolution of the crisis.

The book highlights the massive collusion and corruption in communities in West Virginia and Kentucky, leading to the Williamson Wellness Center and other pill mills that were protected by law enforcement, ignored by state and federal regulators, and encouraged or exploited by drug manufacturers and distributors.

McGreal also traces the history of Purdue and the Sackler family, and how their efforts to improve pain management led to the creation of the blockbuster drug OxyContin. He explains how Purdue’s marketing claims “proved to be demonstrably false, including an assertion that addiction is rare when opioids are taken under a doctor’s care.”

However, McGreal does not depict Purdue as a lone bad actor. Instead, federal and state dysfunction and disinterest contributed to the crisis. “The FDA wasn’t the only one to drop the ball. A clutch of federal agencies with long names have responsibility for combating drug addiction and overdose,” he wrote. And they all failed.

The failure was both systemic and systematic. As the crisis unfolded, local law enforcement had to contend with “indifference and what they regarded as the political cowardice of the system.” Perhaps more important than the cowardice and corruption was greed, not just corporate greed but also local greed for the money brought in by pill mills: “The businesses did good. You had pharmacies that were doing really good.”

The problem soon extended far beyond Appalachia. Among the earliest and biggest pill mills was American Pain, set up in 2007 near Fort Lauderdale, Florida by twin brothers Chris and Jeff George – neither of whom had medical training.

Opioid addiction also rose across the nation because of cultural factors, writes McGreal. In Utah, “the dominance of the conservative Church of Latter-day Saints appeared to be a cause of addiction, not a deterrent” because of the church’s “toxic perfectionism.”

Government agencies and officials were encouraged to ignore it all. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s office wasn’t interested in pursuing pill mills and the “political leadership within Florida wasn’t much better.”

Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder, and James Comey all helped Purdue, according to McGreal, by delaying investigations of the company as addiction and overdose rates rose rapidly in the 2000’s.

The CDC’s involvement is described as delayed and dysfunctional. "Until 1998 the United States used a classification system lumping heroin, morphine, and prescription opiate deaths together," McGreal points out. Even when CDC researcher Len Paulozzi documented rising trends in overdose deaths, no one paid serious attention until Thomas Frieden, MD, became director. Even then, serious flaws remain in how the CDC reports on overdose deaths.  

Anti-opioid activists Andrew Kolodny, MD, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), and PROP President Jane Ballantyne, MD, sounded warnings about opioids, but offered little in the way of solutions outside of cutting off prescriptions. Many of their warnings proved to be unfounded, in particular with the opioid analgesic Zohydro. The drug was approved by the FDA amid dire warnings of a major spike in addiction and overdoses, but “there was no great surge of overdoses because of Zohydro.”

“FDA officials don’t like Kolodny. They characterize him as unreasonable and difficult. One described him as a ‘complex character’,” McGreal writes.

Similarly, the 2016 CDC opioid prescribing guideline is described as too late to be useful. McGreal looks closely at the debate about the CDC guideline and recommendations from the 2017 opioid commission set up by President Trump. But despite these much-touted steps, “little changed on the ground for states desperate for treatment facilities and help with the social costs of the tragedy.”

The book concludes on a pessimistic note, captured in a comment from Nathaniel Katz, MD, about opioid addiction and overdose: "I don’t really see any prospect for intelligent policy in this area in the United States.”

McGreal summarizes his ideas with an indictment of American culture.

"In large parts of the United States, opioids were popular because they were a fix. A fix for emotional pain. A fix for failing bodies. A fix for struggling to make it in a society that promises so much, and judges by what is achieved, but turns it back on so many of those who fail to live up to that promise," he writes.

If “American Overdose” offers lessons, it is that the opioid crisis is a result not only corporate greed but also American culture; in particular politicians, regulators and a broader medical industry with agendas contrary to the public good. The book is an origin tale of the opioid crisis that offers little hope for the future.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network. 

OxyContin, Heroin and the Opioid Crisis

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The roles of heroin and OxyContin in the opioid crisis are frequently mischaracterized and misunderstood. Such is the case with a recent op/ed in The Washington Post.

“In the 1990s, when the industry began aggressively marketing prescription opioids such as OxyContin, heroin was a minimal presence in American life," wrote Keith Humphreys, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University

This is an unfortunate and common error about the role of heroin in the opioid crisis. Humphreys is repeating what many politicians and policymakers have also claimed. It’s important to correct this error because otherwise we will misunderstand how to treat heroin addiction, what our options are for pain management, and how to create sound policies to address the opioid crisis.

In fact, the U.S. has long had a major problem with heroin. Mexican black tar heroin arrived decades before OxyContin, and opioid addiction is usually a result of recreational use starting during adolescence, with addiction due to medical care being uncommon.

According to the book “Dark Paradise” by historian David Courtwright, researchers estimated the number of heroin addicts in the U.S. during the 1990s at a half million or more, about the same level as in the mid-1970s. This is also close to the 626,000 heroin addicts that the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates for 2016.

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Fatal overdoses involving Mexican black tar heroin were increasing even before OxyContin was introduced by Purdue Pharma in 1996. Sam Quinones notes in “Dreamland” that Oregon’s Multnomah County had only 10 heroin overdose deaths in 1991, about the time Mexican drug dealers arrived in Portland, but by 1999 there were 111 heroin overdoses.

So the idea that “heroin was a minimal presence in American life” isn’t supported by data. Neither is the claim that heroin traffickers “set up shop in the areas of the United States with the highest prevalence of prescription opioid addiction.”

According to Quinones, the Mexican drug gang the “Xalisco Boys” went into communities that were not a part of the established drug trade and were not subject to turf wars or other forms of gang violence. They wanted to fly below the radar, to avoid detection by law enforcement, and deliberately avoided carrying guns, driving fancy cars, or living large.
So the Xalisco Boys went to smaller cities like Portland and rural communities like Appalachia that were specifically chosen because they were low risk. And they were there well before 1996 and the advent of OxyContin.

Humphreys makes an additional error with his claim that about 80 percent of Americans who became heroin addicts started out with prescription opioids, according to an assessment from the National Institutes of Health. The 80% statistic varies significantly with time and place. As I wrote in a previous column,  non-medical use of opioid medication was found in 50% of young adult heroin users in Ohio, in 86% of heroin users in New York and Los Angeles, and in 40%, 39%, and 70% of heroin users in San Diego, Seattle, and New York respectively.

It's also important to note that “prescription opioids” does not necessarily mean prescribed opioids. Many addicts don't have a prescription and steal, buy or borrow pain medication. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that about 10 percent of patients legally prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder. And only about 5 percent of those who misuse their medication transition to heroin.

There is also a disturbing new trend in heroin use. A study in JAMA Psychiatry last year found that about one-third of heroin users had no prior experience with any opioid, prescription or otherwise. Heroin users often have extensive prior drug use with a variety of different substances, along with a history of severe childhood trauma or mental illness.

Humphreys’ claim that the “heroin-addicted were transfers from prescription opioids” ignores another route on the path to opioid addiction. In “Drug Dealer, MD,” Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke says some drug addicts switched from heroin to prescription opioids in the late 1990s and early 2000s because of the increased availability of the latter.

None of this is meant to exonerate OxyContin or Purdue Pharma. Barry Meier’s recent book “Pain Killer” does a good job of explaining the history of the company and why it is the focus of so many lawsuits. Purdue was fined over $600 million for the illegal marketing of OxyContin and important questions about the company’s actions remain to be answered.

Heroin addiction has been a major presence in American life for generations. The current opioid crisis may have been jump-started with prescription drugs, but heroin came long before OxyContin. It is better to view OxyContin as gasoline tossed on a smoldering fire, rather than blame OxyContin for heroin. The crisis is more complicated and pervasive than that.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Report Alleges Opioid Makers Bankrolled Patient Groups

By Pat Anson, Editor

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has released a scathing report that is sharply critical of patient advocacy groups and medical pain societies for accepting money from opioid manufacturers.

The report found that Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Mylan, Depomed and Insys Therapeutics provided nearly $9 million to over a dozen non-profits and medical societies from 2012 to 2017.  In many cases, the amount of the donations was not fully disclosed by the recipients.

“These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the most deadly drug epidemic in American history,” McCaskill's report alleges.

    Opioid Maker Payments to Advocacy Groups

  • Purdue Pharma              $4,153,000
  • Insys Therapeutics         $3,146,000
  • Depomed                        $1,071,000
  • Janssen                             $465,000
  • Mylan                                  $20,250

Over the same five year period, physicians affiliated with the advocacy groups and medical societies accepted more than $1.6 million in payments from the opioid manufacturers.  

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McCaskill, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has long been critical of opioid prescribing practices and the role they played in fueling the so-called opioid epidemic.  Her report suggests that advocacy groups that criticized the CDC’s 2016 opioid prescribing guidelines did so to curry favor with drug makers -- not because of the well-documented harm the guidelines were causing pain patients.  

“Initiatives from the groups in this report often echoed and amplified messages favorable to increased opioid use — and ultimately, the financial interests of opioid manufacturers. These groups have issued guidelines and policies minimizing the risk of opioid addiction and promoting opioids for chronic pain, lobbied to change laws directed at curbing opioid use, and argued against accountability for physicians and industry executives responsible for overprescription and misbranding,” the report found.

"The fact that these same manufacturers provided millions of dollars to the groups described below suggests, at the very least, a direct link between corporate donations and the advancement of opioids friendly messaging. By aligning medical culture with industry goals in this way, many of the groups described in this report may have played a significant role in creating the necessary conditions for the U.S. opioids epidemic."   

Top 10 Recipients of Funding from Opioid Makers

  1. U.S. Pain Foundation                                                      $2.922,000
  2. American Academy of Integrative Pain Management     $1,265,000
  3. American Academy of Pain Medicine                              $1,199,000
  4. American Pain Society                                                       $962,000
  5. National Pain Foundation                                                   $562,000
  6. Washington Legal Foundation                                           $500,000
  7. American Chronic Pain Association                                   $417,000
  8. American Society of Pain Management Nursing                $323,000
  9. AAPM Foundation                                                              $304,000
  10. Center for Practical Bioethics                                             $163,000

"Sen. McCaskill and the others haven’t spent the necessary time talking to us to understand how we do things and what we have to offer," Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Integrative Pain Management said in a statement. "It appears that they’ve simply looked at how much money we got from a set of pharma companies, constructed a narrative about what that means, and published it."

Perhaps the most surprising detail in the report is the amount of money Insys Therapeutics gave to the U.S. Pain Foundation – over $3.1 million --- with $2.5 million paid in 2017 alone. Insys is the manufacturer of Subsys, a potent fentanyl-based spray that has been blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths.

Former Insys executives and sales representatives have been charged with racketeering and bribing doctors to prescribe Subsys off label to non-cancer patients. The Arizona drug maker has also been accused of misleading and defrauding insurance companies to pay for Subsys, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for each 30-day prescription.

U.S. Pain founder and president Paul Gileno released a statement defending his non-profit's acceptance of the Insys money. He said the funds were used by the organization to fund a co-pay assistance program for cancer patients.   

"This funding, like any funding we receive, does not influence our values. When it comes to opioids, we believe both that people with legitimate pain have a right to effective care and that systematic changes must be made to address the ongoing opioid crisis," Gileno said.

McCaskill’s report makes no mention of the increasing role played by illegal opioids, such as heroin and illicit fentanyl, in fueling the opioid epidemic. A recent CDC report blamed illicit fentanyl for over half of the overdoses in ten states -- including McCaskill's home state of Missouri.  

Law Firms Major Donors to McCaskill Campaign

According to OpenSecrets.org, McCaskill has received over $6 million in campaign donations from law firms since 2005, including some currently involved in litigation against opioid manufacturers. Contributors affiliated with the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy have donated over $300,000 to McCaskill, who is running for re-election this year.

Simmons Hanly Conroy represents dozens of states, counties and cities that are suing Purdue Pharma and other drug makers over their marketing of opioids, and would pocket one-third of the proceeds from any settlement, according to reports.

A statement on the Simmons Hanly Conroy website claims the law firm "effectively invented large-scale, multi-defendant opioid litigation" and is a "trusted ally to local and state governments who seek justice and reprieve from the often debilitating costs associated with fighting the opioid crisis."

According to a survey of over 3,100 patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation, the CDC guidelines have reduced access to pain care, harmed many patients and caused some to consider suicide. Over 70 percent said their opioid medication had been reduced or cutoff by doctors, and 11 percent said they had obtained opioids illegally for pain relief since the guidelines came out. 

Unlikely Partners in Pain App Study

By Pat Anson, Editor

Purdue Pharma and a Pennsylvania-based healthcare provider have announced the enrollment of their first patient in a joint study of wearable health technology. As many as 240 people will eventually be enrolled in the two-year study, which is designed to see if “wearables” can help manage chronic pain.

It’s an unlikely partnership between Purdue Pharma, which faces multiple lawsuits over its promotion of the painkiller OxyContin, and the Geisinger Health System, which is actively trying to discourage the use of opioid pain medication. Geisinger provides healthcare to over 3 million people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Geisinger patients enrolled in the study will get an Apple Watch and iPhone equipped with pain apps that will measure their physical activity, self-reported pain, disability, sleep quality, depression, medication use and heart rate.

Patients who report pain will be prompted to try non-pharmaceutical alternative therapies, such as stretching, mindfulness and thermotherapy.

“The goal of this technology is to improve patient function and quality of life while reducing the need for analgesic medications. It provides objective measures of numerous aspects of pain, function and treatment effectiveness so that information can be gathered for the patient and the healthcare provider in between visits,” said Dr. Tracy Mayne, who heads Medical Affairs Strategic Research at Purdue Pharma.

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“We are pleased to partner with Geisinger on this important initiative and believe real-time data may have the potential to support an improved understanding of chronic pain patients’ experiences and needs.”

The study's primary goals are to assess whether the use of wearables can reduce pain, depression, medication use, and healthcare costs.

“We are incorporating advanced technology into the traditional healthcare setting to redirect and empower the patient to take more control of their own well-being. The proposed multi-level integrated platform will facilitate and accelerate the speed of communication between the patient and healthcare providers, thereby allowing quicker patient access to appropriate care,” said John Han, MD, director of Pain Medicine at Geisinger.

“Furthermore, it is hoped providing more education as well as alternative, non-opioid treatment options and coaching to promote a long-term sustainable healthy lifestyle will improve patient function and quality of life.”

Further details about the study can be found here.

The study comes as Purdue fights a seemingly endless series of court battles with state and local governments over its marketing of OxyContin over a decade ago. Critics contend the overprescribing and abuse of OxyContin helped launch the overdose crisis.

A recent study by Geisinger found that opioids are ineffective in treating chronic pain and increase the risk of overdose and death.

"Opioids are not the answer," said Mellar Davis, MD, a palliative care physician for Geisinger. "Chronic pain rehabilitation, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapies, acupuncture, yoga or tai chi are all better options than opioids."

Petition Calls on FDA to Ban High Dose Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

A group of anti-opioid activists has filed a citizen petition with the Food and Drug Administration, asking the agency to remove most high dose opioid pain medications from the market.

The petition would apply to all opioid pills that exceed a daily dose of 90mg morphine equivalent units (MMEs), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set last year as the highest recommended dose for primary care physicians and their patients.  

Such a ceiling, if adopted by the FDA, would take all OxyContin 80mg tablets off the market, as well as many other high-dose oral painkillers. A single OxyContin 80mg tablet, according to the petition, is equivalent to 160 MME.

Another example cited in the petition would be immediate release oxycodone 30mg tablets. If four such pills are taken daily, as they are often prescribed, that adds up to 180 MME.

The petition claims high dose opioid pills raise the risk of overdose and addiction, and are especially harmful to children.

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“These products are just too dangerous, there's no need for them," said Pete Jackson, who lost his teenage daughter to an OxyContin overdose.

"These are not medicines. These are lethal weapons that should be removed from the market," said Andrew Kolodny, MD, an addiction treatment specialist and Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), one of five anti-opioid activists who signed the petition. None are considered experts in pain management.

“Removing UHDU (ultra-high dosage unit) orally-administered opioids from the market will result in patients having to swallow more tablets or capsules. But this is unlikely to result in a significant inconvenience or hardship for patients,” the petition states. “For patients that may have difficulty swallowing it is important to note that opioid analgesics are available in liquid preparations, sublingual preparations, patches and suppositories.”

Opioids ‘Can Be Appropriate’

In a rare acknowledgement that opioids "can be appropriate" for some pain patients, Kolodny and the other petitioners wrote that "the benefits of prescribing high doses may outweigh the risks when treating severe pain from a life-limiting illness."

But then they make the dubious claim that flooding the market with lower-dose pills will somehow be safer. Reducing the potency of painkillers would mean patients need more to get pain relief – resulting in more pills being prescribed, stored in medicine cabinets, and possibly stolen or diverted – hardly a prescription for reducing abuse.

Having to take more pills could also be risky to patients.  

"With a very large number of pills to manage, they are going to be at more risk of taking the wrong number of pills and of having some of those pills swiped by others without them noticing," Stefan Kertesz, MD, an Alabama primary care physician, told the Associated Press.

“Given the significance of the nation’s opioid crisis, this petition and issue should be discussed by the scientific experts at FDA and we look forward to participating in such a discussion,” Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, said in a statement. “It is critical that we seek the appropriate balance of treating pain severe enough that requires opioid treatment for which alternative treatments are inadequate, with efforts combating the opioid crisis.”

The FDA had no immediate comment on the petition.  Any U.S. citizen can file a petition with the agency to seek the removal of a drug or medical device for safety issues.

In June, the FDA asked Endo Pharmaceuticals to take Opana ER off the market because it was being abused, the first time that sales of an opioid painkiller have been halted. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, has hinted the agency could take other painkillers off the market.

“We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse,” Gottlieb said in June.

To make a comment on the PROP petition to the FDA, click here.

Are Abuse Deterrent Opioids Working?

By Pat Anson, Editor

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put drug makers on notice that they should speed up the development of abuse deterrent formulas for opioid pain medication.

“(The) abuse and misuse of these products have resulted in too many injuries and deaths across the United States,” Douglas Throckmorton, MD, a top FDA official said at the time. “An important step towards the goal of creating safer opioids is the development of products that are specifically formulated to deter abuse.”

Acting on the FDA's guidance, pharmaceutical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing abuse deterrent formulas (ADFs) that make opioid medications harder for addicts to chew, crush, snort or inject. Several new opioids with ADF formulas have been approved by the FDA and more are still in the pipeline.

Was it worth the investment? Not according to a new study funded by insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and some drug makers.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a non-profit that recommends which medications should be covered by insurance and at what price, released a Draft Evidence Report  earlier this month that questions the effectiveness of ADF opioids, giving them a middling grade of C+ when it comes to preventing abuse.

“Without stronger real-world evidence that ADFs reduce the risk of abuse and addiction among newly prescribed patients, our judgment is that the evidence can only demonstrate a ‘comparable or better’ net health benefit (C+),” the ICER report states.

ICER also gave a lukewarm review to OxyContin, the painkiller that was reformulated by Purdue Pharma in 2010 after widespread reports that it was being abused and causing addiction.   

“Evidence on the impact of reformulated OxyContin on opioid abuse is mixed. The majority of time series studies found that after the abuse-deterrent formulation of OxyContin was introduced, there was a decline in the rate of OxyContin abuse,” the ICER report states. “However, the rate of abuse of other prescription opioids (ER oxymorphone, ER morphine, IR oxycodone) and heroin abuse may have increased during the same period.

“Furthermore, findings from direct interviews with recreational users showed that reformulated OxyContin may have limited impact on changing overall abuse patterns.”

Purdue objects to ICER’s analysis – citing another study that found reformulated OxyContin prevented 7,200 cases of abuse and $200 million in additional medical costs.

“ICER missed the opportunity to fairly evaluate the impact of these innovative technologies, recognized by the FDA, DEA, NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) and other policy makers as an important component of addressing the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement.

Purdue and other ADF makers are troubled by the ICER report because it gives cover to insurers who are already reluctant to pay for branded ADF opioids like OxyContin when generic opioids without abuse deterrent formulas are much cheaper.  According to one study, OxyContin was covered by only 33% of Medicare Part D plans in 2015. Many insurers create more hoops for patients and doctors to jump through by requiring that prior authorization be given before an OxyContin prescription is filled.  

ICER estimates the average annual cost of an ADF opioid (90mg MED) prescription at $4,234, nearly twice that of a non-ADF opioid ($2,124).  If all opioid medication was made with ADFs, ICER says the additional cost to patients and insurers would be $645 million over five years.

Are ADFs worth it, given their mixed record in preventing abuse and addiction?

According to startling cost-benefit analysis devised by ICER, preventing a single case of opioid abuse with ADFs costs $165,868. The same analysis found that preventing just one overdose death with ADFs would cost $977,119,566 – almost a billion dollars.

Survey Shows Addicts Abusing ADF Opioids

A new report from RADARS, a national drug abuse tracking system, would seem to support ICER’s analysis that ADFs are not making a significant impact on abuse. A survey of 1,775 addicts about to enter treatment in early 2017 found that ADF opioids were still being chewed, snorted, injected and smoked, but at rates "slightly lower" than those of non-ADF opioids.

SOURCE: RESEARCHED ABUSE, DIVERSION AND ADDICTION-RELATED SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM (RADARS) 

SOURCE: RESEARCHED ABUSE, DIVERSION AND ADDICTION-RELATED SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM (RADARS) 

“The majority of individuals who abused an ER (extended release) opioid abused an ADF opioid (58.6%), but the proportion of respondents who reported abuse via tampering was slightly lower for ADF opioids than ER opioids as a whole. Among individuals entering treatment, abuse of prescription opioids by chewing, snorting, or injecting is prevalent with oral solid dosage formulations of both IR (immediate release) and ER opioids,” the RADARS report said.

Lost in the debate over the cost and effectiveness of ADF’s is the decreasing role played by prescriptions opioids in the nation’s overdose epidemic. As PNN has reported, prescriptions for hydrocodone and other painkillers have been declining for years, yet drug overdoses continue to continue climb; fueled by heroin, illicit fentanyl and other illegal drugs, for which there are no abuse deterrent formulas other than abstinence and sobriety.

Abuse Deterrent Pain Medications Deserve Support

Barby Ingle, Columnist

It's no secret that the abuse of pain medication and illegal opioids has led to a growing public health problem across the country. The numbers are alarming and they are growing.

Also alarming is the number of people who suffer with chronic pain. According to the Institute of Medicine, one in three Americans – about 100 million people – have been affected with a condition that causes pain.

Since 2002, I have been battling Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a progressive neuro-autoimmune condition that affects multiple systems in the body. The worst symptom for me is the constant burning fire pain. It feels like someone put lighter fluid in me, lit it, and I can’t put the fire out. I know firsthand how difficult the journey for pain relief can be, particularly the sidelong glances and disbelief from medical professionals.

The challenges are complex and multi-layered, and I always applaud solutions that help to balance pain management with the cost that prescription drug abuse has on society. Promising technological advancements in recent years are proving to be an important part of the battle.

Among these are so-called "abuse deterrent formulas" (ADFs) of commonly prescribed opioid pain medications that are being developed to prevent some of the deadliest forms of opioid abuse. The formulas generally make it harder to crush or liquefy pills for snorting or injecting.

These tamper deterring formulas of pain medications provide patients with the same pain relief as conventional opioids, but incorporate breakthrough technology designed to protect against tampering and abuse.

Since Purdue Pharma introduced a reformulated abuse deterrent version of OxyContin (oxycodone ER) in 2010, the “nonmedical” or recreational use of OxyContin has fallen dramatically.  

source: radars system

source: radars system

Several states are considering legislation in 2017 to improve patient access to these new abuse deterrent formulas of painkillers. As bills are introduced and updated, the International Pain Foundation and other pain organizations track them on our websites, put out action alerts and ask for the pain patient community to get involved by sharing their stories.

ADFs have received widespread support as part of a comprehensive effort to combat prescription drug abuse and promote appropriate pain management, including from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, members of Congress, and the National Association of Attorneys General — including California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate.

Abuse of pain medications has led to a growing public health problem nationwide. Each year approximately 4.5 million Americans use prescription pain medications for non-medical purposes, contributing to more than 14,000 overdose deaths annually.

To date, the Food and Drug Administration has approved abuse-deterrent labeling for seven drugs (OxyContin, Targiniq, Embeda, Hysingla, Morphabond, Xtampaza, and Troxyca), with two other abuse-deterrent opioids under review.

This technology is only part of the solution, but it is a solution nonetheless. Patients that have struggled with addiction or substance abuse in the past, those who live with others who are current or recovering addicts, and those who live with teens or young adults who may seek opioids for recreational use can all benefit from ADFs.

For the sake of those with legitimate, life-altering pain and for the safety of those prone to abuse these medications, I urge our lawmakers to stand up for policies that preserve and improve patient access to ADF technology.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

How Long Does OxyContin Last?

By Pat Anson, Editor

The pain relieving effects of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma’s best-selling opioid painkiller, often wear off early and the company has been aware of the problem for many years, according to a lengthy investigation by the Los Angeles Times.

The Times investigation of OxyContin, which was based on court records and thousands of “confidential” Purdue documents, found that a single dose of the extended release painkiller often doesn’t last for the intended 12 hours and that it performs more like “an 8-hour drug.” That makes some patients take extra doses or stronger ones, raising the risk of abuse and addiction.

“Such results shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the FDA doesn’t require drugs to work as promised for all patients. What was eye-popping about The Times’ findings was how Purdue responded when doctors told them their patients weren’t getting the full 12 hours of relief promised,” The Times said in an editorial.

“Instead of recommending that such patients take OxyContin more than twice per day — which might make it less appealing than cheaper generic opioids with short durations — Purdue’s representatives told doctors to stick to the 12-hour regimen and prescribe higher-strength pills.”

Purdue quickly issued a statement rejecting The Times’ story, saying it was “short on facts.”

“In an attempt to resurrect a long-discredited theory, the paper ignores the clinical and regulatory data that directly contradicts their story,” Purdue said. “Over the course of two years, Purdue Pharma provided the LAT (Los Angeles Times) with more than a dozen hours of briefings and discussions regarding the clinical evidence supporting OxyContin’s 12-hour dosing and the regulatory requirement that we promote the product as such. Unfortunately, the paper disregarded this information, instead publishing a story that’s long on anecdote and short on facts.”

Purdue said the FDA rejected claims over a decade ago that OxyContin was misbranded as a “twice-a-day” drug and was being prescribed inappropriately.

The Times published its own rebuttal to Purdue’s statement online, which you can see by clicking here.

Pain News Network asked readers what they thought about OxyContin’s pain relieving qualities and got a mixed response.

“Worked like a dream for me, but too expensive,” wrote one patient on our Facebook page, who said she switched to generic oxycodone.

“Doesn't start working for 3 hrs. Seems like it ends at the 9th hour. Not really happy about that, but what can you do?” wrote another patient, who said she had too many side-effects from other pain medications.

“It only lasted 5-6 hours for me. Stopped taking it years ago because it was ineffective,” said another pain patient.

Since its introduction in 1996, OxyContin has reportedly generated over $31 billion in revenue for Purdue, but it also created a tainted legacy that the company is still trying to shed two decades later. Many believe OxyContin helped spark the so-called opioid “epidemic” because its sales reps initially told doctors the drug had a low risk of abuse and addiction.

In 2007, a class action lawsuit against Purdue for deceptive marketing ended with several company executives pleading guilty to a felony count of misbranding OxyContin. The company and its executives were fined $634 million.

In 2010, Purdue introduced an abuse-deterrent formula of OxyContin that makes it harder for drug abusers to crush or liquefy the tablet for snorting or injecting. Some patients have complained the new formulation isn't as effective or causes gastrointestinal problems.