Former CDC Director Arrested for Sexual Misconduct

By Pat Anson, Editor

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control of Prevention, has been arrested on sexual misconduct charges in New York City.

Frieden turned himself in to police in Brooklyn Friday morning after being charged with forcible touching, harassment and third degree sex abuse, all misdemeanors. The charges stem from a complaint filed in July by a 55-year old unnamed woman who alleges the 57-year old doctor grabbed her buttocks without permission in his apartment last October. 

According to STAT, Frieden later apologized to the woman -- a longtime family friend -- and "tried to manipulate her into staying silent by citing his position and potential to save lives around the world."

Fried was arraigned Friday afternoon and released without bail, after a judge ordered him not to contact his accuser and to surrender his passport. He's due back in court October 11.

Frieden did not enter a plea. A spokesperson released a statement saying the incident "does not reflect Dr. Frieden’s public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world.”

Frieden led the CDC from 2009 to 2017 and championed the agency’s controversial opioid prescribing guideline -- calling it an "excellent starting point" to prevent opioid abuse.

Although voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, the guideline has been widely adopted by insurers, states and healthcare providers – resulting in many chronic pain patients losing access to opioid medication.

“This crisis was caused, in large part, by decades of prescribing too many opioids for too many conditions where they provide minimal benefit," Frieden wrote in a commentary published by Fox News.  “There are safer drugs and treatment approaches that can control pain as well or better than opioids for the vast majority of patients."

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN

Frieden currently heads Resolve to Save Lives, a program of Vital Strategies, a non-profit health organization that is trying to improve public health worldwide.

Vital Strategies released a statement saying Frieden informed the organization in April about the misconduct allegation. His accuser does not work for Vital Strategies, but the organization hired an investigator to interview employees about Frieden. No inappropriate workplace behavior or harassment was found, according to Vital Strategies CEO Jose Castro.  

“I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally. Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence,” said Castro.

Frieden has an extensive background in epidemiology and infectious diseases, and his tenure at the CDC was marked by major efforts to combat the Ebola virus, fungal meningitis, influenza and the Zika virus.

Before his appointment as CDC director, Frieden was New York City’s health commissioner, where he led efforts to ban public smoking and remove unhealthy trans fats from restaurants. Frieden is married and has two children.

Patient Advocates Call on Brandeis to Fire Kolodny

By Pat Anson, Editor

A coalition of physicians, patient advocates and pain sufferers has written an open letter to Brandeis University asking for the dismissal of Andrew Kolodny, MD, a longtime critic of opioid prescribing who is co-director of opioid policy research at the university’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Kolodny is the founder and Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), an anti-opioid activist group that has lobbied politicians and regulators for years to enact stronger measures to limit prescribing of opioid pain medication.

“Dr. Kolodny has been prominent in a national campaign to deny chronic pain patients even minimal management of their pain.  His actions are directed toward forcing draconian restrictions or outright withdrawal of this class of medications from medical practice,” reads the letter to Brandeis President Ronald Liebowitz and other top administrators at the university.

“He calls for forced tapering of patients formerly prescribed opioids. Policy positions for which he advocates are leading to the deaths of hundreds of chronic pain patients by suicide or pain-related heart failure and medical collapse.”

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The letter was drafted by Richard Lawhern, PhD, and signed by over 60 healthcare professionals and patient advocates, including pain management specialists Forest Tennant, MD, and Aimee Chagnon, MD. Lawhern is the corresponding secretary of the “Opioid Policy Correspondents List,” an ad hoc volunteer group that advocates for better pain care. The group receives no funding from outside sources.

To read the letter in its entirety, click here.

Kolodny is a controversial figure in the pain community and is often quoted in the news media as an expert on issues involving pain management, even though his professional background is in psychiatry and addiction treatment.  He often refers to opioid medication as “heroin pills” and has suggested that patients shouldn’t trust doctors who prescribe opioids.

“I wish I could tell you that you should trust your doctor and talk to your doctor about this, but that may not be the case,” Kolodny said on C-SPAN in 2015. “We have doctors even prescribing to teenagers and parents not recognizing that the doctor has just essentially prescribed the teenager the equivalent of a heroin pill.”

“Although Dr. Kolodny has a work history in public health and addiction psychiatry, he is neither qualified nor Board Certified in pain management -- a closely related field that has been profoundly and negatively impacted by his assertions concerning public policy. From his published articles and interviews, it is clear to many readers that he knows or cares little about chronic pain patients and their treatment,” Lawhern’s letter states.

In a series of Tweets earlier this year, Kolodny said patients on “dangerously high doses” of opioids should be tapered to lower doses even if they refuse. He then asked for specific examples of doctors “forcing tapers in a risky fashion.”

Dozens of people responded with examples of patients becoming seriously ill or committing suicide after forced tapering, which Kolodny ignored.   

The letter to Brandeis calls Kolodny "one of the most polarizing and hated figures in medicine" among people in pain.

“In our view and those of many people whom he has harmed, Dr. Kolodny makes no positive contribution to the work or reputation of Brandeis or its research centers.  To the contrary, we believe it is ethically and morally imperative that he be dismissed immediately from the University, before his presence further damages both your reputation and your financial endowments,” the letter states.

The university did not respond to a request for comment on the letter. Neither did Kolodny.

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Brandeis is a well-regarded liberal arts and private research university located near Boston. The Heller School for Social Policy and Management is often ranked as one of the top ten schools in social policy.  Kolodny joined Heller last year as a senior scientist after resigning as chief medical officer at Phoenix House, which runs a chain of addiction treatment centers.

Kolodny and PROP played central roles in developing the 2016 CDC opioid guidelines, which discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain. Although voluntary and only intended for primary care doctors, the guidelines have been widely adopted as mandatory by insurers, federal agencies and throughout the U.S. healthcare system.

In an online survey of over 3,100 pain patients and healthcare providers on the first anniversary of the guidelines’ release, most said the guidelines were harmful to patients, had not improved the quality of pain care, and failed to reduce opioid abuse and overdoses. Critics also cite anecdotal evidence that the guidelines have contributed to an increase in patient suicides.

Fewer Pain Meds but More Overdoses in Massachusetts

By Pat Anson, Editor

Opioid prescribing fell by 15 percent for members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts after the insurer adopted policies that discourage the dispensing of opioid pain medication, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that 21 million fewer opioid doses were dispensed to Blue Cross Blue Shield members from 2012 to 2015. But the new policies failed to slow the growing number of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts, which more than doubled during the same period.

The CDC said it will "take time" before overdoses start to decline.

“Reducing the level of opioid prescribing is a long term strategy to limit exposure to these drugs. Mortality outcomes would not be expected to change for several years after implementation, and impact would be complicated by the increasing supply of illicit opioids,” Courtney Lenard, a CDC spokesperson, said in an email to Pain News Network.  

"Long-term strategies like the one outlined in the report take time to make an impact and therefore no immediate impact can be expected during the first several years of program implementation. Assessing what happened before and after the policy at the mortality level is inappropriate."

Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Massachusetts is the state’s largest insurer, with about 2.8 million members.

In 2012, the insurer adopted policies that discourage opioid prescribing by requiring doctors to develop treatment plans that consider non-opioid therapies; requiring pre-authorization for all opioid prescriptions after an initial 30 day supply; and limiting some pain patients to use of a single pharmacy.

The effect was immediate, with an average monthly decline of 14,000 prescriptions for both short and long-acting opioids.

Although cancer patients were exempt from the policies, there was a 9% decline in opioid prescriptions to BCBS members with a cancer diagnosis. The CDC attributed that to a “sentinel effect” in which doctors implement the same policies for all of their patients regardless of diagnosis.

“I think oncologists were becoming more thoughtful and maybe more vigilant about how much narcotics they were prescribing and I think that’s why we saw that decrease in cancer patients,” said Tony Dodek, MD, associate chief medical director for BCBS of Massachusetts. “We’ve only received one complaint about the program in terms of people having access to necessary pain medications.”

Like the CDC, Dodek said it may take years before the stricter prescribing policies start to have an impact on overdoses. So far the signs are not encouraging.

Opioid overdoses in Massachusetts rose from 698 deaths in 2012 to 1,659 deaths in 2015. The trend has continued in the first six months in 2016, with nearly a thousand opioid overdoses reported. Two-thirds of this year’s deaths were related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is increasingly appearing on the black market. Illicit fentanyl is often combined with heroin and cocaine, or used in the manufacture of counterfeit pain medication.

MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

“It’s not surprising to me that overdoses have not gone down because there is still a lot of drugs in circulation,” said Dodek. “What we did was slow the supply of new medication that’s in circulation. The fact is there is already way too much medication sitting in people’s medicine cabinets at home and that is what was available to start this epidemic.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration has said the U.S. is being “inundated” with counterfeit painkillers and there are anecdotal reports of some patients turning to street drugs for pain relief as opioid medication has become harder to get. But Dodek says it is recreational users – not pain patients – who are resorting to the black market.

“Any pain patient isn’t having access problems to getting opioids,” he said. “Those who may be using it for recreational purposes or for diversion probably are having a more difficult time (getting prescriptions). We still need to figure out what to do about illicit drugs, but I think decreasing the amount of prescriptions drugs will only be a good thing in the end.”

And what about the effect on pain patients as these policies are adopted? The CDC report ends with this telling statement:

“Finally, it is not known from these data how patient pain and function were affected by limiting access to opioid prescriptions.”