Thursday, August 22, 2013

Letters? Whoop-De-Doo

Well you KNEW this was going to happen, and I'm sure you can also predict the outcome.

A couple weeks ago the Los Angeles Times ran a front page, blockbuster, story about its investigation of Purdue Pharma.

Purdue manufactures the popular pain medication Oxycontin.

In short, the LA Times revealsed that Purdue kept a list of 1800 doctors who were highly suspect of over-prescribing the drug.

The list was kept for the company's sales team. Purdue attorney Robin Abrams told the Times in a series of interviews that the company created the database to steer its sales representatives away from risky doctors. Policing physicians, she said, was not Purdue's responsibility.

Abrams told the Times that Purdue had alerted law enforcement or medical regulators to 154 of the prescribers — about 8% of those in its database.

And she gave an example of one case in San Fernando where a physician made $1.5 million a year prescribing OxyContin and other painkillers. That physician is now serving a 25 year sentence after being tied to the deaths of six patients.

But otherwise, Purdue did not provide this information to any governmental authority.

Maybe it should have, maybe it shouldn't - that's a tough ethical decision to make.

Of course there's going to be argument that the company's profits (Purdue purportedly has made $27 billion off Oxycontin since 1996) overrode the company's morals.

Certainly there is suspicion that profits overrode the morals and ethics of 1800 physicians.

Now California state Sen. Ted Lieu, chairman of the Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development, and Nevada state Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, have both sent letters asking Purdue to turn over its list of doctors.

“If Purdue Pharma is going to sell a highly potent, highly addictive narcotic in California, then the company has a duty to inform authorities in California of those doctors the company believes may be irresponsibly prescribing OxyContin,” Lieu wrote. “This duty may not be a legal one, but at the very least, the company has an ethical duty to let authorities know about dangerous drugs.”

Segerblom said during an interview with WorkCompCentral on Wednesday that if Purdue, which has a vested interest in selling OxyContin, has deemed some doctors too risky to do business with, then that would be a good indicator that state regulators should also take a look at the prescribing patterns of those providers.

“If the company has identified people it thinks are a problem, then the state should, too,” he said. “I’d like to see if our monitoring program is actually working.”

Will something actually come of this or is this just political grandstanding?

And even if something actually comes of the list disclosure, is it really going to make any difference?

In 2007, Purdue agreed to pay $634 million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of fraudulently promoting the time-release formulation of OxyContin as being a less-addictive alternative to short-acting opioid painkillers - claims the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not approve.

That settlement represents 0.03% of Purdue's sales of the drug...

In May 2012, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee sent letters to Purdue, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson requesting information about the companies’ ties to medical groups and physicians, saying it was exploring the possibility that organizations such as the American Pain Foundation, American Academy of Pain Medicine and American Pain Society, have “promoted misleading information about the risks and benefits of opioids while receiving financial support from opioid manufacturers.”

Committee members have not reported the results of their investigation and have not responded to phone calls and emails from WorkCompCentral asking whether the drug makers even responded to the request for information.

The response to the Times article is easily predicted. The outcome perhaps less so, but my guess is that nothing really substantive will come of this. Perhaps Purdue will pay its way out of this little public relations mess, maybe publish some advertising somewhere in the guise of a public service announcement.

The politicians will get some good press and be able to cite action against big business when they go to the voters.

And business will carry on as usual.

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