A recently released trove of documents revealed that companies manufacturing opioids paid doctors to push these
addictive drugs to patients. The Big Pharma firms incentivizing doctors for pushing the dangerous medicine had been concurrently happening with efforts to deflect media scrutiny on opioids.
The public release of the documents was the product of a 2021 collaboration between the University of California San Francisco
and Johns Hopkins University
. According to the two universities, the Opioid Industry Documents Archive (OIDA)
"[sheds] light on the opioid industry during the height of the U.S. opioid crisis." The archive also "preserves and provides permanent public access to previously-internal corporate documents released from opioid litigation and other sources.
One document in the archive centered on a 2013 email exchange
between a spokeswoman for the American-Irish drug firm Covidien, which manufactures the opioid drug Exalgo, and other company executives. She had informed other executives about a reporter from New York-based channel WNBC 4
who was writing a story about the fees that pharmaceutical firms pay to physicians.
"Based on our conversation, I do not believe that the reporter is aware of Exalgo – and I am certainly not planning to make him aware," wrote the spokeswoman.
A subsequent email in the thread saw the same spokeswoman ranting about inaccuracies in the story ran by WNBC 4
. She wrote: "Despite my efforts to provide background to the reporter that doctors do not speak about generic drugs, he still made a connection between our generic Dilaudid [painkiller] and a New York doctor's speaking fees. I purposely did not clarify that the doctor in question does speak around Exalgo, because I did not want the product mentioned in [the] story or beg any deeper inquiries into his Exalgo prescribing habits."
Another 2013 email, this time from a Covidien drug representative
, bragged about how she ingratiated herself with the staff members of a physician, who eventually helped her convince the doctor of the supposed merits of Covidien medications. "The nurse got very excited and wanted to know all about the product – the coverage, how to use it, etc. She even took the liberty of detailing the doctor when he walked into lunch as well," recounted the drug representative.
Covidien spun off its pharmaceutical drug operations in 2013 in the form of specialty drug firm Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which handles Exalgo and other medications. Two years later, Mallinckrodt stopped promoting Exalgo and subsequently ceased production of the opioid drug. Its former parent shifted to medical devices and was acquired by Minnesota-based Medtronic in 2014.
Despite the spin-off, Mallinckrodt agreed to pay $1.6 billion as a settlement with states and federal government for its role in the opioid crisis
. The amount has since grown to $1.725 billion.
Drug manufacturers also paying sanctioned doctors to push opioids
An email dating back to 2010 was among the materials published by OIDA. The email was sent by a senior director of global compliance at the small drug company Cephalon, which produces drugs based on the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Established in 1987 by former scientists for The DuPont Company, Cephalon was acquired by Israeli drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals in 2011.
The 2010 email
from the Cephalon executive acknowledged revelations that the company had paid doctors penalized in their respective states
to deliver promotional talks. It added that Cephalon was undertaking a review of all of its doctors following the discovery. (Related: Opioid drug manufacturer found to have repeatedly bribed doctors with lucrative kickbacks.
"For immediate next steps, a contractor will begin compiling the same information beginning with the [approximately] 426 speakers currently under contract. We will do the same for the [estimated] 469 physicians who received payments in 2010, the majority of which are speakers. If necessary, we will compile information for the [approximately] 936 physicians who received payments in 2009," stated the email.
Prior to the 2010 discovery, Cephalon was forced to pay $425 million
alongside interest to settle lawsuits related to the off-label use of thee drugs it makes – including the fentanyl drug Actiq. The opioid lollipop is approved only for use in cancer patients whose usual medications fail to address extreme pain. However, Cephalon opted to market Actiq for general pain treatment – leading to the company's 2008 settlement with the federal government.
Pro-health freedom group Children's Health Defense said the OIDA documents "should give patients even more pause about the financial entanglements their doctors have
with the drug industry and spur them to ask questions."
Listen to Chris Johnson of the "Finding Genius Podcast" elaborating on the opioid crisis
and its repercussions.
This video is from the Finding Genius Podcast channel on Brighteon.com
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