FDA Fails to Cite Big Pharma for False Marketing and Advertisements

“PROFITS BEFORE PATIENTS REIGNS SUPREME AT FDA”

By Mark A. York (April 22, 2019)

Purdue Pharma and OxyContin Never Warned By FDA

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA)  In the midst of a national opioid crisis, the federal agency that monitors drug ads has issued a record low number of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies caught lying about their products.

The Food and Drug Administration has sent just three notice letters to drug makers busted for false marketing their medications to unknowing consumers, the lowest ever since the FDA historic decision to ease strict rules for drug ads in 1997. “It certainly raises questions,” said Dr. David Kessler, head of the FDA from late 1990 through 1996, who’s industry credentials would add weight to the issue of why the FDA is not doing more to monitor false marketing campaigns by Big Pharma and Opioid Drug makers in particular.

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion monitors all ads drug companies issue to make sure patients aren’t being scammed by false assertions or misleading marketing campaigns. Which now seems to be the norm, based on the hundreds of lawsuits filed against Opioid Drug Makers in the last 3 months, and recently consolidated into Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 see Opioid Crisis Briefcase-Mass Tort Nexus, where Big Pharma is being sued by states, cities and counties across the country. The primary claim in almost every suit is long term boardroom coordinated false marketing campaigns designed to push opioid drug prescriptions at any cost.

 BILLIONS IN PROFITS

The pharmaceutical industry spent a vast $6.4 billion in “direct-to-consumer” advertisements to hype new drugs in 2016, according tracking firm Kantar Media. That figure has gone up by 62% since 2012, Kantar Media says. This number may seem large at first but compared to the multi-billions in yearly profits just by opioid manufacturers over the last 15 years, the numbers is small.  Corporate earnings have risen every years since the push to increase opioid prescriptions in every way possible became an accepted business model Big Pharma boardrooms across the country.

In 2017 and continuing into 2018, Big Pharma has been fighting major legal battles related to off-label marketing of drugs for unintended uses. They also engaged in a parallel strategy, where they were influencing the FDA and other policy making agencies behind the scenes in Washington DC. Big Pharma was paying millions to lobbyists, making campaign donations and generally buying influence as they always have. It was a foregone conclusion that with the Trump administration view of , “no regulatory oversight required” that there would be some loosening of the FDA regulatory shackles.

Big Pharma was getting ready for freedom to sell, sell, sell their drugs in any way they could, including off-label marketing of the drugs for unintended use purposes. A corporate policy, that’s technically illegal, yet results in billions of dollars in profits every years for Big Pharma. Then the FDA rolled out an unexpected new proposed rule, in March 2017 cracking down on “off-label’ marketing of drugs. This new rule change wasn’t in Big Pharma’s bests interests, sending the drug industry into a furious lobbying scramble. Bring in the Trump camp and on January 12, 2018 Big Pharma and the army of lobbyists and elected officials that were recruited, seem to have succeeded in stopping the FDA rules change that would have tightened up “off label” marketing of drugs.

Trump stops FDA enforcement rule change: January 12, 2018 Food and Drug Administration Press Release: FDA Delays Change to “Off-Label” Drug Use Enforcement Rules

WHAT IS “OFF-LABEL” MARKETING?

Global health care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and its subsidiaries will pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor, including promotion for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and payment of kickbacks to physicians and to the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider.  The global resolution is one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history, including criminal fines and forfeiture totaling $485 million and civil settlements with the federal government and states totaling $1.72 billion.

“The conduct at issue in this case jeopardized the health and safety of patients and damaged the public trust,” stated Eric Holder, then US Attorney General, “This multibillion-dollar resolution demonstrates the Justice Department’s firm commitment to preventing and combating all forms of health care fraud.  And it proves our determination to hold accountable any corporation that breaks the law and enriches its bottom line at the expense of the American people” he added.

The resolution includes criminal fines and forfeiture for violations of the law and civil settlements based on the False Claims Act arising out of multiple investigations of the company and its subsidiaries.

“When companies put profit over patients’ health and misuse taxpayer dollars, we demand accountability,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West.  “In addition to significant monetary sanctions, we will ensure that non-monetary measures are in place to facilitate change in corporate behavior and help ensure the playing field is level for all market participants.”

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) protects the health and safety of the public by ensuring, among other things, that drugs intended for use in humans are safe and effective for their intended uses and that the labeling of such drugs bear true, complete and accurate information.  Under the FDCA, a pharmaceutical company must specify the intended uses of a drug in its new drug application to the FDA.  Before approval, the FDA must determine that the drug is safe and effective for those specified uses.  Once the drug is approved, if the company intends a different use and then introduces the drug into interstate commerce for that new, unapproved use, the drug becomes misbranded.  The unapproved use is also known as an “off-label” use because it is not included in the drug’s FDA-approved labeling.

“When pharmaceutical companies interfere with the FDA’s mission of ensuring that drugs are safe and effective for the American public, they undermine the doctor-patient relationship and put the health and safety of patients at risk,” said Director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations John Roth.  “Today’s settlement demonstrates the government’s continued focus on pharmaceutical companies that put profits ahead of the public’s health.  The FDA will continue to devote resources to criminal investigations targeting pharmaceutical companies that disregard the drug approval process and recklessly promote drugs for uses that have not been proven to be safe and effective.”

FDA PLEADS NO STAFF

But the agency has long struggled to keep track of the thousands of ads published each year, largely due to lack of staff.

There are approximately 60 FDA staffers responsible for keeping track of at least 75,000 ads and other promotional material published each year. Although in the age of electronic monitoring and hi-tech tracking of data it would seem that monitoring drugs such as Schedule 2 – 4 narcotics or other drugs that are considered high risk for abuse, the FDA could create a quarterly e-review or a flagging system when new campaigns are started by Big Pharma.

“It’s a very, very small unit,” a former high-ranking FDA official said. “It’s historically been underfunded.” Which seems to support the contention that Washington D.C lawmakers are in the pockets of Big Pharma and the hundreds of lobbyists they utilize to ensure a true lack of oversight in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.

Additionally, many of the ads are submitted to the FDA for review at the same time they begin to run. So by the time the assessment is complete the ad has “already had a significant impact,” the FDA insider said. This policy flies in the face of the creation regulatory oversight based on the fact that when a problem or an issue with a product is discovered, the FDA, EPA or other agency should enforce the law and correct the problem. In the case of the FDA, that is not happening and Big Pharma is and has been aware of the lack of oversight for years.

Critics say the FDA needs to do more to stay on top of an industry with a history of trying to maximize profits by at times misleading consumers, which has recently been described as a policy of “patients before patients” which has resulted in the current Opioid Crisis that’s firmly in place across the United States.

The number of public admonishment letters has been at or close to single digits from 2014 until 2016 during the Obama administration, records show. The FDA sent out 11 of those caution missives in 2016, nine in 2015 and 2014, and 24 in 2013.

A SINGLE FDA WARNING IN 2016

This year, one of the warning letters was sent to Canadian drugmaker Cipher Pharmaceuticals, ordering it stop using deceptive promotional material to hawk its extended-release opioid ConZip.

The ad failed to note “any risk information” highlighting the potentially addictive nature of the powerful painkiller, the FDA letter issued Aug. 24 said. The promotional material was also misleading because it asserted other treatment options “are inadequate,” the oversight agency concluded.

“By omitting…serious and potentially fatal risks, the detail aid…creates a misleading impression about the drug’s safety, a concern heightened by the serious public health impacts of opioid addiction, abuse and misuse,” the FDA said.

The agency demanded that Cipher “immediately cease misbranding” the medication. The drug company responded by yanking the promotional material, the firm’s execs said in a statement issued after the warning letter was made public.

But that was the single caution letter issued to an overhyped painkiller by the FDA this year so far, records show. The other caution letters were sent to Amherst Pharmaceuticals for the insomnia drug Zolpimist, and to Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. for its weight loss drug Contrave.

There are many long term FDA and other senior DC officials who have for whatever reasons, chosen to defer reigning in Big Pharma sales and marketing abuses and now it appears the corrective action has been undertaken in federal courts across the country by mass tort lawyers in litigation which will apparently make the “Tobacco Litigation” of the 1980’s pale in financial comparison.

With the primary lawsuits recently consolidated by in the Multidistrict Litigation titled “National Prescription Opiate Litigation” Case No. MDL 2804, recently assigned to the US District Court, Northern District of Ohio.  With the key case heading including “prescription and opiate” which reflects the federal court recognizing that opiate prescriptions have become such a major issue the federal courts will now determine the penalties assessed against Big Pharma. The focus will be on the long term “sales and marketing campaigns” designed in corporate boardrooms of Fortune 100 companies, to increase corporate profits, while ignoring the known catastrophic increases in addictions and other inter-connected healthcare, economic and social upheavels caused by the flood of opioid drugs in the US market.

The FDA maintains that letters to drug companies are merely one tool the agency uses to keep the pharmaceutical industry in line.

“We have many efforts to encourage compliance by industry, including our work on guidance, by providing advice to companies on draft promotional materials, and outreach to our stakeholders,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo said. “The FDA’s priorities regarding prescription drug promotion are policy and guidance development, labeling reviews, core launch and TV ad reviews, training and communications and enforcement.” The key terms referred to by Ms. Caccamo are “guidance and by providing advice” from the FDA, when direct enforcement actions are required, as Big Pharma see the terms “guidance and advice” as harmless and not applicable to their efforts to increase sales and profits. In-house lawyers at Big Pharma have reviewed FDA enforcement failures and offered opinions to the boardrooms for years about the FDA not willing to enforce anything close to restrictions on opioid drug marketing and sale practices, all the while reaping the profits of the opioid crisis.

U.S. DEPT OF JUSTICE INDICTMENTS

While the FDA has failed, the US Department of Justice has launched a massive crackdown on opiate drug makers including indictments of company executives, sales & marketing personnel as well as the doctors and pharmacies that have enabled the flood of easy access narcotics into the US market for over 15 years. The question is “how and why” did the FDA drop the ball or was this an intentional lack of enforcement and oversight by the FDA and other agencies due to Big Pharma influence over Congressional members who would blunt any true oversight of drug companies.

US CONGRESS IS NOT HELPING

Perhaps a look at former US Representative Tom Price, will provide insight into how our lawmakers work within the healthcare industry. Rep. Price was appointed by President Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, which the FDA reports to, was forced to resign as HHS head due to various transgression within 6 months of being appointed, as well as leaks that while a sitting congressman he enacted a bill favoring a medical device makers extension of a multi-year government contract. Not only did Price enact the bill, he purchased stock in the company prior to the bill introduction and secured a massive profit on the stock price increase after the contract extension was announced. In normal business circles this is considered “insider trading” and is illegal, but when you’re one of those people in charge of creating the rules and regulations, there’s an apparent “get out of jail card” that comes with your congressional seat.

As long as the US Congress fails to correct the lack of oversight by the FDA and other regulatory agencies into what and how dangerous drugs and products are placed into the US marketplace, there will always be bad drugs entering the healthcare pipeline in the United States, with the now enduring default misnomer of “Profits Before Patients” firmly in place in boardrooms and within our government.

WHITE HOUSE IGNORES BIG PHARMA ABUSE

With the Trump Administration still claiming that no regulatory oversight is needed to monitor the US drug industry, that they can self-regulate, it appears that there will be no letup in the rampant “off-label: and unintended use marketing of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States.  The one way that Big Pharma is held accountable is in the courtroom, although financial damages and penalties against the drug companies amounting to billions of dollars each year being awarded by juries, won’t change FDA policy, it does provide a small amount of official recognition that there are ongoing abuses by the pharmaceutical industry in the USA.

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RICHARD SACKLER DEPOSITION TRANSCRIPT UNSEALED IN KENTUCKY vs. PURDUE PHARMA

Full Article: statnews.com/2019/02/21/purdue-pharma-richard-sackler-oxycontin-sealed-deposition/Feb 21-2019

By DAVID ARMSTRONG — PROPUBLICA, FEBRUARY 21, 2019

and MOLLY FERGUSON FOR STAT

(This is a partial reprint by MASS TORT NEXUS of a collaboration between STAT and ProPublica contained in the full article link above).

“Purdue’s Sackler embraced plan to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors, unsealed Richard Sackler deposition shows” 

 A LINK TO THE FULL RICHARD SACKLER DEPOSITION TRANSCRIPT IS CONTAINED IN ARTICLE BELOW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) In 2007, Purdue Frederick Co. (not Purdue Pharma) and three company executives pled guilty to misbranding OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, in the US District Court of Virginia, see Purdue Criminal Plea Agreement US Department of Justice May 10, 2007. This plea deal “a get-out-of-jail free card” was engineered by none other than former New York City Mayor and political/corporate fixer, Rudy Guiliani, by directly leveraging high level US DOJ contacts and other DC insiders to derail the prosecution of Purdue Pharma, and instead offer up Purdue Fredrick Co. as the guilty party and thereby permitting the multi-billion dollar per year Oxycontin assembly line to continue operations.

The Sackler family has always been protected by the company shield, even though their most profitable selling opioid drug Oxycontin, and its boardroom coordinated marketing campaign was the brainchild and a direct result of the Purdue Pharma company founders, the Sackler brothers and their tried and true business model.

That is now changing, as the State of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family as well as various Purdue executives over the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Oxycontin is now recognized as the opioid fuse that ignited America’s opioid crisis, and in a positive move forward, the leading executives and members of the multibillionaire Sackler family, now known to be feuding over the opioid crisis have been named in civil litigation.

In the Kentucky vs. Purdue Pharma litigation (Pike County Kentucky Circuit Court) , where in the recently unsealed court documents is the only known deposition testimony of a Sackler family member, with this being the August 28, 2016 deposition of Pudue Pharma family member Richard Sackler, a link to the full deposition transcript is contained within this article, as well as the full ProPublic/StatNews article link, statnews.com/2019/02/21/purdue-pharma-richard-sackler-oxycontin-sealed-deposition/Feb 21-2019.

Who is Richard Sackler, and why was he deposed?

The son of a Purdue co-founder, Sackler began working at the company in 1971 and has been at various times its president and co-chairman of the board. The Sackler family controls Purdue and has received billions of dollars from OxyContin sales.

In 2015 Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $24 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Kentucky, December 22, 2015 Purdue Pharma Settlement With State of Kentucky, which Purdue thought would end that problem by paying a fine and moving on, which isn’t the case it seems. See Purdue Pharma settles with Kentucky over Oxycontin claim(statnews.com/pharmalot) for information on the claims in Kentucky.

That state court litigation has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle in the Kentucky courts where Purdue is fighting to keep the original court records from that settlement sealed, due to the only deposition testimony of one of the Sackler brothers is known to be located. The Purdue court records were unsealed by Pike County Judge Stephen Combs in May 2016, and Purdue immediately appealed with oral arguments taking place June 26, 2017 in front of a three judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which had failed to rule on the argumanets as recently as January 2019

In May 1997, the year after Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, its head of sales and marketing sought input on a key decision from Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls the company. Michael Friedman told Sackler that he didn’t want to correct the false impression among doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, because the myth was boosting prescriptions — and sales.

“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” Friedman wrote to Sackler, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine. … We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”

“I agree with you,” Sackler responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”

Ten years later, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court to understating the risk of addiction to OxyContin, including failing to alert doctors that it was a stronger painkiller than morphine, and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. But Sackler’s support of the decision to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors — in email exchanges both with Friedman and another company executive — was not made public.

Related: Purdue cemented ties with universities and hospitals to expand opioid sales, documents contend

The email threads were divulged in a sealed court document that ProPublica has obtained: an Aug. 28, 2015, deposition of Richard Sackler. Taken as part of a lawsuit by the state of Kentucky against Purdue, the deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned under oath about the illegal marketing of OxyContin and what family members knew about it. Purdue has fought a three-year legal battle to keep the deposition and hundreds of other documents secret, in a case brought by STAT; the matter is currently before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

READ THE SACKLER DEPOSITION HERE

Meanwhile, interest in the deposition’s contents has intensified, as hundreds of cities, counties, states and tribes have sued Purdue and other opioid manufacturers and distributors. A House committee requested the documentfrom Purdue last summer as part of an investigation of drug company marketing practices.

In a statement, Purdue stood behind Sackler’s testimony in the deposition. Sackler, it said, “supports that the company accurately disclosed the potency of OxyContin to healthcare providers.” He “takes great care to explain” that the drug’s label “made clear that OxyContin is twice as potent as morphine,” Purdue said.

Still, Purdue acknowledged, it had made a “determination to avoid emphasizing OxyContin as a powerful cancer pain drug,” out of “a concern that non-cancer patients would be reluctant to take a cancer drug.”

The company, which said it was also speaking on behalf of Sackler, deplored what it called the “intentional leak of the deposition” to ProPublica, calling it “a clear violation of the court’s order” and “regrettable.”

Much of the questioning of Sackler in the 337-page deposition focused on Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin, especially in the first five years after the drug’s 1996 launch. Aggressive marketing of OxyContin is blamed by some analysts for fostering a national crisis that has resulted in 200,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids since 1999.

Taken together with a Massachusetts complaint made public last month against Purdue and eight Sacklers, including Richard, the deposition underscores the pivotal role of the Sackler family in developing the business strategy for OxyContin and directing the hiring of an expanded sales force to implement a plan to sell the drug at ever-higher doses. Documents show that Richard Sacklerwas especially involved in the company’s efforts to market the drug, and that he pushed staff to pursue OxyContin’s deregulation in Germany. The son of a Purdue co-founder, he began working at Purdue in 1971 and has been at various times the company’s president and co-chairman of its board.

In a 1996 email introduced during the deposition, Sackler expressed delight at the early success of OxyContin. “Clearly this strategy has outperformed our expectations, market research and fondest dreams,” he wrote. Three years later, he wrote to a Purdue executive, “You won’t believe how committed I am to make OxyContin a huge success. It is almost that I dedicated my life to it. After the initial launch phase, I will have to catch up with my private life again.”

During his deposition, Sackler defended the company’s marketing strategies — including some Purdue had previously acknowledged were improper — and offered benign interpretations of emails that appeared to show Purdue executives or sales representatives minimizing the risks of OxyContin and its euphoric effects. He denied that there was any effort to deceive doctors about the potency of OxyContin and argued that lawyers for Kentucky were misconstruing words such as “stronger” and “weaker” used in email threads.T

The term “stronger” in Friedman’s email, Sackler said, “meant more threatening, more frightening. There is no way that this intended or had the effect of causing physicians to overlook the fact that it was twice as potent.”

Emails introduced in the deposition show Sackler’s hidden role in key aspects of the 2007 federal case in which Purdue pleaded guilty. A 19-page statement of factsthat Purdue admitted to as part of the plea deal, and which prosecutors said contained the “main violations of law revealed by the government’s criminal investigation,” referred to Friedman’s May 1997 email to Sackler about letting the doctors’ misimpression stand. It did not identify either man by name, attributing the statements to “certain Purdue supervisors and employees.”

Friedman, who by then had risen to chief executive officer, was one of three Purdue executives who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of “misbranding” OxyContin. No members of the Sackler family were charged or named as part of the plea agreement. The Massachusetts lawsuit alleges that the Sackler-controlled Purdue board voted that the three executives, but no family members, should plead guilty as individuals. After the case concluded, the Sacklers were concerned about maintaining the allegiance of Friedman and another of the executives, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit. To protect the family, Purdue paid the two executives at least $8 million, that lawsuit alleges.

“The Sacklers spent millions to keep the loyalty of people who knew the truth,” the complaint filed by the Massachusetts attorney general alleges.

The Kentucky deposition’s contents will likely fuel the growing protests against the Sacklers, including pressure to strip the family’s name from cultural and educational institutions to which it has donated. The family has been active in philanthropy for decades, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars. But the source of its wealth received little attention until recent years, in part due to a lack of public information about what the family knew about Purdue’s improper marketing of OxyContin and false claims about the drug’s addictive nature.

Although Purdue has been sued hundreds of times over OxyContin’s marketing, the company has settled many of these cases, and almost never gone to trial. As a condition of settlement, Purdue has often required a confidentiality agreement, shielding millions of records from public view.

That is what happened in Kentucky. In December 2015, the state settled its lawsuit against Purdue, alleging that the company created a “public nuisance” by improperly marketing OxyContin, for $24 million. The settlement required the state attorney general to “completely destroy” documents in its possession from Purdue. But that condition did not apply to records sealed in the circuit court where the case was filed.

In March 2016, STAT filed a motion to make those documents public, including Sackler’s deposition. The Kentucky Court of Appeals last year upheld a lower court ruling ordering the deposition and other sealed documents be made public. Purdue asked the state Supreme Court to review the decision, and both sides recently filed briefs. Protesters outside Kentucky’s Capitol last week waved placards urging the court to release the deposition.

Related:  Purdue appeals order to unseal OxyContin records to Kentucky Supreme Court

Sackler family members have long constituted the majority of Purdue’s board, and company profits flow to trusts that benefit the extended family. During his deposition, which took place over 11 hours in a law office in Louisville, Ky., Richard Sackler said “I don’t know” more than 100 times, including when he was asked how much his family had made from OxyContin sales. He acknowledged it was more than $1 billion, but when asked if they had made more than $5 billion, he said, “I don’t know.” Asked if it was more than $10 billion, he replied, “I don’t think so.”

By 2006, OxyContin’s “profit contribution” to Purdue was $4.7 billion, according to a document read at the deposition. From 2007 to 2018, the Sackler family received more than $4 billion in payouts from Purdue, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit.

During the deposition, Sackler was confronted with his email exchanges with company executives about Purdue’s decision not to correct the misperception among many doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine. The company viewed this as good news because the softer image of the drug was helping drive sales in the lucrative market for treating conditions like back pain and arthritis, records produced at the deposition show.

Designed to gradually release medicine into the bloodstream, OxyContin allows patients to take fewer pills than they would with other, quicker-acting pain medicines, and its effect lasts longer. But to accomplish these goals, more narcotic is packed into an OxyContin pill than competing products. Abusers quickly figured out how to crush the pills and extract the large amount of narcotic. They would typically snort it or dissolve it into liquid form to inject.

The pending Massachusetts lawsuit against Purdue accuses Sackler and other company executives of determining that “doctors had the crucial misconception that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, which led them to prescribe OxyContin much more often.” It also says that Sackler “directed Purdue staff not to tell doctors the truth,” for fear of reducing sales. But it doesn’t reveal the contents of the email exchange with Friedman, the link between that conversation and the 2007 plea agreement, and the back-and-forth in the deposition.

STAT Plus:  Exclusive analysis of biotech, pharma, and the life sciences.

A few days after the email exchange with Friedman in 1997, Sackler had an email conversation with another company official, Michael Cullen, according to the deposition. “Since oxycodone is perceived as being a weaker opioid than morphine, it has resulted in OxyContin being used much earlier for non-cancer pain,” Cullen wrote to Sackler. “Physicians are positioning this product where Percocet, hydrocodone and Tylenol with codeine have been traditionally used.” Cullen then added, “It is important that we be careful not to change the perception of physicians toward oxycodone when developing promotional pieces, symposia, review articles, studies, et cetera.”

“I think that you have this issue well in hand,” Sackler responded, while Friedman and Cullen could not be reached for comment.

Asked at his deposition about the exchanges with Friedman and Cullen, Sackler didn’t dispute the authenticity of the emails. He said the company was concerned that OxyContin would be stigmatized like morphine, which he said was viewed only as an “end of life” drug that was frightening to people.

“Within this time it appears that people had fallen into a habit of signifying less frightening, less threatening, more patient acceptable as under the rubric of weaker or more frightening, more — less acceptable and less desirable under the rubric or word ‘stronger,’” Sackler said at his deposition. “But we knew that the word ‘weaker’ did not mean less potent. We knew that the word ‘stronger’ did not mean more potent.” He called the use of those words “very unfortunate.” He said Purdue didn’t want OxyContin “to be polluted by all of the bad associations that patients and healthcare givers had with morphine.”

Related: ‘A blizzard of prescriptions’: Documents reveal new details about Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin

In his deposition, Sackler also defended sales representatives who, according to the statement of facts in the 2007 plea agreement, falsely told doctors during the 1996-2001 period that OxyContin did not cause euphoria or that it was less likely to do so than other opioids. This euphoric effect experienced by some patients is part of what can make OxyContin addictive. Yet, asked about a 1998 note written by a Purdue salesman, who indicated that he “talked of less euphoria” when promoting OxyContin to a doctor, Sackler argued it wasn’t necessarily improper.

“This was 1998, long before there was an Agreed Statement of Facts,” he said.

The lawyer for the state asked Sackler: “What difference does that make? If it’s improper in 2007, wouldn’t it be improper in 1998?”

“Not necessarily,” Sackler replied.

Shown another sales memo, in which a Purdue representative reported telling a doctor that “there may be less euphoria” with OxyContin, Sackler responded, “We really don’t know what was said.” After further questioning, Sackler said the claim that there may be less euphoria “could be true, and I don’t see the harm.”

The same issue came up regarding a note written by a Purdue sales representative about one doctor: “Got to convince him to counsel patients that they won’t get buzzed as they will with short-acting” opioid painkillers. Sackler defended these comments as well. “Well, what it says here is that they won’t get a buzz. And I don’t think that telling a patient ‘I don’t think you’ll get a buzz’ is harmful,” he said.

Sackler added that the comments from the representative to the doctor “actually could be helpful, because many patients won’t get a buzz, and if he would like to know if they do, he might have had a good medical reason for wanting to know that.”

Sackler said he didn’t believe any of the company sales people working in Kentucky engaged in the improper conduct described in the federal plea deal. “I don’t have any facts to inform me otherwise,” he said.

Purdue said that Sackler’s statements in his deposition “fully acknowledge the wrongful actions taken by some of Purdue’s employees prior to 2002,” as laid out in the 2007 plea agreement. Both the company and Sackler “fully agree” with the facts laid out in that case, Purdue said.

Related: Secret trove reveals bold ‘crusade’ to make OxyContin a blockbuster

The deposition also reveals that Sackler pushed company officials to find out if German officials could be persuaded to loosen restrictions on the selling of OxyContin. In most countries, narcotic pain relievers are regulated as “controlled” substances because of the potential for abuse. Sackler and other Purdue executives discussed the possibility of persuading German officials to classify OxyContin as an uncontrolled drug, which would likely allow doctors to prescribe the drug more readily — for instance, without seeing a patient. Fewer rules were expected to translate into more sales, according to company documents disclosed at the deposition.

One Purdue official warned Sackler and others that it was a bad idea. Robert Kaiko, who developed OxyContin for Purdue, wrote to Sackler, “If OxyContin is uncontrolled in Germany, it is highly likely that it will eventually be abused there and then controlled.”

Nevertheless, Sackler asked a Purdue executive in Germany for projections of sales with and without controls. He also wondered whether, if one country in the European Union relaxed controls on the drug, others might do the same. When finally informed that German officials had decided the drug would be controlled like other narcotics, Sackler asked in an email if the company could appeal. Told that wasn’t possible, he wrote back to an executive in Germany, “When we are next together we should talk about how this idea was raised and why it failed to be realized. I thought that it was a good idea if it could be done.”

Asked at the deposition about that comment, Sackler responded, “That’s what I said, but I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to be encouraging.” He said he really “was not in favor of” loosening OxyContin regulation and was simply being “polite” and “solicitous” of his own employee.

Near the end of the deposition — after showing Sackler dozens of emails, memos and other records regarding the marketing of OxyContin — a lawyer for Kentucky posed a fundamental question.

“Sitting here today, after all you’ve come to learn as a witness, do you believe Purdue’s conduct in marketing and promoting OxyContin in Kentucky caused any of the prescription drug addiction problems now plaguing the Commonwealth?” he asked.

Sackler replied, “I don’t believe so.”

THIS IS A PARTIAL REPOSTING OF A STATNEWS and PROPUBLICA ARTICLE COLLABORATION (February 21, 2019)

 

 

 

Read More

Purdue Pharma’s Historical Bad Conduct Started 50 Years Ago: “Crafted By The Sackler Brothers”

 DOCUMENTS SHOW LONG-TERM DRUG INDUSTRY MANIPULATION BY THE SACKLERS

By Mark A. York (January 16, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) In 2007, Purdue Frederick Co. (not Purdue Pharma) and three company executives pled guilty to misbranding OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, in the US District Court of Virginia, see Purdue Criminal Plea Agreement US Department of Justice May 10, 2007. This plea deal “a get-out-of-jail free card” was engineered by none other than former New York City Mayor and political/corporate fixer, Rudy Guiliani, by directly leveraging high level US DOJ contacts and other DC insiders to derail the prosecution of Purdue Pharma, and instead offer up Purdue Fredrick Co. as the guilty party and thereby permitting the multi-billion dollar per year Oxycontin assembly line to continue operations.

The Sackler family has always been protected by the company shield, even though their most profitable selling opioid drug Oxycontin, and its boardroom coordinated marketing campaign was the brainchild and a direct result of the Purdue Pharma company founders, the Sackler brothers and their tried and true business model.

That is now changing, as the State of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family as well as various Purdue executives over the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Oxycontin is now recognized as the opioid fuse that ignited America’s opioid crisis, and in a positive move forward, the leading executives and members of the multibillionaire Sackler family, now known to be feuding over the opioid crisis have been named in civil litigation.

The Sacklers named in the lawsuits include Theresa and Beverly, widows of Purdue founders, brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler and Ilene, Kathe and Mortimer David Alfons Sackler, three of Mortimer’s children; Jonathan and Richard Sackler, Raymond’s two sons; and David Sackler, Raymond’s grandson. The Sackler family is worth conservatively, an estimated$13 billion according to Forbes, which has been generated from sales of OxyContin.  As is normal procedure by the Sackler family and the company itself, the Sackler family feuding members always decline requests for comment on the catastrophic opioid crisis and avoid discussing any Purdue Pharma links to how the crisis came about.

As Purdue Pharma comes to grips with the fact that they are being designated as the primary litigation targets of states, counties and cities across the country for being the Opiate Big Pharma leader in creating the current opioid crisis in the United States, they may need to determine how they will pay the billions of dollars in jury verdicts and affiliated legal settlements resulting from the lawsuits that now number over 1,200 cases in state and federal courts.

The entire Sackler brothers’ Oxycontin marketing plan followed their previously proven drug marketing test drive of “Valium” – when Hoffman-LaRoche hired the Sacklers to market their new drug “diazepam” commonly known as Valium and its sister drug Librium.

While running the drug advertising company, Arthur Sackler became a publisher, starting a biweekly newspaper, the Medical Tribune, which eventually reached 600,000 physicians. He scoffed at suggestions that there was a conflict of interest between his roles as the head of a pharmaceutical-advertising company and the publisher of a periodical for doctors. Later it emerged that a company he owned, MD Publications, had paid the chief of the antibiotics division of the FDA, Henry Welch, nearly $300,000 in exchange for Welch’s help in promoting certain drugs. Sometimes, when Welch was giving a speech, he inserted a drug’s advertising slogan into his remarks. After the payments were discovered, Welch was forced to resign from the FDA.

When Purdue Pharma started selling its prescription opioid painkiller OxyContin in 1996, Dr. Richard Sackler asked people gathered for the launch party to envision natural disasters like an earthquake, a hurricane, or a blizzard. The debut of OxyContin, said Sackler — a member of the family that started and controls the company and then a company executive — “will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”

Five years later, as questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses that came with taking OxyContin and opioid medications, Sackler outlined a strategy that critics have long accused the company of unleashing: divert the blame onto others, particularly the people who became addicted to opioids themselves.

“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” Sackler wrote in an email in February 2001. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”

Sackler’s comments at the party and his email are contained in newly public portions of a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue that alleges that the company, the Sackler family, and company executives misled prescribers and patients as they aimed to blanket the country with prescriptions for their addictive medications.

“By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible,” the state’s complaint says, noting that since 2007, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts for more than $500 million. “And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”

The new filing also reveals how Purdue aggressively pursued tight relationships with Tufts University’s Health Sciences Campus and Massachusetts General Hospital — two of the state’s premier academic medical centers — to expand prescribing by physicians, generate goodwill toward opioid painkillers among medical students and doctors in training, and combat negative reports about opioid addiction.

Since the beginning of May, the attorneys general of Florida, Nevada, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia have also filed lawsuits against the company.

New York City previously filed a $500 million suit, against pharmaceutical companies that make or distribute prescription opioids, the complaint was filed in New York state court, the Superior Court of Manhattan, which is a break from other Opioid lawsuits filed by cities, who filed into federal court, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase,  OPIOID-CRISIS: MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION. The primary claims state that the opiate drug companies fueled the deadly epidemic now afflicting the most populous U.S. city, joining Chicago, Seattle, Milwaukee and other major cities across the country in holding Big Pharma drug makers accountable for the opioid crisis. The case docket information is: City of New York v Purdue Pharma LP et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 450133/2018.

Major US Cities Filing Suit Against Opioid Big Pharma-New York, Seattle, Chicago Join MDL 2804

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement “The opioid epidemic was manufactured by unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors who developed a $400 billion industry pumping human misery into our communities”.

The suit comes three months after Underwood first announced her intention to sue the pharma giant, joining several other states that have already targeted Purdue for its alleged role in the epidemic that saw more than 3,000 New Yorkers die of opioid overdoses in 2016. Daniel Raymond, deputy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, said that the cities and states are forced to file suits now, after realizing initially that the opioid overdose rates “were primarily driven by prescription painkillers — they weren’t concentrated in urban areas.”

“But the recent rises in prescription overdoses, which in turn has accelerated a major increase in heroin overdoses, and particularly fentanyl, and the latter seems particularly prevalent in urban drug markets,” said Raymond, whose organization is based in New York City. “That’s certainly true in places like Ohio and Philadelphia, which are seeing a lot of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. That doesn’t mean the problems have waned in smaller cities and rural areas, which are also seeing fentanyl, but we are seeing increasing vulnerability in major urban centers.”

The only bright spot — and it’s a dim one at that — was that the CDC found decreases in opioid overdoses in states like West Virginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky that have been leading the nation in the category.

“We hope this is a positive sign,” said Schuchat, who credited leadership, particularly in West Virginia, with taking bold steps to combat the crisis. “But we have to be cautious in the areas that have reported decreases.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta, then Director of Public Health for West Virginia has been at the forefront of addressing the opioid crisis in not only West Virginia but across the country, he stated “Sometimes places that have had such high rates have no place to go” but down, he added, with West Virginia being one of the states to address the issues pro-actively in all areas.

The same drug abuse related issues that are in New York and other major metropolitan areas are now at healthcare crisis levels, with the causation now being seen as based on the ongoing marketing abuses by Purdue Pharma and other opiate industry drug makers and distributors.

The new CDC “Vital Signs” report was released a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a “statement of interest” in support of local governments that are suing the big pharmaceutical makers and distributors, accusing them of swamping many states with prescription painkillers and turning millions of Americans into junkies.

The new CDC numbers come from analysis of emergency room data from 16 states, including some hardest hit by the plague — Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Dozens of states, counties and local governments have independently sued opioid drugmakers in both state and federal courts across the country, (see OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE-MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION by Mass Tort Nexus) with claims alleging all opiate drug makers, distributors and now the pharmacies engaged in fraudulent marketing to sell the powerful painkillers. They also failed to monitor and report the massive increases in opioid prescriptions flooding the US marketplace. Which has now resulted in fueling the nationwide epidemic, that’s reported to have killed over a quarter million people. The now organized approach steps up those efforts as officials sift evidence and are holding not only the companies, but the executives and owners culpable in the designing the opioid crisis.

Purdue Pharma is facing a legal assault on many fronts, as cities, counties and states have either filed suit or are probing the company for an alleged role in the United States’ opioid and addiction epidemic. The lawsuit filed by Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey, is the first to bring the company’s current and former execs into the mix, including the billionaire family with sole ownership of Purdue.

The Sackler family name graces some of the nation’s most prestigious bastions of culture and learning — the Sackler Center for Arts Education at the Guggenheim Museum, the Sackler Lefcourt Center for Child Development in Manhattan and the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University, to name a few.

Now for the first time since the opioid crisis came to the attention of America, the Sackler name is front and center in a lawsuit accusing the family and the company they own and run, Purdue Pharma, of helping to fuel the deadly opioid crisis that has killed thousands of Americans.

Lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue Pharma

Under an agreement with Mass. General, Purdue has paid the hospital $3 million since 2009 and was allowed to propose “areas where education in the field of pain is needed” and “curriculum which might meet such needs,” the court document shows. Tufts made a Purdue employee an adjunct associate professor in 2011, Purdue-written materials were approved for teaching to Tufts students in 2014, and the company sent staff to Tufts as recently as 2017, the complaint says. Purdue’s New England staff was congratulated for “penetrating this account.”

A Tufts spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal process. Mass. General did not immediately comment.

In a statement Purdue criticized the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which is spearheading the lawsuit, and said the complaint was “a rush to vilify” Purdue. It noted that its medications were approved by the Food and Drug Administration and regulated by the government, and that the company promoted the medications “to licensed physicians who have the training and responsibility to ensure that medications are properly prescribed.”

“Massachusetts’ amended complaint irresponsibly and counterproductively casts every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate, substituting its lawyers’ sensational allegations for the expert scientific determinations of the [FDA] and completely ignoring the millions of patients who are prescribed Purdue Pharma’s medicines for the management of their severe chronic pain,” the company said.

It also said the state attorney general’s office omitted information about the steps Purdue has taken in the past decade to promote safe and appropriate use of opioid medicines.

“To distract from these omissions of fact and the other numerous deficiencies of its claims, the Attorney General has cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents produced by Purdue,” the company said. “The complaint is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants, often highlighting potential courses of action that were ultimately rejected by the company.”

Healey’s office sued Purdue, current and former executives, and members of the Sackler family in June. In December, it filed an amended complaint that was nearly 200 pages longer than the June filing, with more allegations spelled out against the individual defendants. Many of the details were redacted; a portion of them were made public in an updated document filed Tuesday in state court, though much of the complaint is still blacked out.

The state’s suit focuses on Purdue’s actions since 2007, when the company and three current and former executives pled guilty in federal court to fraudulently marketing OxyContin and the company agreed to pay $600 million in fines. The case is separate from litigation being waged by STAT to obtain sealed Purdue documents in Kentucky, including the only known deposition of Richard Sackler, about the company’s marketing practices in earlier years, which have been blamed for igniting the current opioid addiction crisis.

The Massachusetts complaint sketches an image of the Sacklers, as board members, exercising tight control over the company, overseeing the deployment of a phalanx of sales representatives who were pushed to get Purdue medications into more hands, at higher doses, and for longer periods of time. The Sacklers, the complaint states, reaped “billion of dollars,” even as the company blurred the risks of addiction and overdose that came with the drugs.

Richard Sackler, who was named president of the company in 1999 before becoming co-chairman in 2003, is singled out in the complaint as particularly domineering as he demanded greater sales. In 2011, he decided to shadow sales reps for a week “to make sure his orders were followed,” the complaint states.

Russell Gasdia, then the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, who is also a defendant in the Massachusetts lawsuit, went to Purdue’s chief compliance officer to warn that if Sackler directly promoted opioids, it was “a potential compliance risk.”

“LOL,” the compliance officer replied, according to the complaint. Other staff raised concerns, but they ultimately said that “Richard needs to be mum and anonymous” when he went into the field.

After the visits to doctors, Richard Sackler claimed that Purdue’s drugs shouldn’t need a legally mandated warning. He wrote in an email cited in the complaint that the warning “implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there.”

Secret trove reveals bold ‘crusade’ to make OxyContin a blockbuster

The following year, Sackler’s pressure on the staff grew so intense that Gasdia asked the CEO to intervene: “Anything you can do to reduce the direct contacts of Richard into the organization is appreciated,” Gasdia wrote in an email cited by the complaint.

It apparently didn’t work. The next week, Richard Sackler emailed sales managers to say that U.S. sales were “among the worst” in the world.

Sales managers were badgered on nights, weekends, and holidays, according to the filing. The marketing campaigns focused on high-volume doctors, who were visited repeatedly by salespeople, and pushed doctors to prescribe high doses. The demands on sales managers created such a stressful environment that in 2012, they threatened to fire all sales representatives in the Boston area because of lackluster numbers.

The complaint also accuses Purdue of rarely reporting alleged illegal activity, such as improper prescribing and massive Oxycontin order increases to government officials when it learned about it. In one 2009 case, a Purdue sales manager wrote to a company official that Purdue was promoting opioids to an illegal pill mill.

“I feel very certain this is an organized drug ring,” the employee wrote, adding “Shouldn’t the DEA be contacted about this?” Purdue did nothing for two years, according to the complaint.

In addition to relying on its sales force, Purdue cultivated ties with academic hospitals, which both treat patients and train the next generation of prescribers.

In 2002, the company started the Massachusetts General Hospital Purdue Pharma Pain Program after a Purdue employee reported that access to the hospital’s doctors “is great … they come to us with any questions, and allow us to see them when we need to.” The hospital, the staffer added, “has significant influence through most of New England, simply because they are MGH.”

As part of the program, Purdue gained influence over training programs and organized a symposium in the hospital’s famed “Ether Dome” — the site of the first public surgery with anesthetic.

The Sacklers renewed the deal with Mass. General in 2009 and agreed to contribute $3 million to fund the program, the lawsuit says.

Purdue’s funding, however, didn’t stop researchers at Mass. General from raising concerns about its products. The complaint cites a July 2011 email from Purdue’s then-chief medical officer Craig Landau — who is now the CEO and is a defendant in the lawsuit — flagging a study questioning the use of opioid painkillers for chronic pain that was conducted by Mass. General researchers with Purdue funding. Landau wanted to make sure that any Purdue-funded study supported the use of its medicines.

Purdue’s ties to Tufts date back even further, according to the lawsuit. In 1980, three Sacklers donated funding to launch the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. In 1999, the Sacklers gave money to help start the Tufts Masters of Science in Pain Research, Education, and Policy. Through the program, “Purdue got to control research on the treatment of pain coming out of a prominent and respected institution of learning,” the filing states. Purdue employees even taught a Tufts seminar about opioids, and Tufts and its teaching hospital collaborated with Purdue on a publication for patients called, “Taking Control of Your Pain.”

Purdue also allegedly used Tufts’s ties in Maine as reports about addiction emerged in the state. Tufts ran a residency program in the state, the complaint says, and in 2000 “agreed to help Purdue find doctors to attend an event where Purdue could defend its reputation.”

The bulk of the documents cited in the Massachusetts complaint were filed by Purdue in federal court in Ohio as part of a consolidated case involving hundreds of lawsuits filed by states, cities, counties, and tribes against Purdue, other opioid manufacturers, and others in the pharmaceutical industry.

Purdue says it produced 45 million pages of documents for the federal court case — known as a multidistrict litigation. In a motion filed last month and in an emergency hearing before the federal judge in Ohio overseeing the MDL, Purdue argued that the details in Massachusetts’ amended complaint were largely drawn from about 500 Purdue documents it had filed on a confidential basis in the federal court. The company’s lawyers argued the rules of confidentiality established in the federal court should apply to Massachusetts’ filing in state court, while state officials say the issue of what should be made public should be decided in state court.

Among the records Purdue said last month should remain confidential are those involving the company’s board of directors. Making them public, the company argued, would have a “chilling effect” on corporate governance.

The effort to protect the disclosure of board-related documents serves another purpose not cited by the company: It protects the Sackler family, whose members have long constituted the majority of board members.

In its filing last month, Purdue also said one company official, whom it did not name, was concerned for his safety because his home address was listed in the complaint along with “numerous irrelevant, incendiary, and misleading comments about his career at Purdue.”

Purdue’s attorneys contend the Massachusetts amended complaint is a “concerted effort by the Commonwealth to use confidential documents in an attempt to publicly embarrass Purdue and its officers, directors and employees.” They claim the information selected was “cherry-picked” to “bolster a series of inflammatory and misleading allegations against Purdue.”

In September 2017, Landau, by that time Purdue’s CEO, jotted down a note summarizing some of the roots of the opioid crisis. It reads:

“There are:
Too many Rxs being written
Too high a dose
For too long
For conditions that often don’t require them
By doctors who lack the requisite training in how
to use them appropriately.”

The state’s lawsuit concludes: “The opioid epidemic is not a mystery to the people who started it. The defendants knew what they were doing.”

The Sackler family is the 19th richest in the nation, with an estimated fortune of $13 billion, according to Forbes.

The Sacklers involved with Purdue Pharma are the descendants of brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler. Their eldest brother, Arthur, died in 1987, well before Purdue began making and selling OxyContin. Arthur also worked in pharmaceuticals and developed a reputation for cleverly marketing new drugs directly to doctors, convincing them to prescribe medications including tranquilizers to their patients.

Arthur was inducted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame after his death, but he has also been criticized for originating “most of the questionable practices that propelled the pharmaceutical industry into the scourge it is today,” as Allen Frances, the former chair of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, told the New Yorker last year.

Arthur’s family has made a point of noting that he was not involved in the sale of OxyContin and would prefer him to be remembered for his philanthropy, including funding the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Chinese Stone Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University.

“None of the charitable donations made by Arthur prior to his death, nor that I made on his behalf after his death, were funded by the production, distribution or sale of OxyContin or other revenue from Purdue Pharma,” his widow, Jillian Sackler, said in a February statement. “Period.”

Seven of the Sacklers named in the suit have been on the Purdue board since the 1990s, according to the suit, while David Sackler, the grandson, has served since 2012.

The board met on a weekly — sometimes daily — basis while the company was being investigated by 26 states and the Justice Department from 2001 to 2007, according to the lawsuit. In 2007, the board settled and agreed to pay a $700 million fine after the company’s CEO at the time, Michael Friedman, and two other high-ranking company officials pleaded guilty to misleading doctors and patients about opioids.

KENTUCKY LEGAL FIGHT TO KEEP SACKLER TESTIMONY SEALED

In an example of the past coming back to haunt the present, in 2015 Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $24 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Kentucky, December 22, 2015 Purdue Pharma Settlement With State of Kentucky,  which Purdue thought would end that problem by paying a fine and moving on, which isn’t the case it seems. See Purdue Pharma settles with Kentucky over Oxycontin claim(statnews.com/pharmalot) for information on the claims in Kentucky.

That state court litigation is now subject to an ongoing legal battle in the Kentucky courts where Purdue is fighting to keep the original court records from that settlement sealed, due to the only deposition testimony of one of the Sackler brothers is known to be located. The Purdue court records were unsealed by Pike County Judge Stephen Combs in May 2016, and Purdue immediately appealed with oral arguments taking place June 26, 2017 in front of a three judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which as of June 20, 2018 has not issued a ruling on releasing the records. The original Kentucky vs. Purdue docket information is case no. 07-CI-01303, Judge Stephen Combs, Pike County Circuit Court of Kentucky.

OxyContin was hailed as a medical marvel when it debuted in 1995. Pitched as balm for people suffering from moderate to severe pain, it reportedly generated more than $35 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma.

Oxycontin’s chief ingredient is oxycodone, a cousin of heroin, and prosecutors say Purdue played down the dangers of addiction while getting hundreds of thousands of Americans hooked on opioids.

Purdue has argued that OxyContin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and accounts for just 2 percent of the opioid prescriptions nationwide.

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Read More

Why Did The FDA Approve A Drug 10 Times Stronger Than Fentanyl-When Opiates Are Still Killing Thousands

HAS THE FDA LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THE OPIOID CRISIS THEY HELPED CREATE?

Mark A. York (November 6, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just The Opioid Facts

Drugs kill more Americans than guns, cars and AIDS. How we got here.

(Mass Tort Nexus Media) More than 175 Americans will die today of drug overdoses, which equals a 737 crashing and killing all the passengers on board every single day. But it’s not a plane crash. It is America’s opioid epidemic, one that unchecked could claim 1 million lives by 2020.

See also: Briefcases/Drugs/254/OPIOID-National-Prescription-Litigation-MDL-2804-USDC-ND-Ohio-(Eastern-Division) by Mass Tort Nexus

Who’s Minding The FDA?

A new opioid tablet that is 1,000 times more potent than morphine and 10 times stronger than fentanyl was approved by the Food and Drug Administration Friday as a fast-acting alternative to IV painkillers used in hospitals.

The painkiller Dsuvia will be restricted to limited use only in health care settings, such as hospitals, surgery centers and emergency rooms, but critics worry the opioid will fuel an already grim opioid epidemic.

Also on Friday, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a report showing that prescription drugs were responsible for the most overdose deaths of any illicit drugs since 2001.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts urged the FDA to not approve Dsuvia last month, saying “an opioid that is a thousand times more powerful than morphine is a thousand times more likely to be abused, and a thousand times more likely to kill.”

To that, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that “very tight restrictions” will be placed on Dsuvia. This statement flies in the face of reality as proven by assigned federal agencies to monitor and enforce rules on the already existing opiates that have flooded the US marketplace and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

So why should we think that anything is different with a new drug that basically comes under the same oversight umbrella as fentanyl, oxycontin and all the other prescription opiates? The DEA, FDA and anyone else assigned to monitor narcotic drug use, prescribing practices as well as marketing have failed miserably again and again.

FDA Claims Restricted Access

Dsuvia will not be available at retail pharmacies or for any home use, Gottlieb said. The medication, which comes in a single-use package, also should not be used for more than 72 hours. The medicine comes in a tablet that can dissolve under the tongue. Side effects of the potent drug include extreme tiredness, breathing problems, coma and death.

Gottlieb said military use of the drug was “carefully considered in this case” as the FDA wants to “make sure our soldiers have access to treatments that meet the unique needs of the battlefield.”

Combined with the increase in overdoses, the fact that opioids are less effective than presumed creates a substantial public health problem. We are throwing large sums of public and private money at treating opioid addiction and related issues caused by a problem that could have been completely avoided by using more effective (and less habit-forming) medications.

In the midst of a national opioid crisis, the federal agency that monitors drug ads has issued a record low number of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies caught lying about their products.

The Food and Drug Administration has sent just three notice letters to drug makers busted for false marketing their medications to unknowing consumers, the lowest ever since the FDA historic decision to ease strict rules for drug ads in 1997. “It certainly raises questions,” said Dr. David Kessler, head of the FDA from late 1990 through 1996, who’s industry credentials would add weight to the issue of why the FDA is not doing more to monitor false marketing campaigns by Big Pharma and Opioid Drug makers in particular.

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion monitors all ads drug companies issue to make sure patients aren’t being scammed by false assertions or misleading marketing campaigns. This now seems to be the norm, based on the hundreds of lawsuits filed against Opioid Drug Makers in the last 3 months, and recently consolidated into Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 see Opioid Crisis Briefcase-Mass Tort Nexus, where Big Pharma is being sued by states, cities and counties across the country. The primary claim in almost every suit is long-term boardroom coordinated false marketing campaigns designed to push opioid drug prescriptions at any cost.

 FDA Told Not to Approve Dsuvia

https://www.cdc.gov/drug-overdose-data-death counts through Oct 2018

Drug overdose deaths hit the highest level ever recorded in the United States last year, with an estimated 200 people dying per day, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Most of that was the result of a record number of opioid-related deaths.

 

How Big Pharma got into opiates: In 1898, Bayer released heroin to treat coughs and other health woes. Soon, people became addicted to heroin, a narcotic and precursor to the current Opioid Crisis.

 Preliminary figures show more than 72,000 people died in 2017 from drug overdoses across the country. About a week ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said overdose deaths, while still slowly rising, were beginning to level off, citing figures from late last year and early this year.

The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment, which was recently released, shows that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation. But federal officials are concerned that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven’t historically been hotspots for those drugs. The DEA is also worried that people are exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic cannabis into the illicit market or to states that don’t have medicinal or recreational-use marijuana laws, according to the report.

The preliminary data also showed 49,060 people died from opioid-related overdose deaths, a rise from the reported 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

Fatal heroin overdoses rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with a nearly 25 percent increase in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South. Most of the heroin sold in the U.S. is being trafficked from Mexico, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize the most amount of heroin along the Mexico border, near San Diego, California, the report said.

Fentanyl and other related opioids, which tend to be cheaper and much more potent than heroin, remain one of the biggest concerns for federal drug agents.

The DEA has said China is a main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have been flooding the U.S. market. China has pushed back against the characterization, and U.S. officials have stressed they work closely with their Chinese counterparts as they try to stem the flow of drugs.

Legislation that Trump signed last week will add treatment options and force the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for fentanyl.

Azar said in a speech last week that toward the end of 2017 and through the beginning of this year, the number of drug overdose deaths “has begun to plateau.” However, he was not indicating that deaths were going down, but that they appear to be rising at a slower rate than previously seen.

Pot Vs. Pills for Pain Relief

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary figures that appear to show a slowdown in overdose deaths from December to March. In that period, the figures show that the pace of the increase over the previous 12 months has slowed from 10 percent to 3 percent, according to the preliminary CDC figures.

Even if a slowdown is underway, no one is questioning the fact that the nation is dealing with the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history. While prescription opioid and heroin deaths appear to be leveling off, deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamines are on the rise, according to CDC data.

The DEA’s report also noted that methamphetamine is making its way into communities where the drug normally wasn’t heavily used, the report said. Chronic use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, can cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, studies have shown.

As the government enacted laws that limited access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — the ingredient used to cook meth with other household chemicals — or required the medications to be placed behind pharmacy counters, officials discovered the number of meth labs began to drop.

But the DEA has found the gap is being filled by Mexican and Latin American drug cartels that had primarily dabbled in heroin and cocaine trafficking. A saturated market on the West Coast is now driving the cartels to peddle methamphetamine into the Northeast, using the same routes they use for heroin and other drugs.

Officials also warn that because of more cocaine production in South American countries including Colombia, they expect to see larger shipments at the Mexican border.

Who Said “Pain Was The Fifth Vital Sign?”

“Pain as the fifth vital sign” became policy at VA clinics as well as VA hospitals across the U.S.

It seemed odd to equate pain with something like breathing, but doctors were advised by Purdue Pharma and other opiate makers to understand the need to “dignify” and take care of pain.

Across the country doctors seemed too willing to prescribe these opioid pills for chronic pain, patients seemed too willing to take them, and insurers seemed too willing to pay.

The Joint Commission began requiring hospitals to assess all patients for pain on a scale of 1 to 10, which some claimed caused more doctors to prescribe opioids.

Purdue gave the commission a grant to produce a pain assessment and management manual.

Officials from the commission and Purdue denied the company had anything to do with the content of the manual, co-written by Dr. June Dahl, who served on the speakers bureau for Purdue.

The manual told health care facilities the side effects of opioids had been exaggerated and that physical dependence had been wrongly confused with addiction. “There is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control,” the manual said.

Paid Endorsements In Studies

Purdue officials explained that studies on opioid addiction depended on many factors, including mental health. They cited a 2008 article by Dr. David Fishbain of the University of Miami, who analyzed 79 published studies, saying he concluded the prevalence of abuse or addiction was 3.27 percent, or 0.19 percent for those with no past addiction.

Fishbain responded that his study was misinterpreted and that addiction could be anywhere between 3.27 and 20.4 percent.

Commission officials denied its new standards encouraged doctors to prescribe more opioids, blaming drug trafficking as well as diversion and abuse by individuals.

At that time, the “evidence was broadly supported by experts across the spectrum that pain was undertreated and a serious problem leading to poor clinical outcomes,” the commission said.

The commission concluded that “millions of people in the United States suffer from pain, and failure to treat their pain is inhumane.”

The Painkiller Market

Since 1987, Purdue Pharma had been selling a timed-release drug named MS Contin, the company’s version of morphine. Seven years later, annual sales topped $88 million — the best performing painkiller Purdue officials had — but they faced problems.

Doctors knew how addictive morphine could be, and most were reluctant to prescribe MS Contin to patients suffering from chronic pain.

The even bigger problem? MS Contin’s patent would expire soon.

That meant generic drug manufacturers could make their own versions of MS Contin and eat into Purdue’s share of the painkiller market.

A generation earlier, Arthur Sackler, the brother of Purdue’s owners, had marketed Valium and other tranquilizers to women experiencing anxiety, tension or countless other symptoms. The drug broke all sales records, turning many women into addicts and Sackler into a multimillionaire.

The Sackler family planned to repeat that success with a timed-release version of OxyContin, the company’s version of oxycodone.

In internal Purdue documents obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK, company officials gushed that OxyContin could become a hit in “the $462 million Class II opioid marketplace.”

These documents detail their strategy: They would first market OxyContin strictly for cancer pain, where doctors were familiar with oxycodone.

Then the company would pivot to the lucrative market of chronic pain, which afflicted at least 25 million Americans.

Purdue’s plan included targeting primary care physicians, surgeons, obstetricians and dentists. The company even targeted home care and hospice care nurses who would “rate the patients’ pain and make a recommendation on the type of opioid and dosage for pain control.”

The plan also included targeting patients and caregivers through Purdue’s “Partners Against Pain” program. “You are the pain authority,” the website reassured patients. “You are the expert on your own pain.”

The website declared that “there are 75 million Americans living with pain, although pain management experts say they don’t have to,” reassuring patients that doctors could control their pain “through the relatively simple means of pain medications” and that the risk of addiction to opioids “very rarely occurs when under medical supervision to relieve pain.”

To ensure that OxyContin became a hit, Purdue sponsored more than 20,000 educational programs to encourage health care providers to prescribe the new drug and sent videos to 15,000 doctors.

The company also hosted dozens of all-expenses-paid national pain management conferences, where more than 5,000 physicians, pharmacists and nurses were trained for the company’s national speakers bureau.

By 2001, Purdue was spending $200 million on marketing and promotion and had doubled its sales force to 671. Before the year ended, sales bonuses reached $40 million.

No Addiction Knowledge 

Dr. Fannin, who practices in West Virginia remembers sales reps from Purdue flooding doctors’ offices in Appalachia, where poverty and pain are constant realities.

The reps gave away fishing hats, stuffed toys and music CDs titled “Get in the Swing with OxyContin.”

“Every time you turned around, you saw their faces,” Fannin said. “We had a population of doctors with very little grounding in pain, and I think Purdue took advantage of that.”

Many doctors knew about oxycodone from Percocet, which combined a small dosage of the potent opioid with 325 mg of acetaminophen.

What many of those doctors didn’t realize was that oxycodone was nearly twice as powerful as morphine, delivering a powerful high to those who use the drug.

“It’s more like heroin,” explained Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University. “It crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly.”

But the sales reps never mentioned that. Instead, they said OxyContin didn’t create highs like other opioids and was less likely to get people addicted.

Fannin recalled sales reps calling OxyContin “a revolution in pain care” and “much more effective” than the old drugs.

They also talked of studies, citing one that found only four of 11,882 patients — less than 1 percent — became addicted after using opioids. Portenoy and others repeatedly cited this research, with some calling it a “landmark study.”

The truth is it wasn’t even a study. It was a five-sentence letter to the editor that a doctor wrote the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the most part, Fannin believed what the sales reps were telling him, and so did other doctors in the region.

“Our knowledge about addiction,” he said, “was about zip.”

So they spread the opioid with their prescription pads, and it settled into the Appalachian mountains like the ever-present morning fog.

OxyContin, which some hailed as a “miracle drug,” became the blockbuster in 2001 that Purdue officials dreamed of, with more than 7 million prescriptions written and nearly $3 billion in revenue.

By 2015, the Sackler family, who owned Purdue, had made $14 billion, joining Forbes’ 2015 list of America’s richest families, edging out the Rockefellers.

MIDWEST AMERICA WAS TARGETED

According to sources at all levels from police and fire first responders to emergency room physicians across the country and analysts at the CDC, there’s been no slowdown in opiate based medical emergencies in the US over the last 2 years. Emergency response and ER visits for opioid overdoses went way up, with a 30 percent increase in the single year period of June of 2016 to June of 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increased emergency room visits also include more young children aged 3 to 14 years old, which truly reflects on the unknown number of who have access to still available opiates. These young children being able to readily find opiates at that age,  shows that anyone who has an interest in getting opiates can find them.  This often results in the inadvertent and tragic risks associated with younger victims who somehow are exposed and now being swept up in the opioid crisis.

Center for Disease Control’s Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said overall the most dramatic increases were in the Midwest, where emergency visits went up 70 percent in all ages over 25. This is a figure that’s is comparative to prior medical emergency spikes during pandemic healthcare

Recently two important medical reports on opiate abuse have emerged indicating that the opioid crisis may be at its worst point ever.

The first study comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency tasked with studying – and stopping – the spread of diseases, including everything from viral infections like the flu to mental health issues including drug addiction. Published in the agency’s monthly Vital Signs report, the study demonstrates that the number of opioid overdoses increased by 30% in a little more than one year from July 2016 to September 2017.

The second study comes from a group of VA medical personnel and public health researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), who wanted to learn how effective opioid prescription drugs were at managing long-term and chronic pain. As it turns out, opioid drugs showed less efficacy than non-opioid pain medications over a 12-month period – and in fact, over time opioids became worse for patients who had to deal with side effects that patients taking non-opioid medications did not have to deal with. Taken together, these two studies show that current opioid drug policies, procedures, prescription practices and standards of patient care clearly need to be rethought.

For Information on Opiate Litigation and other mass torts:

Kevin Thompson will speak on the Opiate NAS Addicted Infant MDL 2872 litigation as well as the status of opioid litigation and related issues at the upcoming Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”

November 9-12, 2018 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL.

For class attendance information please contact Jenny Levine at 954.520.4494 or Jenny@masstortnexus.com.

       1. For the most up-to-date information on all MDL dockets and related mass torts visit  www.masstortnexus.com and review our             mass tort briefcases and professional site MDL briefcases.

      2. To obtain our free newsletters that contain real time mass tort updates, visit www.masstortnexus.com/news and sign up for                free access.

 

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Why the New Opioid Infant Addicted-NAS MDL 2872 Was Filed At The Right Time -The Opioid Industry Model of “Profits Before Patients” Is Killing Children

How Will Opiate Big Pharma Address Thousands of Addicted Infants?

By Mark A. York (October 4, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase MDL-2872 Children-Born-Opioid-Dependent-(Infant NAS) Filed September 20, 2018 for related Infant/NAS case filing information

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA)  Tens of thousands of infants born in the U.S. each year now have NAS, and a recent  Centers for Disease Control report  said the rate of NAS deliveries at hospitals quadrupled during the past 15 years.  The period of hospitalization for NAS infants averages 16 days and hospital costs for a typical newborn with NAS are $159,000-$238,000 greater than those of healthy newborns, according to the attorneys representing the NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome) babies.

With the filing of a New Motion to Consolidate Opiate Addicted Infant Case as MDL 2872 with the Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, the fire may be lit to move the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis into the forefront of the litigation. Will this force Opiate Big Pharma to pay for 20 years of bad conduct in pushing opiate prescriptions on American commerce?  See MDL 2872 Motion to Consolidate Infant-NAS Addicted Opiate Litigation

In West Virginia, home of the highest overdose rates in the nation, the foster care population has increased by 42 percent since 2014.   Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, from 2013 and released in 2016, suggested West Virginia had the highest rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) of 21 states analyzed.

Later data collected by the state showed the state’s rate was higher than the CDC report indicated, said Christina Mullins, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health.

The 2016 CDC report, which said NAS “occurs primarily among opioid-exposed infants,” showed that as of 2013, West Virginia’s NAS rate was 3.34 percent of all hospital births, a hair higher than Vermont’s 3.33 percent.

After those two states, the rate plummeted significantly, with Kentucky’s 1.5 percent being the next highest – although Maine, which had no data reported in 2013, did have a 3.04 percent rate in 2012, lower than Vermont’s then-No. 1 rate of 3.05 percent and higher than West Virginia’s then-No. 3 rate of 2.17 percent.

Mullins said the data previously came from hospital discharge data, and it’s not easily comparable across all states. She said that when the state began collecting real-time data in October 2016, it got a rate of about 5 percent of all births.

Mullins presented Monday to a legislative interim committee that heard several reports regarding likely impacts of the opioid crisis on kids and education.

The reports indicated that the state was No. 1 or No. 2 in the country in removing children from their homes; the number of youth in state custody increased 46 percent from October 2014 to October of last year; there’s been a 22 percent increase in accepted abuse/neglect referrals over three years; and 85 percent of open child abuse/neglect cases involve drugs.

The number of children in state or foster care hit a record low in Massachusetts earlier this decade. Since then, that number has risen by a quarter, and there are now more children in state care than ever before.

>States, Counties, Cities and others are suing opioid drug makers and distributor in both state and federal courts, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase “Opioid Litigation Versus Opiate Prescription Industry MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio”

 Opioid use by women in rural areas is driving the increasing numbers. Tennessee is part of a cluster of states, including Alabama and Kentucky, experiencing some of the highest rates of NAS births. In East Tennessee the problem is particularly acute: Sullivan County alone reported a rate of 50.5 cases of NAS per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the state for five years running.

In Canada, during the past decade, the number of babies exposed to opioids in the womb has increased 16-fold in Ontario. And according to Ontario’s Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health (PCMCH), more than 950 infants were born to opioid-addicted mothers last year. Just over half of them will live the toughest days of their lives in their first week outside the womb.

Until the governments at the federal, state and local levels can all agree on a long-term viable solution to the opioid crisis and the impact on school age children, infants born addicted and society as a whole, the opiate drug crisis will linger for generations long into the future.

In Ohio, the number of children in state custody has grown by 28 percent since 2015. Foster care populations are up more than 30 percent in Alabama, Alaska, California, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota and New Hampshire since 2014. States like Illinois, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey now adopting new approaches to help keep parents and children together, even as parents are receiving treatment for their addictions.

The opioid epidemic plaguing the nation is taking a catastrophic toll on our most vulnerable group, the children of the opiate addicts and those with substance use disorders. Many children are sent to live with grandparents or other family members, often due to a parent overdose or other addiction displays other problems but tragically, a growing number are being placed in the foster-care system, with many states unable to keep up with the demand from both a budget as well as staffing overload.

From 2013 to 2015, the number of children in foster care nationwide jumped almost 7 percent to nearly 429,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families, the 2016 to 2018 numbers have moved that number closer to 550,000. Parental substance use was cited as a factor in about 32 percent of all foster placements. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died of an overdose, and currently 91 people a day die from opiate overdoses.

Unfortunately, many children, the indirect victims of the crisis, are not getting the care and services they need. “This is a neglected subpopulation,” says John Kelly, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry in addiction medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the founder and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital. “Because we’re trying to put out the fire in terms of stopping overdose deaths, we haven’t really been attending to other casualties, including kids most importantly.”

To lessen the long-term effects on children, psychologists are treating children in the foster-care system in outpatient, inpatient and residential treatment programs and in school-based mental health programs.

“Treating Women Who Are Pregnant and Parenting for Opioid Use Disorder and the Concurrent Care of Their Infants and Children: Literature Review to Support National Guidance.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28406856

[STUDY OBJECTIVES: The prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) during pregnancy is increasing. Practical recommendations will help providers treat pregnant women with OUD and reduce potentially negative health consequences for mother, fetus, and child. This article summarizes the literature review conducted using the RAND/University of California, Los Angeles Appropriateness Method project completed by the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to obtain current evidence on treatment approaches for pregnant and parenting women with OUD and their infants and children]

Drug users’ children flooding to foster care

In Washington state, this number is alarming but not widely known, 10,000 high-school seniors said they used heroin or gotten high on opioid-derived painkillers in 2016, those numbers were about the same as two years prior, but foster care placements have surged.

 

Between 2011 and 2017, the state took children from drug-abusing parents nearly 14,000 times. Last year’s rate was the highest for drug-related causes since 2010 — up 16 percent over 2015 — while state hospitals report a steady increase in substance-exposed newborns.

Child-welfare workers hear complaints about increasingly severe problems in school — more physical violence toward peers, or kids who need to be taught separately — from students whose parents are staggering through addiction, said Jenna Kiser, who oversees intake at the state Children’s Administration.

Jenny Heddin, a state agency supervisor stated, “These numbers are very concerning, when children from these homes come into foster care, they can be very difficult to serve.”

This represent one corner of a national wave. More than 37 states report unprecedented numbers of kids entering foster care, many of them for reasons related to a parent’s substance abuse, according to the federal Department of Education.

Damaging children’s futures

By the time Child Protective Services is knocking on someone’s door, the problem is already severe. And so far efforts to respond might best be described as triage — focused more on addiction treatment than prevention, both in Washington and across the country.

As in many other states, political infighting prevents treatment, earlier this year Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed spending $20 million on a multipronged effort to combat opioid addiction. The bill never made it to the floor for a full vote, and it contained little funding for prevention. (But $1.7 million targeted for youth did get funding.)

Yet researchers warn that ignoring that aspect of the crisis virtually guarantees costly problems to come as the children of addicts grow into adulthood. Kevin Haggerty, a professor at the University of Washington who studies risk factors for drug abuse, authored one of the few peer-reviewed studies tracking life outcomes for these young people.

In the early 1990s, Professor Haggerty identified 151 elementary and middle-school children in Washington who were growing up with heroin-addicted parents. Fifteen years later, 33 percent had dropped out of high school. The vast majority were addicts themselves, and half had criminal records. Only 2 percent had made it through college. (Nationally, 33 percent of all kindergartners in 1992 grew up to earn a college degree.)

“The results are astounding at how poor the outcomes are, when having a drug-addicted parent,” said Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.

“We need to be doing a lot more for kids being parented by opiate-addicted parents — and we’re not.”

“Families literally bring their problems to our door now to help them navigate their lives,” Harrington-Bacote said. “Public schools are doing things that fall way outside of regular academic education. But if they don’t, it’s not going to get addressed at all.”

OHIO EXAMPLES – HOW BIG PHARMA OPIOID MONEY DESTROYS LIVES

Way before social workers showed up in his living room this March, Matt McLaughlin, a 16-year-old with diabetes, had taken to a routine not of his doing, trying to scrounge up enough change for food while his mom, Kelly, went out to use heroin. On a good night, the high school junior would walk his neighborhood in Andover, Ohio to pick up frozen pizza from the dollar store, and on bad nights, he’d play video games to keep his mind off his hunger and unknown blood sugar levels.

When Matt was little, his mom Kelly was a Head Start caseworker who taught parents how to manage their autistic children and who hosted potlucks and played Barbie with Matt’s sister, Brianna. “Growing up, we were the house that everyone wanted to come to,” remembered Brianna, now 20. “I loved every minute of it.”

Kelly had neck surgery and got addicted to OxyContin, and by 2015, she was spending her days napping, disappearing for hours at a time, or going to her neighbor’s house, where she would exchange cash for packets of heroin. She started yelling at the kids, food became scarce, life changed for the worse, “It’s like her personality did a 180,” Brianna said. “I felt like I lost my mom to this pit that I couldn’t pull her out of.”

Ashtabula County Children Services answered a tip when someone called the police and urged them to check on the family.

She’d been to detox several times over the years, trying to rid herself of what felt like a demon that had taken over her brain. Last year, she managed to stay clean for 63 days, until a friend came over “and laid out a line—and that was all it took.” There are five heroin dealers within a five-mile radius and all are more than willing to provide an addict the opiate of choice, which is the norm for rural Ohio anymore.

Her kids were once again forced to pack their bags as Kelly would go to detox another time, they were lucky to have relatives nearby. The spiraling opioid epidemic has disrupted so many families that all the foster homes in Ashtabula County are full, with this story being repeated across the country every day.

The scourge of addiction to painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl sweeping the country has produced a flood of bewildered children who, having lost their parents to drug use or overdose, are now living with foster families or relatives. In Ashtabula County, in Ohio’s northeast corner, the number of children in court custody quadrupled from 69 in 2014 to 279 last year. “I can’t remember the last time I removed a kid and it didn’t have to do with drugs,” says a child services supervisor.  Her clients range from preschoolers who know to call 911 when a parent overdoses to steely teenagers who cook and clean while Mom and Dad spend all day in the bathroom. Often, the kids marvel at how quickly everything changed—how a loving mom could transform, as one teenager put it, into a “zombie.”

The pattern mirrors a national trend: Largely because of the opioid epidemic, there were 30,000 more children in foster care in 2015 than there were in 2012—an 8 percent increase. In 14 states, from New Hampshire to North Dakota, the number of foster kids rose by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2015, according to data amassed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In Texas, Florida, Oregon, and elsewhere, kids have been forced to sleep in state buildings because there were no foster homes available, says advocacy group Children’s Rights. Federal child welfare money has been dwindling for years, leaving state and local funding to fill in the gaps. But Ashtabula County is one of the poorest counties in Ohio, and despite a recent boost in funding, the state contributes the lowest share toward children’s services of any state in the country. 

More Broken Families, Less Funding

 Ohio also has one of the nation’s highest overdose rates. In 2016, at least 4,149 Ohioans died of drug overdose—a 36 percent jump from the year before, according to the Columbus Dispatch. In 2015, 1 in 9 US heroin deaths occurred in Ohio.

It’s hard to overstate just how pervasive the epidemic feels here. Detective Taylor Cleveland, who investigates drug cases in Ashtabula, told me, “I’m dealing with ruined homes two and three times a day.” Cleveland, who coaches youth soccer and recently adopted a 17-year-old player whose mom overdosed, leads a task force that responds to every overdose in the county. Once, he arrived at an overdose scene only to realize that the victim slouched over in the motel room was his cousin, whose young daughter had called 911. “Every OD that happens, I get a text. I’ve gotten two texts while we’ve been talking.” We’d been talking for less than an hour.

Given the scale of the crisis, it’s not hard to understand why, when Donald Trump promised Ohioans on the campaign trail to “spend the money” to confront the opioid crisis and build a wall so drugs would stop flowing in, locals in this historically blue county took notice. In late October, Trump became the first presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy to visit Ashtabula County. He promised to bring back jobs, to open the long-shuttered steel plants, to build the wall. Twelve days later, Ashtabula residents voted for a Republican president for the first time since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

WHITE HOUSE PROMISED ON OPIOIDS BUT DIDN’T DELIVER

But since he took office, Trump’s plans to tackle the epidemic head-on have fizzled. Republicans’ recent effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would slash funding for Medicaid, which is the country’s largest payer for addiction services—and which covers nearly half of Ohio’s prescriptions for the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill would enable insurers in some states to get out of the Obamacare requirement to cover substance abuse treatment. A memo leaked in May revealed Trump’s plans to effectively eliminate the White House’s drug policy office, cutting its budget by 95 percent. (The administration has since backpedaled on the plans, following bipartisan criticism.) Trump’s 2018 budget proposes substantial cuts to the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

“I think some people felt as though nothing else is working,” said one Ashtabula resident when I asked why so many in a Medicaid-dependent area would vote for Trump. Now, she says, “I’m really, really scared. You don’t get it until you live in a small town and you see people die every day.”

Like so many other Midwest Rust Belt counties, Ashtabula, Ohio has seen better days. Locals proudly tell me that the Port of Ashtabula used to be one of the biggest in the world, where barges unloaded iron mined from Minnesota’s Mesabi Range onto trains headed for the steel mills of the Ohio River Valley. Today, once-bustling streets have given way to vacant storefronts and fast-food chains; the surrounding countryside is made up of farm fields, trailer parks, and junkyards. One in three kids now live below the federal poverty line, less than half of adults have a high school education. The financial downturn accelerated in the ’90s when manufacturing jobs started disappearing.

Then Opiate Big Pharma and their marketing campaigns introduced newer “less addictive” painkillers like OxyContin and others like Vicodin were liberally prescribed in communities wrestling with dwindling economic opportunity and rife with workplace injuries common to mines, lumberyards, and factories. As authorities started to tighten the rules on prescribing drugs like OxyContin, the use of heroin, which is chemically nearly identical to opioid painkillers, crept up. But the tipping point, for Ohio and the country, came over the past couple of years, when illicit fentanyl, an opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, started making its way into the heroin supply. Since then, says Dr. Thomas Gilson, the medical examiner for nearby Cuyahoga County, the deaths have been coming “like a tidal wave.”

About five years ago, Ohio noticed a major uptick in the number of parents using heroin. More recently, elected officials have learned more about the parasitic way that opioids co-opt the brain and the complex pull of addictions attitudes have softened, with most realizing there is no good guy or bad guy, once addiction takes hold. The long-term problems are often multiplied many times over by lack of short-term treatment.

Gov. John Kasich, a notorious budget hawk, made national news when he pushed Medicaid expansion through Ohio’s conservative Legislature. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter,” he told one lawmaker, “he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.” He made news yet again last week, when he signed a 2018 budget that will, for the first time in years, increase the state’s funding for children’s services. Yet the $30 million boost in funding over two years, which will pay foster parents and provide counseling for the kids, won’t make up for the $55 million increase in child placement costs over the past three years. Other than county pilot programs, “No policy or state investment has focused specifically on the children flooding into county agency custody as a result of the opioid epidemic,” concluded a report by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio this spring.

Meanwhile, federal funding for children’s services decreased by 16 percent between 2004 and 2014. That’s due in part to an arcane law stipulating that the largest pot of federal money for children’s services applies only to kids from below a certain income threshold. In many states, that threshold is about half the poverty level—in Ohio, it’s roughly $14,000 per year for a family of four. But the opioid epidemic has afflicted families of all stripes. “A few years ago, I was constantly just in homes that were clearly in poverty,” says Mongenel. Now she’s struck by her new clients’ well-kept houses: “You pull up to it and it’s like, ‘Really?’”

The director of one Ohio county stated “that more caseworkers are quitting than ever before, unable to reconcile the overwhelming caseload with the paltry salary, which starts at $28,500..’”

CPS and affiliated social services agencies across the United States are now becoming much more familiar with the latest addiction research on ACEs and impacts on young children. They know that a child with four or more ACEs is twice as likely as other kids to develop cancer and ten times more likely to inject drugs themselves. When they encounter someone like Lisa, they are torn between mitigating one ACE, exposure to parental substance abuse, and catalyzing another: separating a child from her parents, which is what makes these conversations so heart-wrenching.

For county and state professionalsone of the most difficult things about managing opioid cases is how unpredictable they can be, never knowing how a client’s drug-addicted parent will do after detox. Some thrive and are quickly reunited with their families. Others can’t pull themselves out of the black hole of addiction.

Every 19 minutes, an opioid addicted baby is born in America, while many of us are well aware of the repercussions of addiction in adults, but very little is understood about the impact it has on infants. After months of being fed opioids through the mother, these babies suffer through excruciating pain.

Imagine, then, how it feels for a baby. Infants who have been exposed to opioid painkillers like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone treatment or street drugs such as heroin while in utero are literally cut off from the drugs when they are born. Within their first 72 hours of life, about half of the babies who have been exposed begin having withdrawal symptoms.

The medical term for this is neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and rates of babies born with it are rising along with the exponential increase of painkiller use and abuse.

A recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that nearly six out of every 1,000 infants born in the U.S. are now diagnosed with NAS. However, experts say that rate is likely higher, as not all states regularly collect such data.

In Tennessee which is currently the only state in the country that equates substance abuse while pregnant with aggravated assault, the penalty is punishable by a 15-year prison sentence. Eighteen other states consider it to be child abuse, and three say its grounds for civil commitment. Four states require drug testing of mothers and 18 require that healthcare professionals report when drug abuse is suspected. There are also 19 states that have created funding for targeted drug treatment programs for pregnant women.

Opponents of the punishment philosophy claim that punishing addicted pregnant women will not stop them from abusing drugs – instead it will stop them from seeking prenatal care. Many also claim that these policies would unfairly punish mothers for drug use compared to fathers. Organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have encouraged a treatment over punishment approach for pregnant mothers with drug addictions.

For the most up to date information on all MDL dockets and related mass torts visit www.masstortnexus.com and review our mass tort briefcases and professional site MDL briefcases.

To obtain our free newsletters that contain real time mass tort updates, visit www.masstortnexus.com/news and sign up for free access.  

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Why Isn’t Medical Cannabis Used to Treat Opioid and Substance Abuse Disorders More Often? 

Will Medical Marijuana Become A Viable Addiction Treatment Option?

By Mark A. York (September 28, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) More and more medical treatment professionals, politicians and others have joined in the quickly emerging role of medical marijuana to help in treatment by patients struggling with opioid addiction. Now, two studies are reflecting this emerging treatment to be viable.

Will medical marijuana become a viable option in the long term treatment programs that may be coming out of the Opiate Prescription Litigation MDL 2804 and the many state court opioid based lawsuits filed across the country? See Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase Re: National-Prescription-Litigation-MDL-2804-USDC-ND-Ohio, where the various opioid litigation dockets and court rulings are provided.

Recent studies, published journal JAMA Internal Medicine, compared opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those that have not. One of the studies looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015, while the other looked at opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016.

Additionally, three states have approved Medical Cannabis for alternative treatments related to both pain management and substance abuse disorders, where cannabis has been determined as an appropriate treatment. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois are at the forefront of using changes to state laws regarding medical cannabis in the most effective clinical settings when possible.

PENNSYLVANIA CANNABIS BASED OPIOID ADDICTION TREATMENT

The Pennsylvania Department of Health approved major changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, when the  health department added opioid addiction to the list of conditions eligible for treatment with medicinal cannabis. With that decision, Pennsylvania joins New Jersey and Illinois as the only states that have done so.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine told local media that marijuana won’t be the first treatment for addiction to opioids. Instead, doctors will try more traditional therapies first.

“It’s important to note that medical marijuana is not a substitute for proven treatments for opioid use disorder,” Dr. Levine said. “In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana will be available to patients if all other treatment fails, or if a physician recommends that it be used in conjunction with traditional therapies.”

A related positive note by Pennsylvania is the Department of Health has approved cannabis research licenses for five Philadelphia area medical schools on Monday. With one topic of research at the institutions being the potential role of cannabis in addiction treatment as a normal treatment protocol.

The schools that received approval to study cannabis are Drexel University College of Medicine, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

JAMA STUDY RESULTS

The researchers found that states that allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes had 2.21 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed per year under Medicare Part D, compared with those states without medical cannabis laws. Opioid prescriptions under Medicaid also dropped by 5.88% in states with medical cannabis laws compared with states without such laws, according to the studies.

“This study adds one more brick in the wall in the argument that cannabis clearly has medical applications,” said David Bradford, professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia and a lead author of the Medicare study.

“And for pain patients in particular, our work adds to the argument that cannabis can be effective.”

Medicare Part D, the optional prescription drug benefit plan for those enrolled in Medicare, covers more than 42 million Americans, including those 65 or older. Medicaid provides health coverage to more than 73 million low-income individuals in the US, according to the program’s website.

“Medicare and Medicaid publishes this data, and we’re free to use it, and anyone who’s interested can download the data,” Bradford said. “But that means that we don’t know what’s going on with the privately insured and the uninsured population, and for that, I’m afraid the data sets are proprietary and expensive.”

Republicans Support Legalizing Medical Cannabis

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences, in a 395-page report, refuted the official US Department of Justice position that cannabis is a “gateway drug” and that using marijuana can lead to opioid addiction and instead found evidence of cannabis having therapeutic and health benefits. Joe Schrank, a social worker who worked at various detox centers and clean houses, is now practicing the report’s findings at High Sobriety treatment center in Los Angeles, where he offers clients medical and therapeutic sessions, and daily doses of marijuana to treat a variety of addictions.

The Opioid Crisis Is Here

The new research comes as the United States remains entangled in the worst opioid epidemic the world has ever seen. Opioid overdose has risen dramatically over the past 15 years and has been implicated in over 500,000 deaths since 2000 — more than the number of Americans killed in World War II.

“As somebody who treats patients with opioid use disorders, this crisis is very real. These patients die every day, and it’s quite shocking in many ways,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the new studies.

“We have had overuse of certain prescription opioids over the years, and it’s certainly contributed to the opioid crisis that we’re feeling,” he added. “I don’t think that’s the only reason, but certainly, it was too easy at many points to get prescriptions for opioids.”

Today, more than 90 Americans a day die from opioid overdose, resulting in more than 42,000 deaths per year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdose recently overtook vehicular accidents and shooting deaths as the most common cause of accidental death in the United States, the CDC says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctors must lead us out of our opioid abuse epidemic

Like opioids, marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating chronic pain as well as other conditions such as seizures, multiple sclerosis and certain mental disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research suggests that the cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems rely on common signaling pathways in the brain, including the dopamine reward system that is central to drug tolerance, dependence and addiction.

“All drugs of abuse operate using some shared pathways. For example, cannabinoid receptors and opioid receptors coincidentally happen to be located very close by in many places in the brain,” Hill said. “So it stands to reason that a medication that affects one system might affect the other.”

But unlike opioids, marijuana has little addiction potential, and virtually no deaths from marijuana overdose have been reported in the United States, according to Bradford.

“No one has ever died of cannabis, so it has many safety advantages over opiates,” Bradford said. “And to the extent that we’re trying to manage the opiate crisis, cannabis is a potential tool.”

Comparing states with and without medical marijuana laws

  • Researchers compared prescription patterns in states with and without medical cannabis laws
  • States with medical marijuana had 2.21 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed per year
  • Opioid prescriptions under Medicaid dropped by 5.88% in states with medical cannabis laws

In order to evaluate whether medical marijuana could function as an effective and safe alternative to opioids, the two teams of researchers looked at whether opioid prescriptions were lower in states that had active medical cannabis laws and whether those states that enacted these laws during the study period saw reductions in opioid prescriptions.

Both teams, in fact, did find that opioid prescriptions were significantly lower in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws. The team that looked at Medicaid patients also found that the four states that switched from medical use only to recreational use — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — saw further reductions in opioid prescriptions, according to Hefei Wen, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Kentucky and a lead author on the Medicaid study.

“We saw a 9% or 10% reduction (in opioid prescriptions) in Colorado and Oregon,” Wen said. “And in Alaska and Washington, the magnitude was a little bit smaller but still significant.”

Cannabis legalization by the numbers

The first state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medicinal use was California, in 1996. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of legalized cannabis. All of these states include chronic pain — either directly or indirectly — in the list of approved medical conditions for marijuana use, according to Bradford.

The details of the medical cannabis laws were found to have a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns, the researchers found. States that permitted recreational use, for example, saw an additional 6.38% reduction in opioid prescriptions under Medicaid compared with those states that permitted marijuana only for medical use, according to Wen.

The method of procurement also had a significant impact on opioid prescription patterns. States that permitted medical dispensaries — regulated shops that people can visit to purchase cannabis products — had 3.742 million fewer opioid prescriptions filled per year under Medicare Part D, while those that allowed only home cultivation had 1.792 million fewer opioid prescriptions per year.

“We found that there was about a 14.5% reduction in any opiate use when dispensaries were turned on — and that was statistically significant — and about a 7% reduction in any opiate use when home cultivation only was turned on,” Bradford said. “So dispensaries are much more powerful in terms of shifting people away from the use of opiates.”

The impact of these laws also differed based on the class of opioid prescribed. Specifically, states with medical cannabis laws saw 20.7% fewer morphine prescriptions and 17.4% fewer hydrocodone prescriptions compared with states that did not have these laws, according to Bradford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is fentanyl: A visual guide

Fentanyl prescriptions under Medicare Part D also dropped by 8.5% in states that had enacted medical cannabis laws, though the difference was not statistically significant, Bradford said. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, like heroin, that can be prescribed legally by physicians. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and even a small amount can be fatal, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“I know that many people, including the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are skeptical of cannabis,” Bradford said. “But, you know, the attorney general needs to be terrified of fentanyl.”

MAKING CANNABIS AVAILABLE

This is not the first time researchers have found a link between marijuana legalization and decreased opioid use. A 2014 study showed that states with medical cannabis laws had 24.8% fewer opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010. A study in 2017 also found that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2012 reversed the state’s upward trend in opioid-related deaths.

“There is a growing body of scientific literature suggesting that legal access to marijuana can reduce the use of opioids as well as opioid-related overdose deaths,” said Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In states with medical marijuana laws, we have already seen decreased admissions for opioid-related treatment and dramatically reduced rates of opioid overdoses.”

Sessions: DOJ looking at ‘rational’ marijuana policy

Some skeptics, though, argue that marijuana legalization could actually worsen the opioid epidemic. Another 2017 study, for example, showed a positive association between illicit cannabis use and opioid use disorders in the United States. But there may be an important difference between illicit cannabis use and legalized cannabis use, according to Hill.

“As we have all of these states implementing these policies, it’s imperative that we do more research,” Hill said. “We need to study the effects of these policies, and we really haven’t done it to the degree that we should.”

The two recent studies looked only at patients enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare Part D, meaning the results may not be generalizable to the entire US population.

But both Hill and Moore agree that as more states debate the merits of legalizing marijuana in the coming months and years, more research will be needed to create consistency between cannabis science and cannabis policy.

“There is a great deal of movement in the Northeast, with New Hampshire and New Jersey being well-positioned to legalize adult use,” Moore said. “I believe there are also ballot measures to legalize marijuana in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota as well that voters will decide on in Fall 2018.”

Hill called the new research “a call to action” and added, “we should be studying these policies. But unfortunately, the policies have far outpaced the science at this point.”

There are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved painkillers derived from marijuana, but companies such as Axim Biotechnologies Inc, Nemus Bioscience Inc and Intec Pharma Ltd have drugs in various stages of development.

The companies are targeting the more than 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, and are dependent on opioid painkillers such as Vicodin, or addicted to street opiates including heroin.

Opioid overdoses, which have claimed the lives of celebrities including Prince and Heath Ledger as victims, contributed to more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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A New Opiate MDL Was Requested For Benefit of Opioid Addicted Babies On September 20, 2018

THE JPML HAS BEEN REQUESTED TO CONSOLIDATE A NEW ADDICTED INFANT MULTIDISTRICT LITIGATION

By Mark A. York (September 21, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have the most vunerable plaintiffs in the opiate litigation been underserved by firms primarily focused on representing governmental entities in Opiate MDL 2804 and state court consolidations? What about the epidemic of NAS affected babies who have been born addicted to prescription opiates?

Link to Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase Re: OPIOIDS-Children-Born-Opioid-Dependent-(NAS)-JPML-MDL-(PENDING)

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Lawyers representing addicted infants in the opiate litigation have now filed a Motion for Transfer and Consolidation of Children Born Opioid Dependent with the JPML on September 21, 2018. To read the entire JPML Motion and Brief in Support, see our briefcase Re: masstortnexus.com/News/4335/Motion-for-New-Infant-NAS-Opioid-Dependant-MDL-Filed-With-JPML-September-20-2018.

Plaintiffs lawyers have also filed class actions in nine states on behalf of infants, and other “individuals” affected by opiate use and subsequent addiction, with very limited input into the federal litigation process. On May 21, 2018 a coalition of nine law firms filed court papers asking MDL 2804 Judge Dan Polster (USDC ND Ohio) for permission to request a separate discovery and litigation track for the baby cases, which was summarily denied without comment by the court on June 28, 2018.

Lawyers and public health officials have estimated that there could be more than 1 million babies diagnosed with “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” which occurs when infants are born to mothers who used opioids. There is a request seeking a trust of more than $1 billion to help pay for medical monitoring of the children over the next few decades.

“There has been no large-scale attempt to find out what happens to these children, and there are thousands at this time, perhaps over 1 million, progressing now through the school system and growing up,” said Scott Bickford, a principal at Martzell, Bickford & Centola in New Orleans. “Theoretically, these kids are born addicted and may stay addicts for life.”

Treatment and Prognosis for Opioid Addicted Newborns

The course of treatment will be determined by factors such as:

  • Baby’s gestational age, medical history, and health
  • Severity of the disorder and expectation of the effects it will have
  • Baby’s tolerance of the therapies, procedures, or medications
  • Parents’ preference

Immediate treatment for withdrawal effects focuses on comfort and thriving. Babies suffering from opioid withdrawal often have trouble resting and eating, so treatment involves:

  • Swaddling for comfort
  • Adding extra calories to account for energy used through restlessness and increased activity
  • Intravenous fluids for dehydration
  • Medication to relieve discomfort and eliminate symptoms like seizures

Long-term treatment involves treating physical and behavioral effects and can involve:

  • Monitoring and treating vision and hearing impairments
  • Therapy for behavioral problems
  • Language therapy
  • Treatment for chronic ear infections
  • Interventions for cognitive deficits
  • Treatment for sleep disturbance

Babies are the latest segment of the opioid epidemic to attempt to get a front-row seat in the legal case against manufacturers and distributors. More than 1,000 lawsuits have been coordinated in multidistrict litigation in Cleveland before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of the Northern District of Ohio, who has allowed a limited amount of discovery to go forward, (see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase OPIOID-National-Prescription-Litigation-MDL-2804-USDC-Northern-District-of-Ohio) for case docket information.

The vast majority of plaintiffs are cities and counties seeking to recoup the costs of medical treatment and law enforcement, but Native American tribes, hospitals and others have elbowed into the case. New plaintiffs are emerging, such as class actions—including eight filed this week—filed on behalf of individuals alleging the opioid epidemic caused their health insurance premiums to skyrocket.

At least 11 cases have been brought on behalf of babies, many of whom suffer from addiction and learning disabilities. Bickford said the cases are in states that have medical monitoring laws, which include New York and California. According to the case filed in New York Supreme Court for Niagara County, for instance, lifetime medical costs could include treatment of developmental, psychiatric, emotional or behavioral disorders associated with addiction.

THIS IS A MUCH BIGGER PROBLEM

Dr. Shawn Hollinger, neonatologist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, cradled baby Jayden’s head in an effort to comfort him. After 35 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Jayden was ready to go home.

The number of children needing intensive treatment for NAS has become so overwhelming that the hospital opened a new ward this year just to care for them. Since 2009, hospital staff have treated over 1,800 babies with NAS. In the past 12 months, Hollinger has seen 351 infants with NAS come through the NICU.

After birth, children exposed to drugs in the womb experience a multitude of symptoms, including tremors and seizures. Even after being released from the hospital, some children may still have to be treated with medication and physical therapy. It can cost upwards of $60,000 to treat one baby.

“The intent would be to construct a trust that would deliver financial assistance directly to the custodians of these children,” he said. Custodians could include other family members, foster parents or birth parents who have kicked the habit, he said.

The defendants in all the baby cases include opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions and Teva Pharmaceuticals, as well as distributors McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. The New York complaint also named Insys Therapeutics Inc.

Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Wanda Moebius wrote in an email: “Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications.”

Endo spokeswoman Heather Zoumas Lubeski said, “We deny the allegations contained in these lawsuits and intend to vigorously defend the company.”

Representatives of the other defendants either did not respond or declined to comment.

It’s not the first time the coalition of law firms tried to get Polster to create a separate “baby track.” On June 28, the judge denied an earlier request.

“We’ve asked the court to reconsider our motion for a separate baby track for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Bickford said. “We don’t think the present MDL and the people in it who essentially represent state and local governments really have the children’s interests at heart.”

The plaintiffs’ executive committee in charge of the opioid MDL has refused to provide information about discovery and depositions, he said. His request described the discovery process as operating under a “cloak of secrecy” and included an attached email exchange in which executive committee member Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy called his request to monitor depositions “not necessary” and “burdensome.”

Conroy said in a statement: “All our legal efforts are directed at the companies who caused the opioid epidemic.  Any success will benefit all victims.”

Earlier this summer, the Judge charged with control over the federal MDL involving government entities’ claims against opioid manufacturers and distributors rejected a request for the inclusion of NAS baby cases within a special litigation track. The request would create a nationwide medical monitoring trust fund for NAS babies within the existing MDL litigation regarding prescription opioid

On May 31, 2018 counsel for the baby/NAS addicted plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to Establish a Separate Track for Opioid Baby Claims, with the court denying the request via text order entry below.

06/28/2018 Order [non-document] denying Motion for leave to File Motion for Order to Establish Separate Track for Opioid Baby Claims filed by Melissa Ambrosio, Darren Flanagan, Elena Flanagan, Ceonda Rees, Deric Rees, Virginia Salmons, Walter Salmons, Roxie Whitley, Rache l Wood(Related Doc # 540 ). Judge Dan Aaron Polster (MDL 2804) on 6/28/18.(P,R) (Entered: 06
Court Response to Previous Attempt to Get a Baby Track in Opiate MDL 2804

 Tens of thousands of infants born in the U.S. each year now have NAS, and a recent Centers for Disease Control report said the rate of NAS deliveries at hospitals quadrupled during the past 15 years.

The period of hospitalization for NAS infants averages 16 days and hospital costs for a typical newborn with NAS are $159,000$238,000 greater than those of healthy newborns, according to the attorneys representing the NAS babies.

Dr. Kanwaljeet J. S. “Sunny” Anand, the nation’s foremost expert on opioids in infants and a Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Perioperative & Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, is a medical expert to the legal team. “There is an unprecedented epidemic of opioid addiction sweeping across the U.S.,” said Dr. Anand. “Newborn babies are the most vulnerable citizens, their lives and developmental potential are disrupted by NAS, but arrangements for their short-term and long-term care have been ignored until now. These babies need strong advocacy and legal action to ensure that their rights are protected, and that they urgently receive essential medical care and rehabilitation. On average, one infant with NAS is hospitalized every hour in the U.S.”

Named as defendants in the class actions are an array of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers, all of whom netted billions of dollars due to unfair and deceptive trade practices that preyed on all Americans, including the unborn, say the attorneys.

“A medical monitoring fund would document and address the medical problems these children will have to face for a lifetime,” said Mr. Bickford. The filing today objects to current settlement negotiations engaged by the opioid MDL which ignore the NAS babies’ interests.

“Legal precedent recognizes the difference between present and future claims in negotiations of this magnitude,” said Mr. Bickford. “Without being at the table, the legal representatives of NAS babies and children will not be heard and the due process rights of these infants and children will be denied.”

The filing says only government, hospital and third-party payors are at the table in negotiating a settlement through the MDL, though no agreement has yet been reached. The attorneys representing the NAS babies have raised concerns that outcomes similar to the Tobacco MDL settlement, where money was diverted to state budget deficits instead of the intended victims, might happen here.

 Born to women addicted to drugs, newborns suffer through withdrawal

Babies suffering through opioid withdrawal have a distinct way of crying: a short, anguished, high-pitched wail, repeated over and over. It echoes through the neonatal therapeutic unit of Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. A week-old girl has been at it, inconsolably, since six o’clock this morning. At 10 o’clock Sara Murray, the unit’s soft-spoken, no-nonsense nurse manager, sighs. “This may be a frustrating day,” she says.

The opioid epidemic in the United States is painfully evident in hospital newborn units across the country. In 2012 nearly 22,000 babies were born drug dependent, one every 25 minutes, according to the most recent federal data. As the opioid crisis has escalated dramatically over the past five years, those numbers have surely climbed.

West Virginia, at two and a half times the national average, has the highest rate of deaths from drug overdose—mostly from opioids. Cabell County, which averaged about 130 overdose calls to 911 annually until 2012, received 1,476 calls last year and is on pace to reach around 2,000 this year. Emergency workers saved many of those people, including an 11-year-old, but inpatient treatment programs have long waiting lists. At Cabell Huntington Hospital, one in five newborns has been exposed to opioids in the womb.

“What you’re seeing here is the tip of the iceberg of substance use,” says neonatologist Sean Loudin, the unit’s medical director.

In 2012 the neonatal intensive care unit became so overwhelmed by drug-dependent babies that it had to turn away newborns with other medical needs. The hospital opened this specialized unit to treat withdrawal. It typically has 18 babies. On this day there are 23.

The babies shake, sweat, vomit, and hold their bodies stiff as planks. They eat and sleep fitfully. Swaddled, they lie in bassinets or in the arms of nurses, parents, or volunteers. The place doesn’t have the hustle or beeping machinery of an ICU. Instead there are dim lights and hushed conversations because the babies need calm and quiet. Many also need methadone or other medication to relieve their symptoms. They are weaned from it over days or weeks.

“OK,” Murray whispers to a bleating 41-day-old boy. She gently lifts him to her chest, cradles him firmly, and places a green pacifier in his mouth. He sucks it fast and hard, like a piston.

Opioids pass readily from a pregnant woman’s bloodstream through the placenta and across the fetal blood-brain barrier. When birth abruptly shuts down the flow of the drug, the baby’s nervous system can trigger the agitating symptoms of withdrawal. Studies show that 55 percent to 94 percent of newborns exposed to opioids develop symptoms. Prenatal exposure to other widely used drugs, including benzodiazepines and certain antidepressants, also can lead to withdrawal shortly after birth.

The condition is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Experts don’t consider it to be addiction, which, by definition, means a person persists in compulsive drug use despite terrible consequences. By the same logic, NAS is also a misnomer—abstaining, or just saying no, is different from experiencing the physical anguish of withdrawal. But medical experts have come to accept the NAS label because it’s less fraught with stigma than words like “addiction” and “withdrawal.”

In some cases the mothers themselves are in recovery. They didn’t misuse opioids during pregnancy but took methadone or buprenorphine, the frontline medications for treating opioid addiction. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends their use during pregnancy despite the risk of NAS, for the obvious reason that sobriety is safer and healthier for a woman than shooting heroin or popping painkillers or trying to go cold turkey on her own. It’s also much better for her child. But encouraging as it is, the growing use of medication-assisted addiction treatment means that even when the opioid crisis eases, hospitals like Cabell Huntington will continue to be swamped with babies in withdrawal.

To manage the condition, most hospitals use an assessment tool developed at the height of the heroin outbreak in the 1970s. Babies are rated every four hours on the severity of 31 symptoms, including excessive crying, sweating, tremors, and frequent yawning. The scores help doctors determine whether to put babies on methadone or other medication. In most cases the scores support drug therapy. Now some researchers are challenging that approach.

“It’s archaic,” says Elisha Wachman, a neonatologist at Boston Medical Center and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “What ends up happening is that babies get overmedicated.” Too often, she says, they experience withdrawal from their treatment, which prolongs their misery and their hospital stay.

A handful of researchers around the country are revamping NAS treatment to rely less on medication and more on parental bonding. Wachman has abandoned the old score sheet for assessing the babies. “I couldn’t care less how many times they yawn,” she says. Instead, she evaluates them on just three measures: eating, sleeping, and being consoled. Rather than transfer babies to an ICU or a specialty unit, Boston Medical Center keeps them with their moms throughout their stay. Wachman encourages the women to breastfeed and clutch their babies skin to skin. One hundred fifty volunteers—most of them medical students and hospital employees—put in two-hour shifts as cuddlers. The waiting list to hold babies has 200 names.

Before the hospital changed its approach, 86 percent of the babies with NAS it treated received medication. Now it’s 30 percent. The babies generally spend nine days in the hospital, down from 19 days under the old protocol. The average cost of a hospital stay for a baby with NAS is $19,655 at Boston Medical Center, compared to a national average of $67,000.

Wachman says sound treatment for the babies must go hand in hand with compassionate, comprehensive care for their mothers. The medical center runs a prenatal clinic for women with addiction. The obstetricians prescribe buprenorphine and prepare women for the possibility that their babies will have NAS. The clinic also offers counseling, social services, psychiatric help, peer support, and education about infant care. “When the moms come in to deliver, they’re in the best shape they can be,” Wachman says. In July the medical center opened a clinic that provides pediatric care for babies born with NAS and addiction services for their mothers.

It’s not clear how opioid exposure affects long-term brain development. Surprisingly little research has been done, and most of it predates the current crisis and the widespread use of highly potent synthetics, such as fentanyl. Some studies show subtle cognitive and behavioral differences among children who were exposed to opioids before birth, but the problems are less severe than the intellectual and attention deficits associated with fetal alcohol exposure. The studies don’t answer a key question: Do the neurodevelopment issues stem from drug exposure or poverty or other chronic stresses? Some researchers believe that social factors and a stable environment are bigger influences on a child’s future than NAS.

“We keep hearing about the babies, and that it is important, but there needs to be much more of a focus on women and making sure they’re taken care of well,” says Uma Reddy, a maternal-fetal medicine expert at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Mass Tort Nexus will provide updates on the Infant NAS MDL request to the JPML as well the Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 on a daily basis.

For the most up to date information on all MDL dockets and related mass torts visit www.masstortnexus.com and review our mass tort briefcases and professional site MDL briefcases.

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Motion for New Infant/NAS Opioid Dependant MDL 2872 Filed With JPML on September 20, 2018

A group of plaintiff attorneys have filed a new motion for consolidation of an “Infant/NAS Opioid Addicted Baby MDL” to be separate from the existing Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 due to the lack of “individuals/baby cases” being offered a prominent role in MDL 2804

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 20, 2018 Motion and Brief in Support Filed With the Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation:

BEFORE THE UNITED STATES JUDICIAL PANEL ON MULTIDISTRICT LITIGATION

IN RE: CHILDREN BORN                                                           MDL – 2872

OPIOID-DEPENDENT

 

MOTION FOR TRANSFER OF ACTIONS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §

1407 FOR COORDINATED OR CONSOLIDATED PRETRIAL PROCEEDINGS

 

Plaintiffs[1] respectfully move that the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“Panel”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 and Rule 6.2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Panel, transfer the actions on behalf of children born opioid-dependent listed in the attached Schedule of Actions and subsequent tag-along actions to a separate MDL before the Southern District of West Virginia.  Alternatively, Plaintiffs request transfer to the Southern District of Illinois.  Transfer is appropriate for the following reasons:

  1. Movants seek transfer and coordination or consolidation of all cases filed on behalf of opioiddependent infants into a separate MDL for the reasons laid out in the Doyle plaintiffs’ recently filed Motion to Vacate CTO-47 (JPML 2804 Rec. Doc. 2398).[2] As discussed therein, the cases of the opioiddependent infants are unique, and further, Movants have grave concerns that the due process rights of opioid-dependent infants are not being protected in MDL 2804 and that the interests of the governmental and corporate parties represented by the MDL leadership are fundamentally in conflict with those of these infants. The question now posed to the Panel, argued in the accompanying brief in support of this Motion, is not whether these cases should be held outside of the MDL as presently structured (they must be), but whether they should be consolidated in a separate MDL.
  2. Presently, there are substantially similar class action suits filed on behalf of opioid-dependent infants pending in the Southern District of West Virginia, the Southern District of Ohio, as well as eight cases currently caught up in MDL 2804 in the Northern District of Ohio. Undersigned counsel anticipates that several more substantially similar opioid-dependent infant class action suits will be filed across the country in the coming months.
  3. The actions on behalf of the opioid-dependent infants assert substantially similar claims and seek substantially similar relief. These suits seek to establish a fund for medical monitoring, damages related to acute neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) treatment and long-term treatment of these innocent victims of the Opioid Crisis.
  4. The convenience of the courts, witnesses, parties, and counsel will all be served by transfer of these cases to the Southern District of West Virginia, or in the alternative, the Southern District of

Illinois.

  1. Absent transfer, the opioid-dependent infants’ unique interests will remain unprotected and these young victims risk losing the opportunity to achieve a productive adulthood.
  2. In support of this Motion, Movants file:
    1. A Brief supporting their Motion;
    2. A numbered Schedule of Actions providing (i) the complete name of each action involved, listing the full name of each party included as such on the district court’s docket sheet; (ii) the district court and division where each action is pending; (iii) the civil action number of each action; and, (iv) the name of the Judge assigned to each action;
    3. A copy of all complaints and docket sheets for all actions listed on the schedule;
    4. Statement Regarding Oral Argument; and,
    5. Proof of Service.

WHEREFORE, Movants respectfully request that the Panel grant their motion and transfer these cases, for coordinated and consolidated pre-trial proceedings, to the Southern District of West Virginia. Alternatively, Plaintiffs request transfer to the Southern District of Illinois.

Respectfully submitted,

/s/ Scott R. Bickford

MARTZELL, BICKFORD & CENTOLA

Scott R. Bickford (LA 1165)

Spencer R. Doody (LA 27795)

338 Lafayette Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

Telephone: 504-581-9065 Facsimile: 504-581-7635 sbickford@mbfirm.com srd@mbfirm.com

usdcndoh@mbfirm.com

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

             I HEREBY CERTIFY that on this 19th day of September, 2018, a true and correct copy of the foregoing has been electronically filed with the Clerk of Court using the CM/ECF system, which provides an electronic service notification to all counsel of record registered as CM/ECF users.

/s/Scott Bickford___________________________

Scott Bickford

 

[1] Movants are: Deric Rees and Ceonda Rees, individually and as next friend and guardian of Baby T.W.B. on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Illinois Class); Darren and Elena Flanagan, individually and as adoptive parents and next friends of Baby K.L.F., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Tennessee Class); Rachel Wood, individually and as next friend and adopted mother of Baby O.W., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Missouri Class); Melissa Ambrosio, individually and as next friend of Baby G.A., and on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (California Class); Shannon Hunt, individually and as next friend of Baby S.J., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Maryland Class); Bobbi Lou Moore on behalf of Baby R.R.C., and all other similarly situated (West Virginia Class); Walter and Virginia Salmons, individually and as the next friend or guardian of Minor W.D. and on behalf of all others similarly situated (National Class).

[2] All arguments in Motion to Vacate CTO-47 (JPML 2804 Rec. Doc. 2398) are adopted in support of this Motion.

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

BEFORE THE UNITED STATES JUDICIAL PANEL ON MULTIDISTRICT LITIGATION

IN RE: CHILDREN BORN                       MDL – _________

OPIOID-DEPENDENT

 

BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR TRANSFER OF

ACTIONS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1407 FOR COORDINATED OR

CONSOLIDATED PRETRIAL PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiffs[1] respectfully move that the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“Panel”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 and Rule 6.2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Panel, transfer the actions on behalf of children born opioid-dependent listed in the attached Schedule of Actions and subsequent tag-along actions to a separate MDL before the Southern District of West Virginia.; alternatively, Plaintiffs request transfer to the Southern District of Illinois.

I.        Children Born Opioid-Dependent Need A Separate MDL From MDL 2804

Movants seek transfer and coordination or consolidation of all cases filed on behalf of opioiddependent infants into a new MDL for the reasons laid out in the Doyle plaintiffs’ recently filed Motion to Vacate CTO-47 (JPML 2804 Rec. Doc. 2398).[2] As discussed therein, Movants bring unique claims on behalf of opioid-dependent infants, distinct from the claims of the government and corporate plaintiffs in MDL 2804. These suits bring direct claims on behalf of innocent victims for past and future damages suffered, in contrast to claims for reimbursement. Plaintiffs’ claims do not wholly sound in public nuisance but also in state medical monitoring and product liability causes of action. Further, Movants have grave concerns that the due process rights of opioid-dependent infants are not being protected in MDL 2804 and that the interests of the governmental and corporate parties represented by the MDL leadership are fundamentally in conflict with those of these infants.

Movants established in their Motion to Vacate that concerns for due process, conflicts of interest, and the protection owed to children under the law compel this Panel to exclude such claims from MDL 2804 as it is presently structured.  Movants have also established that despite their counsel’s numerous attempts to address these concerns with the leadership of the MDL, the status quo remains.  Absent a structural change within the MDL, the question before the Panel is not whether these cases should be held outside of the MDL (they must be), but whether they should be consolidated in their own MDL.

The prospect of a separate MDL for a non-governmental plaintiff group was explicitly and favorably discussed at this Panel’s November 30, 2017 hearing:[3]

JUDGE BREYER: Well, there’s another option that maybe your colleagues can address for you which is they all go to Judge X. There are common issues. Judge X conducts the discovery with respect to the common issues. And Judge X has the option of addressing the panel, one way or another, or the lawyers do, to create another MDL with this group or that group because the issues aren’t really amenable to the MDL that they are in.

  1. TELLIS: I think that is a fine idea.

JUDGE BREYER: You like that idea?

  1. TELLIS: I like that idea.

JUDGE BREYER: I’m glad you came up with that idea.

JUDGE VANCE: It’s not infeasible to think there could be a personal injury MDL or a third-party payor.

It has become abundantly clear that MDL 2804 is not amenable to the issues affecting opioid dependent infants, making a separate MDL for this group of innocent, injured plaintiffs necessary.

Presently, there are substantially similar opioid-dependent infant class action suits pending in the Southern District of West Virginia, the Southern District of Ohio, as well as eight cases currently caught up in MDL 2804 in the Northern District of Ohio. These state by state class actions filed to date conservatively represent approximately 40% of the children born opioid-dependent in the country. Undersigned counsel anticipates that several other substantially similar opioid-dependent infant class action suits will be filed across the country in the coming months. The actions on behalf of the opioid-dependent infants assert substantially similar claims and seek substantially similar relief.

These suits seek to establish a fund for medical monitoring, damages related to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) treatment and long-term treatment of these innocent victims of the Opioid Crisis.

The medical issues involved in the opioid-dependent infant cases and the relief sought are distinct from those of the governmental and corporate cases of MDL 2804.  The unique issues of these infants’ cases require discovery to be undertaken in areas including the following:

  • Studies regarding the effect of Defendants’ opioid products upon the health of pregnant mothers and their children in utero, and effects after birth.
  • Knowledge regarding the effects of methadone (and other addiction treatment drugs) taken by pregnant mothers on their children in utero.
  • Studies regarding which medications are appropriate for pregnant mothers dealing with opioid addiction.
  • Knowledge of the diversionary opioid market’s impact on pregnant mothers.
  • Discovery relevant to Movants’ products liability claims.

 

To the extent there is overlap of factual allegations and common issues regarding the opioid drug manufacturers’ and distributors’ conduct between the opioid-dependent infant lawsuits and the suits in MDL 2804, Movants envision that discovery in the infants’ MDL would be coordinated with Judge Polster in MDL 2804 in accord with 28 U.S.C. § 1407.

Absent transfer to a separate MDL, the opioid-dependent infants’ unique interests will remain unprotected and these innocent young victims risk losing the opportunity to achieve a productive adulthood.

II. The Southern District of West Virginia is the Most Appropriate Forum for Transfer and Consolidation or Coordination

 

The Southern District of West Virginia, where the suit of Bobbi Lou Moore on behalf of Baby R.R.C. v. Purdue Pharma L.P., No. 2:18-cv-01231 (S.D.W. Va.) is currently pending, is the most appropriate forum for Multidistrict Litigation. Southern West Virginia is the epicenter of the Opioid Crisis– where it began and where its most profound impacts are being felt. West Virginia has some of the highest rates of fetal opioid exposure and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in the country.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) recently released data for

2017 showing the overall incidence rate of NAS was 50.6 cases per 1,000 live births (5.06%) for West

Virginia residents, with the rate as high as 106.6 cases per 1,000 live births (10.66%) in one county.[4]  According to the CDC, there are many more opioid prescriptions than people in West Virginia– 138 prescriptions for every 100 people.[5] A congressional investigation revealed that from 2008 to 2012, pharmaceutical distributors sent more than 780 million pills of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia, a state with only 1.8 million people.[6] Southern West Virginia was especially hard hit: 20.8 million opioid pills were shipped from 2006 to 2016 to Williamson (population 2,900).[7] One pharmacy in Kermit (population 400) ranked 22nd in the U.S. in the number of hydrocodone pills it received in 2006.[8] The grave impact of this flood of prescription opioids on southern West Virginia and the children born there cannot be overstated.

The Courts of the Southern District of West Virginia have a proven track record in administering Multidistrict Litigation, as demonstrated by the Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation. The Southern District of West Virginia provides a well-prepared, well-staffed, and overall top-notch staff and Clerk’s office. As discussed below, the District’s judges have a wealth of experience in complex litigation, particularly pharmaceutical litigation. The convenience of the courts, witnesses, parties, and counsel will all be served by transfer of these cases to the Southern District of West Virginia.

Judge Robert C. Chambers has the requisite experience to manage this complex litigation.  He previously served as Chief Judge for this District from 2012-2017, and has presided over 500 cases involving pharmaceutical companies.  Judge Chambers is currently presiding over products liability actions involving claims against the manufacturer of prescription anticoagulant drugs.[9]  He has also presided over a case featuring complex pharmaceutical litigation, W. Virginia ex rel. Morrisey v. Pfizer, Inc., 969 F. Supp. 2d 476, 479 (S.D.W. Va. 2013).  Prior to being appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton, Judge Chambers was in private practice in Charleston for twenty years, and served as legal counsel to the West Virginia State Senate.

Senior Judge David A. Faber, appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, served as Chief Judge at the Southern District of West Virginia from 2002 to 2007. He has served as a Senior Judge in the district since 2008. He has handled 79 cases involving pharmaceuticals, including several opioid cases.[10] Senior Judge Faber also presided over a case involving medical products liability.[11] Prior to becoming a federal judge, Senior Judge Faber worked in both private practice and served in the military as a JAG, and achieved the rank of Colonel. He attended Yale for law school where he was a National Law Scholar, and holds an L.L.M. degree from the University of Virginia.

Chief Judge Thomas E.  Johnston in the Charleston Division has over a decade of experience as a federal judge. He oversees some of the suite of cases collected in the MDL related to the Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation.[12]  Chief Judge Johnston has extensive experience presiding over medical cases, including 216 cases involving health care, and 28 cases specifically involving pharmaceuticals, as well as products liability claims.[13] He had previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia from 2001 to 2006 before being appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.

In the alternative, Movants would propose transfer and consolidation in the Southern District of Illinois before the Judge Staci M. Yandle. Judge Yandle was appointed to the federal bench in 2014 after an illustrious career in private practice and a distinguished record of public service, including serving on the Illinois Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. This Panel has previously commended the Southern District of Illinois as convenient due in part to its geographically central location.[14]

III.     Conclusion

For the above-stated reasons and the reasons stated in the Motion to Vacate filed by the Doyle plaintiffs, Movants respectfully request that the Panel transfer the actions on behalf of opioid dependent infants recited on the attached Schedule and all subsequently filed tag-along cases for coordinated and consolidated pretrial proceedings in a separate MDL in the Southern District of West Virginia. Alternatively, Movants request transfer to the Southern District of Illinois, and assignment to Judge Staci M. Yandle.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

/s/ Scott R. Bickford

MARTZELL, BICKFORD & CENTOLA

Scott R. Bickford (LA 1165)

Spencer R. Doody (LA 27795)

338 Lafayette Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

Telephone: 504-581-9065 Facsimile: 504-581-7635 sbickford@mbfirm.com srd@mbfirm.com

usdcndoh@mbfirm.com

 

 

/s/ Celeste Brustowicz

COOPER LAW FIRM, LLC

Celeste Brustowicz (LA 16835)

Barry J. Cooper, Jr. (LA 27202)

Stephen H. Wussow (LA 35391)

Victor Cobb (LA 36830)

1525 Religious Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

Telephone: 504-399-0009 Cbrustowicz@sch-llc.com

swussow@sch-llc.com

 

 

/s/ Kevin W. Thompson

THOMPSON BARNEY LAW FIRM

Kevin W. Thompson David R. Barney, Jr.

2030 Kanawha Boulevard, East

Charleston, WV 25311

Telephone: 304-343-4401

Facsimile: 304-343-4405

Kwthompsonwv@gmail.com

 

 

/s/ James F. Clayborne

CLAYBORNE, SABO & WAGNER, LLP

Sen. James F. Clayborne (IL 45627)

525 West Main Street, Suite 105

Belleville, Il 62220

Telephone:  618-239-0187

Facsimile:  618-416-7556

jclayborne@cswlawllp.com

 

 

/s/ Jack W. Harang

LAW OFFICES OF JACK W. HARANG

Jack W. Harang (LA 15083)

2433 Taffy Drive

Kenner, LA 70065 Telephone: 504-810-4734

jwharang@gmail.com

 

 

/s/ Kent Harrison Robbins

THE LAW OFFICES OF KENT HARRISON

ROBBINS, P.A.

Kent Harrison Robbins (FL 275484)

242 Northeast 27th Street

Miami, FL 33137

Telephone: 305-532-0500

Facsimile: 305-531-0150

Primary: Khr@khrlawoffices.com

Secondary: ereyes@khrlawoffices.com

Tertiary: assistant@khrlawoffices.com

 

 

/s/ Donald Creadore

THE CREADORE LAW FIRM, P.C.

Donald Creadore (NY 2090702)

450 Seventh Avenue – 1408

New York, NY 10123

Telephone: 212-355-7200

Facsimile: 212-583-0412

Primary: donald@creadorelawfirm.com

Secondary: donald@aol.com

 

 

/s/ Warren Perrin

PERRIN, LANDRY, deLAUNAY

Warren Perrin

251 La Rue France

  1. O. Box 53597

Lafayette, LA 70505

Telephone: 337-233-5832

[1] Movants are: Deric Rees and Ceonda Rees, individually and as next friend and guardian of Baby T.W.B. on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Illinois Class); Darren and Elena Flanagan, individually and as adoptive parents and next friends of Baby K.L.F., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Tennessee Class); Rachel Wood, individually and as next friend and adopted mother of Baby O.W., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Missouri Class); Melissa Ambrosio, individually and as next friend of Baby G.A., and on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (California Class); Shannon Hunt, individually and as next friend of Baby S.J., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (Maryland Class); Bobbi Lou Moore on behalf of Baby R.R.C., and all other similarly situated (West Virginia Class); Walter and Virginia Salmons, individually and as the next friend or guardian of Minor W.D. and on behalf of all others similarly situated (National Class).

[2] All arguments in Motion to Vacate CTO-47 (JPML 2804 Rec. Doc. 2398) are adopted in support of this Motion.

[3] JPML 2804 Rec. Doc. No. 382 at 16-17, Transcript of November 30, 2017 Hearing.

[4] https://dhhr.wv.gov/News/2018/Pages/DHHR-Releases-Neonatal-Abstinence-Syndrome-Data-for-2017-.aspx

[5] CDC, “Opioid Use Disorder Documented at Delivery Hospitalization – United States 1999-2014,” August 10, 2018, at 2. “West Virginia, for example, had a prescribing rate estimated at 138 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons in 2012, suggesting that individual persons might receive more than one opioid prescription per year.”

[6] https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2018-05-08/hill-panel-probing-opioids-abuse-targets-distributorfirms

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Knight v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 2018 WL 3037442 (S.D.W. Va. June 19, 2018).

[10] See, e.g., City of Huntington v. AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., No. CV 3:17-01362, 2017 WL 3317300 (S.D.W. Va. Aug. 3, 2017); The Town of Clendenin, West Virginia v. AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation et al., No. 2:18-CV-01284, (S.D.W. Va.

Sept. 10, 2018); Adkins v. Purdue Pharma, L.P. et al., No. 18-CV-00477, (S.D.W. Va. Mar. 23, 2018).

[11] Walker v. Medtronic, Inc., No. CIV.A. 2:07-00317, 2010 WL 4822135 (S.D.W. Va. Nov. 24, 2010), aff’d, 670 F.3d 569 (4th Cir. 2012).

[12] See MDL No. 2187, In Re C. R. Bard, Inc., Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation.

[13] See, e.g., Raab v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 150 F. Supp. 3d 671 (S.D.W. Va. 2015).

[14] In re: Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate) Prod. Liab. Litig., 883 F. Supp. 2d 1355, 1356 (U.S. Jud. Pan. Mult. Lit. 2012) (“The Southern District of Illinois’ geographically central location and accessibility also commend it for this nationwide products liability litigation.”).

Read More

State of New York Sues Purdue Pharma Over Oxycontin Sales and Years of Marketing Abuses

Purdue Avoided Prosecution in 2007 By Paying $600 Million Over Oxycontin Bad Marketing

Purdue Pharma Criminal Plea Agreement US Department of Justice May 10, 2007

Mark A. York (August 15, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The state of New York has joined in the opiate litigation being filed against Purdue Pharma claiming that Purdue misled doctors and patients about the risks and benefits of its opioids, including its multi-billion dollar per year seller OxyContin. The complaint states that Purdue continued to deceptively market its products after pleading guilty to criminal conduct in 2007 and agreeing to cease the misleading marketing per the 2015 agreement with the New York state Attorney General’s Office.

“Our investigation found a pattern of deception and reckless disregard for New Yorkers’ health and well-being — as Purdue lined its own pockets by deliberately exploiting our communities and fueling an opioid epidemic that’s destroyed families across the state,” New York state Attorney Gen. Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “We’re now holding Purdue to account for this reprehensible and illegal conduct.

According to the complaint filed in the state supreme court in Suffolk County, this enabled privately held Purdue to boost prescriptions and profits, at the cost of lost lives and “devastation” in communities now “awash” with the painkillers

Since the beginning of May, the attorneys general of Florida, Nevada, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia have also filed lawsuits against the company.

New York City previously filed a $500 million suit  a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that make or distribute prescription opioids, on Tuesday the complaint was filed in New York state court, Superior Court of Manhattan, which is a break from other Opioid lawsuits filed by cities, who filed into federal court, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase,  OPIOID-CRISIS: MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION. The primary claims state that the opiate drug companies fueled the deadly epidemic now afflicting the most populous U.S. city, joining Chicago, Seattle, Milwaukee and other major cities across the country in holding Big Pharma drug makers accountable for the opioid crisis. The case docket information is: City of New York v Purdue Pharma LP et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 450133/2018.

Major US Cities Filing Suit Against Opioid Big Pharma-New York, Seattle, Chicago Join MDL 2804

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement “The opioid epidemic was manufactured by unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors who developed a $400 billion industry pumping human misery into our communities”.

The suit comes three months after Underwood first announced her intention to sue the pharma giant, joining several other states that have already targeted Purdue for its alleged role in the epidemic that saw more than 3,000 New Yorkers die of opioid overdoses in 2016. Daniel Raymond, deputy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, said that the cities and states are forced to file suits now, after realizing initially that the opioid overdose rates “were primarily driven by prescription painkillers — they weren’t concentrated in urban areas.”

“But the recent rises in prescription overdoses, which in turn has accelerated a major increase in heroin overdoses, and particularly fentanyl, and the latter seems particularly prevalent in urban drug markets,” said Raymond, whose organization is based in New York City. “That’s certainly true in places like Ohio and Philadelphia, which are seeing a lot of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. That doesn’t mean the problems have waned in smaller cities and rural areas, which are also seeing fentanyl, but we are seeing increasing vulnerability in major urban centers.”

The only bright spot — and it’s a dim one at that — was that the CDC found decreases in opioid overdoses in states like West Virginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky that have been leading the nation in the category.

“We hope this is a positive sign,” said Schuchat, who credited leadership, particularly in West Virginia, with taking bold steps to combat the crisis. “But we have to be cautious in the areas that have reported decreases.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of Public Health for West Virginia has been at the forefront of addressing the opioid crisis in not only West Virginia but across the country, he stated “Sometimes places that have had such high rates have no place to go” but down, she added, with West Virginia being one of the states to address the issues pro-actively in all areas.

The same affects are in New York and other major metropolitan  areas now based on the ongoing marketing abuses by Purdue Pharma and other opiate industry drug makers and distributors.

The new CDC “Vital Signs” report was released a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a “statement of interest” in support of local governments that are suing the big pharmaceutical makers and distributors, accusing them of swamping many states with prescription painkillers and turning millions of Americans into junkies.

The new CDC numbers come from analysis of emergency room data from 16 states, including some hardest hit by the plague — Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Dozens of states, counties and local governments have independently sued opioid drugmakers in both state and federal courts across the country, (see OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE-MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION by Mass Tort Nexus) with claims alleging all opiate drug makers, distributors and now the pharmacies engaged in fraudulent marketing to sell the powerful painkillers. They also failed to monitor and report the massive increases in opioid prescriptions flooding the US marketplace. Which has now resulted in fueling the nationwide epidemic, that’s reported to have killed over a quarter million people. The now organized approach steps up those efforts as officials sift evidence and are now holding not only the companies, but the executives and owners culpable in the designing the opioid crisis.

Purdue Pharma is facing a legal assault on many fronts, as cities, counties and states have either filed suit or are probing the company for an alleged role in the United States’ opioid and addiction epidemic. Now, a lawsuit from Massachusetts’ attorney general Maura Healey is the first to bring the company’s current and former execs into the mix, including the billionaire family with sole ownership of Purdue.

At a news conference this week, Healey said she’s filing suit against the drugmaker, plus current and former executives and board members, “for their role in creating and profiting from this epidemic that has killed so many.” The suit alleges Purdue downplayed risks and overstated benefits of opioid painkillers, including OxyContin. It seeks to link the deaths of 670 Massachusetts residents to actions at the company.

A Purdue spokesman said the company shares concern about the opioid crisis. Purdue is “disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” he said.

Purdue is no stranger to litigation, in 2007 Purdue agreed to pay $19.5million in civil penalties, but did not admit wrongdoing, to settle lawsuits with 26 states – including Massachusetts – and the District of Columbia after being accused of aggressively marketing OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the risk of addiction. This is a consistent pattern, including the 2007 criminal indictment and plea of senior Purdue Pharma executives, where they agreed to pay over $600 million and plead guilty to a greatly reduced charge of “mislabelling drugs” which seems to have set the stage for the Purdue legal strategy of throwing money at all claim of abuse, thereby setting the Purdue Pharma marketing model loose on the US consumers and the healthcare industry, see USA vs. Purdue Criminal Plea “Oxycontin” usdc.virginia.gov/OPINIONS July 2007

In a statement, Purdue said it “vigorously” denies the allegations laid out in the state’s suit.

“The state claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA has expressly considered and continues to approve. We believe it is inappropriate for the state to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA,” the statement reads

In a statement, Purdue denied New York’s allegations but said it shared the state’s concerns about the “opioid crisis.”

The Stamford, Connecticut-based company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “continues to approve” of scientific and medical information it has provided to doctors.

New York is seeking to impose civil fines, recoup profits and obtain other damages, including for creating an alleged “criminal nuisance.”

Purdue sold $1.74 billion of OxyContin in 2017, according to Symphony Health Solutions.

Opioid makers and distributors face hundreds of lawsuits by U.S. states, counties and cities accusing them of using deceptive marketing to sell the painkillers.

New York joined at least 26 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico in filing lawsuits against Purdue Pharma over opioids and there is a 41-state coalition investigating the opioid industry.

Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in a record 42,249 U.S. deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This included at least 3,086 deaths in New York state and more than 1,100 in New York City.

In 2007, Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty to mis-branding OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, in the US District Court of Virginia, see Purdue Pharma Criminal Plea Agreement US Department of Justice May 10, 2007.

As Purdue Pharma comes to grips with the fact that they are being designated as the primary litigation targets of states, counties and cities across the country for being the Opiate Big Pharma leader in creating the current opioid crisis in the United States, they may need to determine how they will pay the billions of dollars in jury verdicts and affiliated legal settlements resulting from the lawsuits that now number close to one thousand in state and federal courts.

 

Read More

Opioid Addiction In 2016: Employer Costs Pass $2.6 Billion Per Year With 50% Used to Cover Children

Employer Costs Pass $2.6 Billion Per Year With 50% Used to Cover Children

By Mark A. York (August 3, 2018)

  • Employers spent $2.6 billion on opioid addiction in 2016

  • $1.5 billion+ was spent on children with opiate addiction issues

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The now commonly known costs associated with employers treating opioid addiction and the affiliated issues have increased eight hundred percent  since 2004 to an eye-watering $2.6 billion in 2016, a new report reveals.

The latest analysis shows that half of the cost was spent covering employees’ children.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found that prescription use of addictive painkillers among people with employer offered health coverage is now at the lowest levels in 10 years.

This comes shortly after a CDC study revealed there was been a nearly 30 percent increase in overdoses between 2015 and 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record.

With 40 percent of those deaths involving a prescription opioid such as Oxycontin and Vicodin and other widely prescribed opiates. This has also resulted in the multi-billion lawsuits filed against Opioid Big Pharma drug makers and distributors by cities, counties and states across the country, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase “Opioid Litigation Versus Opiate Prescription Industry MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio” with the drug makers and distributors scrambling to defend the opiate marketing strategies that have caused billions and billions of dollars in costs, medical damages and loss of productivity annually in the United States.  

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the $2.6 billion spending cost companies and workers about $26 per enrollee in 2016, which now appears to be a “man-made” healthcare cost increase associated with the widely accepted Opiate Big Pharma marketing practices over the last 20 years. This include telling doctors and the healthcare industry that “opiates are not as addictive as they used to be” and “we’ve altered the drug compound to control opiate release” which was the widely used Purdue Pharma marketing strategy.

Employers have been limiting insurance coverage of opioids because of concerns about addiction. The report found that spending on opioid prescriptions falling 27 percent from a peak in 2009 – when 17.3 percent of large employer plan enrollees had at least one opioid prescription during that year.  However, by 2016, that number dropped to 13.6 percent.

These drugs relieve pain by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When they attach to these receptors, they reduce the perception of pain.

RESIDUAL ISSUE OF FOSTER CARE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPIOID USE DISORDER IN PREGNANT WOMEN:

  • “Treating Women Who Are Pregnant and Parenting for Opioid Use Disorder and the Concurrent Care of Their Infants and Children: Literature Review to Support National Guidance.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28406856
  • [STUDY OBJECTIVES:The prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) during pregnancy is increasing. Practical recommendations will help providers treat pregnant women with OUD and reduce potentially negative health consequences for mother, fetus, and child. This article summarizes the literature review conducted using the RAND/University of California, Los Angeles Appropriateness Method project completed by the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to obtain current evidence on treatment approaches for pregnant and parenting women with OUD and their infants and children]

Prescription opioids and illicit drugs have become incredibly pervasive throughout the US, and things are only getting worse.

In the early 2000s, the FDA and CDC started to notice a steady increase in cases of opioid addiction and overdose. In 2013, they issued guidelines to curb addiction.

However, that same year – now regarded as the year the epidemic took hold – a CDC report revealed an unprecedented surge in rates of opioid addiction.

Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of death among young Americans – killing more in a year than were ever killed annually by HIV, gun violence or car crashes.

Preliminary CDC data published by the New York Times shows US drug overdose deaths surged 19 percent to at least 59,000 in 2016.

That is up from 52,404 in 2015, and double the death rate a decade ago.

It means that for the first time drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.

The data lays bare the bleak state of America’s opioid addiction crisis fueled by deadly manufactured drugs like fentanyl.

These drugs also effect the brain regions involved in reward, so it can also produce a sense of pleasure by triggering the same processes that make people feel good when they are having fun or sex.

Experts say many people’s first contact with opioids is through some form of social contact: either a friend who was sent home with Oxycontin after a surgical procedure or a relative who received an opioid prescription for chronic pain.

‘Opioids are not infectious in terms of [being] an agent,’ Columbia University epidemiologist Dr Guohua Li previously told Daily Mail Online.

‘Opioids, are not a bacteria virus, but the drug, in this case, spreads through social networks…even in some ways a virus, like HIV, is spread to a great degree through social networks,’ he added.

Due to the link between hospitals and the opioid crisis, doctors have been coming up with innovative ways to curb the epidemic.

However, hospitals have been doing their part in trying to curb the opioid epidemic.

For instance, the ER department at St. Joseph University Medical Center in New Jersey managed to halve the rate of opioid prescriptions by using dry needles and laughing gas to treat chronic pain.

In 2016, the department launched an Alternative to Opiates program that uses trigger point injections and a local anesthetics in lieu of opioids to relieve pain. Other alternative pain relieving methods they used was warm compressors and  music – they have a harpist roam the halls playing tunes to soothe the patients.

Dr Mark Rosenberg, chair of emergency medicine, said he and his colleagues founded the program after they realized chronic pain was one of the reasons most patients came to their emergency department.

‘We wanted to develop an aggressive acute pain management program that focused on evidence based principles but avoided opioids,’ Dr Rosenberg said.

St. Joseph University Medical Center isn’t the only hospital to implement this program, Kaiser Permanente has implemented an Integrated Pain Service, an eight-week course designed to educate high-risk opioid patients about pain management.

Some experts have stated that  the beginning of the end of the epidemic may be near due to tightened regulations on opioid prescription monitoring, local-level efforts to make naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and drug-assisted rehabilitation more accessible to high-risk populations. Then there are many more “experts” who state that the opioid crisis and the future affiliated issues are going to be on the healthcare, insurance and socio-economic forefront of America for at least the next generation.

Broken Families, Less Funding

The patterns of parent addiction that overflows into child addiction is something that wasn’t part of the opiate equation until fairly recently, where employer issues now mirror a national trend of multiple generations being addicted to opiates. Largely because of the opioid epidemic, there were 30,000 more children in foster care in 2015 than there were in 2012—an 8 percent increase. In 14 states, from New Hampshire to North Dakota, the number of foster kids rose by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2015, according to data amassed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In Texas, Florida, Oregon, and elsewhere, kids have been forced to sleep in state buildings because there were no foster homes available, says advocacy group Children’s Rights. Federal child welfare money has been dwindling for years, leaving state and local funding to fill in the gaps. But Ashtabula County is one of the poorest counties in Ohio, and despite a recent boost in funding, the state contributes the lowest share toward children’s services of any state in the country. 

In the USA, Opioid use by women in rural areas is driving the increasing numbers. Tennessee is part of a cluster of states, including Alabama and Kentucky, experiencing some of the highest rates of NAS births. In East Tennessee the problem is particularly acute: Sullivan County alone reported a rate of 50.5 cases of NAS per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the state for five years running.

Tennessee is currently the only state in the country that equates substance abuse while pregnant with aggravated assault, punishable by a 15-year prison sentence. Eighteen other states consider it to be child abuse, and three say its grounds for civil commitment. Four states require drug testing of mothers and 18 require that healthcare professionals report when drug abuse is suspected. There are also 19 states that have created funding for targeted drug treatment programs for pregnant women.

Opponents of the punishment philosophy claim that punishing addicted pregnant women will not stop them from abusing drugs – instead it will stop them from seeking prenatal care. Many also claim that these policies would unfairly punish mothers for drug use compared to fathers. Organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have encouraged a treatment over punishment approach for pregnant mothers with drug addictions

Local efforts are now seen as the primary way to address the opioid crisis in children- the attempt to secure federal intervention and support to help curb the opioid crisis has not been a priority of the Trump Administration..

WHITE HOUSE PROMISED ON OPIOIDS BUT DIDN’T DELIVER

But since he took office, Trump’s plans to tackle the epidemic head-on have fizzled. Republicans’ recent effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would slash funding for Medicaid, which is the country’s largest payer for addiction services—and which covers nearly half of Ohio’s prescriptions for the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill would enable insurers in some states to get out of the Obamacare requirement to cover substance abuse treatment. A memo leaked in May revealed Trump’s plans to effectively eliminate the White House’s drug policy office, cutting its budget by 95 percent. (The administration has since backpedaled on the plans, following bipartisan criticism.) Trump’s 2018 budget proposes substantial cuts to the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Until the governments at the federal, state and local levels can all agree on a long term viable solution to the opioid crisis and the impact on school age children, infants born addicted and society as a whole, the opiate drug crisis will linger for generations long into the future.

 

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