“Trump Lets Big Pharma Off The Hook”
By Mark. A. York (January 23, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Just as Big Pharma was looking at 2017 victories related to off-label marketing of drugs for unintended uses, drug makers were expecting some loosening of the regulatory shackles. Then the FDA rolled out a new rule on that subject, that wasn’t in Big Pharma’s bests interests, sending the drug industry into a lobbying scramble. Bring in the Trump camp and on January 12, 2018 Big Pharma and the army of lobbyists and elected officials in their camp, 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
This seems to be further evidence of the Trump administration permitting private corporations to control what goes on behind the scenes in federal regulatory agencies these days. The same loosening of enforcement rules has been seen in the EPA as well as in Energy oversight enforcement authority. Whatever else you might think about the ramped up Trump vs. Obama administration mindset, this delay is an example of the new FDA leadership doing what is in the best interests of those they are supposed to be regulating, the drug makers, and not in the interests of the US consumers.
To put this into perspective, consider the current “Opioid Crisis” gripping the entire country, where “off-label” marketing of opiates for the last 20 years by drug makers, has resulted in thousands of deaths each year, unknown financial losses and the related social impact felt in every state across the country. Another result is the Opiate Prescription Litigation MDL 2804, (see OPIOID CRISIS BRIEFCASE: MDL 2804 OPIATE PRESCRIPTION LITIGATION) where litigation started when hundreds of counties, states and cities and other entities impacted by the catastrophic expense related to combatting the opiate healthcare crisis fought back. The various parties have filed lawsuits against opioid drug makers and distributors, demanding repayment of the billions of dollars spent on addressing the massive costs related to opioid abuse, primarily due to opioid based prescription drugs flooding the country.
As the Obama administration ended on January 9, 2017, the FDA issued a Final Rule on “Clarification of When Products Made or Derived from Tobacco are Regulated as Drugs, Devices, or Combination Products; Amendments to Regulations Regarding ‘Intended Uses.’” That “clarification” was meant to enable additional enforcement and control over drug makers rampant “off -label” marketing of drugs for purposes that were never FDA approved. This was an attempt by the FDA to have the ability to punish off-label promotions, where previously the process was a two-step regulatory review, whereby off-label promotions are said to prove an indicated use not included in the label and, thus, not accompanied by adequate directions for use – making the product misbranded. These regulations have been around since the 1950s, but a recent series of court decisions invoking the First Amendment called into question the FDA’s interpretation of “intended use” and its efforts to shut down truthful medical-science communications about potential benefits from off-label use.
In a 2015 proposed rule, the FDA referred to striking the language from regulations permitting the FDA to consider a manufacturer’s mere knowledge of actual use as evidence of intended use, which would have further enabled Big Pharma drug marketing abuses to go unchecked. But then, the FDA’s January 9, 2017 proposal reversed course, stating that retained knowledge of off-label use as evidence of intended use, clarified that any relevant source of evidence, whether circumstantial or direct could demonstrate intended use, and ultimately invoked the dreaded “totality of the evidence” standard. This would have enable the FDA to begin oversight and enforcement of practices such as the blatant and wide open “off-label” marketing of opioid prescription drugs that started in the mid-1990’s and never stopped.
Instead of putting a check on Big Pharma abuses, we have the Trump administration placing a hold on new regulations, and delaying the “intended use” regulation change to March 19, 2018, so that comments could be received and considered, and thereby enabling the Big Pharma “lobby machine” to become fully engaged across all DC circles, ensuring that the FDA changes are effectively put to rest.
The bottom line is that the FDA is now proposing to “delay until further notice” the portions of the final rule amending the FDA’s existing regulations on “off-label” drug use, when describing the types of evidence that may be considered in determining a medical product’s intended uses. The FDA will receive comments on this proposal through February 5, 2018.
Here is the official FDA publication of January 16, 2018: