Lawmakers probing opioid manufacturers

A U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating the opioid crisis is asking three pharmaceutical manufacturers to answer questions and provide documents about their internal practices, including when they learned prescription opioids could be addictive and how they have marketed the drugs.

According to news out of Washington, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on oversight and investigations sent letters to Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a large manufacturer of generic oxycodone.  It also sent a letter to Insys Therapeutics, which manufactured Subsys, a type of fentanyl that is sprayed under the tongue and is meant for carefully monitored patients in sever pain.

A confidential Justice Department report shows that Purdue knew that OxyContin was addictive shortly after it was put on the market in 1996 — including reports that the pills were being stolen from pharmacies, crushed and snorted — but that the firm did not reveal that information, according to a New York Times article.  The article also said more than 100 notes from sales representatives contained the words “street value,” “crush” and “snort” when talking about OxyContin.

The committee is asking Perdue for numerous internal documents relating to when the company knew its product was addictive, including minutes from board meetings and committees at which abuse or the potential or abuse was discussed.   It is also asking for suspicious order reports and customers it terminated.  Perdue said the company plans to cooperate and shares concern about the opioid crisis.

The letter to Mallinckrodt references a Washington Post story showing that 66 percent of all oxycodone in Florida came from the company.  The company paid a $35 million settlement last year for failure to report suspicious orders.   The letter also asks if the company marketed opioids directly to doctors, used sales-based incentive programs and reviewed whether its product could be addictive.

Insys was charged last year with conspiracy to illegally distribute fentanyl.  Prosecutors allege the company was not pleased with its sales numbers and marketed the drug for off-label use, allegedly using bribes and kickbacks such as expensive dinners.  The letter states that at least four doctors and several former Insys sales representatives have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes involving the scheme.

The committee wants to know how doctors were chosen for a speaker’s program about the drug and whether the program is still operational.   It also requests minutes from any meetings from January 1, 2012, to the present at which abuse or potential abuses of the drug were discussed.

(Source: The Washington Post – August 4, 2018)