by Steve Birr
Lawmakers are demanding answers from three of the largest opioid manufacturers in the country, particularly when executives became aware their medications were addictive.
Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters Thursday to drug makers Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and Insys Therapeutics asking they send a variety of legal documents and internal communications to help Congress better understand its role in igniting the national addiction epidemic, reports The Washington Post.
All three companies said they plan to cooperate with the committee’s request. Representatives for Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, also expressed their “concern about the opioid crisis.”
“The opioid crisis continues to destroy the lives of our friends and neighbors, and it’s imperative we examine the full scope of this crisis,” Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the committee, and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
The committee is specifically demanding an unredacted copy from Purdue of a deposition given by Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the family that owns Purdue, during a 2015 settlement with the state of Kentucky. Dr. Richard Sackler became president of Purdue Pharma in 1999 and co-chairman of the board of directors in 2003, formative times for the company during which it intensely marketed OxyContin and pushed doctors to prescribe opioids for nearly all forms of pain.
Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges for false marketing of OxyContin and paid $635 million as a result. The company overstated how long the effects of the medication lasted and severely downplayed the addiction risks of the drug. Three executives also pleaded guilty to criminal charges but dodged prison time.
Despite the company’s admission of guilt during the 2007 lawsuit, Virginia U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee found no evidence linking Sackler to any misconduct. The health care news organization STAT has been fighting for over a year to have a judge make the deposition public, which may shed light on his involvement with the marketing of OxyContin.
The committee’s letter also requests internal documents containing keywords like “street value,” “crush” and “snort.”
From Mallinckrodt, the largest generic manufacturer of oxycodone, lawmakers are asking for documents on “chargebacks,” a practice where Mallinckrodt would sell their medications at a discount to distributors who provided patient data.
Insys Therapeutics, makers of a prescription fentanyl spray, is under scrutiny over multiple criminal allegations, including paying doctors thousands in kickbacks depending on how many scripts they wrote through fake speaking gigs and other fraudulent schemes.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer.
The epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S., officials say. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.
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Steve Birr is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebirr.
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