Report Links Big Pharma Marketing to Opioid ODs

Liz Carey

Sarasota, FL ( – According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, areas of the country that saw higher amounts of marketing by pharmaceutical manufacturers saw a corresponding increase in opioid deaths.

The report, released earlier this month, looked at non-research related marketing of opioids between August 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, and compared it to opioid prescribing rates at local pharmacies, and opioid-related deaths in each county one year after the drugs were marketed.

The study estimated that more than $39 million in opioid marketing was targeted to 67,507 physicians.

After taking into account various socioeconomic factors, the study found that as the number of physicians exposed to a marketing campaign increased, so did the rate of fatal overdoses.

The study also found that opioid marketing dollars were concentrated in counties with a lower percentage of individuals 65 and younger, and with a more mixed ethnicity. Payments were also concentrated in counties with a higher prevalence of high school completion, higher unemployment, lower poverty, higher median household income, and lower income inequality.

“In addition, opioid prescribing rates were strongly associated with [aggressive] opioid marketing,” the study said.

Researchers said it was up to professional medical organizations and licensing boards to support education for physicians in regards to prescribing opioids appropriately.

Jordan Trecki with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement that “pharmaceutical marketing, in combination with excessive, inappropriate prescribing by physicians, could be viewed as one of the root causes of the current opioid epidemic.”

But Trecki also said “it is evolving beyond prescription medications and heroin to involve illicitly produced fentanyl” and other opioids. “A variety of approaches will be necessary to control this epidemic,” he said.

Pharma Suit

The report comes on the heels of a filing from the Massachusetts Attorney General in its case against Purdue Pharma for its alleged part in the opioid epidemic. It suggests some of the members of the Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, had misled doctors and patients about the dangers of OxyContin, made by the company. The suit also claims the company aggressively promoted the drug to doctors who were prescribing opioids.

According to the filing, Sackler family member were aware that Purdue Pharma repeatedly failed to alert authorities to multiple reports that OxyContin was being abused. Additionally the report claims the company used pharmacy discount cards to increase OcyContin’s sales and that Richard Sackler, Purdue Pharma’s president from 1999 to 2003, led a company strategy of blaming the abuse on addicts.

Sales representatives for the company told doctors that OxyContin could not be abused, and were trained to tell doctors the drug had “less than a 1 percent” chance of an addiction risk, with no scientific backing.

In the filing, the attorney general said that Sackler also downplayed the reports of the drug’s dangers. The filing said that when a federal prosecutor reported that there were 59 overdose deaths involving OxyContin in Massachusetts, Sackler dismissed the problem saying “This is not too bad, it could have been far worse,” in a communication to company officials.

In a statement, the company rejected any wrongdoing by the company or members of the Sackler family, saying the filing was “littered with biases and inaccurate characterizations” and that the company was working to address and reduce the use and misuse of prescription painkillers.

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