Pharmaceutical companies that produce opioid medications are being sued by governments around the country for their roles in the opioid crisis. Opioid painkillers used to be reserved for cancer pain or situations where the patient was near the end of his or her life. Doctors had been trained that the risk of addiction was too great for their use in more common pain situations.
Yet several painkiller manufacturers, including Perdue Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson, are being sued on the allegation they persuaded doctors to recommend opioids in many situations, often by paying the doctors for research, speeches, consulting and the like.
Now, an early proponent of opioid drugs has agreed to testify for the plaintiffs in suits against Perdue and other drug makers. His testimony comes in exchange for any claims brought against him personally being dismissed.
According to Reuters, he has documented all the payments pharmaceutical companies gave him over the years, along with a 36-page declaration (or sworn statement) explaining what he plans to say on the witness stand.
The documentation and declaration may have been revealed publicly by mistake. Reuters says they were released by a special master in the federal court in Cleveland where hundreds of opioid lawsuits are to be consolidated and tried. Neither the doctor nor Perdue commented to Reuters on the development.
Doctor claims drug companies cited research selectively
The doctor who has agreed to testify for the plaintiffs appears timpressive. He has worked in leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Mount Sinai Beth Israel. In his declaration, he says he was among the first to promote opioids for chronic pain, which he did in medical journal articles in the 1980s and 1990s. He later espoused that view at conferences and in training videos produced by the drug companies.
He performed research, give speeches and engage in consulting and other work for opioid makers. He claims he never changed his position on opioids due to payments by pharmaceutical companies. However, he now says that the companies only paid for research that supported their position that opioids were safe enough for widespread use. Further, they only cited selected portions of his research, promoting his positive statements without providing background, analysis or cautions in the original research.
As the doctor sees it, these “unbalanced communications” resulted in doctors prescribing opioids to patients unsuited for them. It also encouraged doctors to prescribe opioids despite lacking the necessary skills to deal with addiction, abuse or overdoses. The drug makers’ activities, he concludes, “contributed to the rising incidence of drug addiction and overdoses.”