Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Marianne Skolek as a columnist to American News Report. Marianne is an activist and investigative reporter who has a unique personal perspective on chronic pain and pain management. This is her first column.
Ten years ago I was a mom, an administrative/computer specialist for a large engineering company during the week and a nurse in a hospital’s oncology unit on weekends.
On April 29, 2002, my life was changed forever. My 29-year-old daughter Jill died suddenly. She had been prescribed a drug called OxyContin for back pain and went into respiratory arrest. Jill’s 6-year-old son came home from school and found his mother “sleeping” on her bed.
I was numb, but I was also a mom who wanted answers. I set up a work station on my kitchen table and worked at night for hours learning everything I could about OxyContin. I was familiar with OxyContin from my work at the hospital because it was dispensed to end stage cancer patients.
In a short period of time, I realized the drug had been criminally marketed. I began working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia, as well as attorneys general all over the country, to find out how and why Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, was able to “push” such a dangerous drug for back pain — while marketing it as less addictive and less likely to be abused.
I was asked by U.S. Attorney John Brownlee, who prosecuted Purdue Pharma, to testify at the sentencing of company executives when they pleaded guilty in 2007 to a felony count of misbranding OxyContin with the intent to defraud. They misled physicians and patients about the dangers of OxyContin by playing down its addictive and abusive side effects. For that, the company and its executives were fined $634.5 million.
I testified against Purdue Pharma president Michael Friedman, chief medical officer Paul Goldenheim and general counsel Howard Udell. When I left the stand, I told them, “You messed with the wrong mom!” I meant it. The following week I was asked to go to Washington, DC and address the U.S. Senate about the criminal conviction of Purdue Pharma.
On April 29, Jill will be gone for 10 years. But this is no longer just about Jill. The criminal activity that Purdue Pharma is responsible for affects hundreds of thousands of victims and their families. The company has made profits in excess of $10 billion since OxyContin was criminally marketed and mass produced in 1996.
I will be writing about chronic pain for American News Report from the perspective of families devastated by the dangerous promotion, distribution and resulting deadly use of inappropriately marketed pain medications. I will continue to challenge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for allowing the epidemic of prescription drugs to be pushed by pharmaceutical companies. And I will hold the FDA totally accountable for allowing OxyContin to be prescribed for moderate pain. Until OxyContin is reclassified, I hold the FDA as guilty as Purdue Pharma is in the staggering loss of life in every state in the country.
I will be referring in my writings to a well-organized and respected group called Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, as well as Choopers Guide, which is run by an addiction specialist named Tim Cheney.
Should anyone suffering with severe pain be denied pain medication? Never. But there are alternatives for the treatment of pain that do not involve the risks of addictive and dangerous opioids. We are immersed in a prescription drug epidemic of opiods because profits for pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma are placed over the lives and safety of our family members. Enough is enough and it needs to stop.
There has to be accountability for the over marketing and manufacture of opioids, beginning with the FDA doing its job by protecting the public — not by aligning itself with the pharmaceutical industry.
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