The nation’s largest state may be girding for a fight with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, a widely used and highly addictive opioid painkiller.
The LA Times reported this week that Purdue has a list of 1,800 doctors nationally that it believes have risky prescribing histories of the drug. Fifty-nine of the physicians are practicing in California, but Purdue won’t say who they are.
State Senator Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Southern California, wrote the company a letter Monday demanding that the company release the names.
“Painkillers serve a useful role but they can be abused,” Lieu told National Pain Report. “People are dying of over-prescription. If Purdue has a data base of risky doctors who may be recklessly and carelessly prescribing, they have a moral duty to let California know about it.”
In 2010, over 16,000 Americans died from painkiller overdoses. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that deaths from painkillers among middle age women was the fast growing sector.
CDC researchers reviewed death certificates, which are sometimes incomplete. Specific drugs were not identified in every death. In others, a combination of drugs was involved, such as painkillers taken with tranquilizers. CDC officials think more than 70 percent of the overdose deaths were unintentional.
What the real mortality numbers are in California has Lieu asking questions. He’s introduced a bill that will require county coroners to inform the California Medical Board of any death related to pain medication, which will give the board information that it can investigate.
“It could help find doctors who are over prescribing,” said Lieu.
An easier way would be for Purdue to simply provide its internal list of risky doctors. The company has referred some cases to law enforcement agencies or state medical regulators, but has refused to release the entire list. An attorney for Purdue told the Times said each case was “essentially a judgment call” made after an internal review.
Lieu said that if Purdue doesn’t notify California about which of their risky doctors practice in the state, he will look at introducing legislation to require it.
A California author on addiction, Richard Taite, called Purdue’s inaction “outrageous.”
Taite says it’s a Catch 22 for the company.
“If they deliver this list to authorities they open themselves up to liability in future wrongful death suits,” said Taite, the co-author of Ending Addiction for Good.
“If they don’t, they look like they are protecting doctors who may be ineffectual to preserve profits.”
Lieu is not a lone wolf on the issue in California. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay area, told the Times he would join Lieu in demanding answers from Purdue. DeSaulnier said he’s been asking Purdue for year to help fund California’s prescription drug monitoring system, known as CURES, but Purdue hasn’t been much help.