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McCaskill probe targets opioid manufacturers

March 28, 2017

A Democratic senator has launched an investigation into how five drugmakers promoted prescription pain pills whose abuse has become epidemic in the U.S. and led to thousands of overdoses and deaths a year.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, on Tuesday wrote the chief executive officers of Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma Inc., Mylan NV, Insys Therapeutics Inc., and Depomed Inc., demanding documents and information related to the sales, marketing, and education strategies the companies used to promote opioid painkillers. The selected companies are the top five prescription opioid manufacturers in the U.S., she said.

“This epidemic is the direct result of a calculated sales and marketing strategy major opioid manufacturers have allegedly pursued over the past 20 years to expand their market share and increase dependency on powerful — and often deadly — painkillers,” McCaskill wrote. “They show an industry apparently focused not on preventing abuse but on fostering addiction as a central component of its business model.”

More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, with third of those deaths caused by prescription opioids including Purdue’s OxyContin and Insys’s Subsys, according to a summary of the investigation on McCaskill’s website.

Deaths have been rising rapidly — about 22,000 people in the U.S. died from prescription opioid-related deaths in 2015, up from 19,000 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the increase in deaths has been caused by illegally made versions of the prescription opioid fentanyl, according to the CDC.

McCaskill requested that the companies respond by April 25. Spokesmen for the companies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


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