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EDITORIAL: Time to punish pharma pushers
Boston Herald - 1/11/2019
Jan. 11--The first wave of the opioid epidemic began almost 30 years ago with an increase in opioid prescriptions written for patients to treat chronic pain. Prescribers were reassured by pharmaceutical companies and medical societies that the risk of addiction was very low.
So much for that.
There were approximately 2,000 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2017 and 657 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in the Bay State in the first six months of 2018. Since the 1990s, the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States has risen by 300 per cent.
It is time that individuals in the pharmaceutical industry are held to account for their role in mainstreaming opioids without regard to the destructive fallout. In many cases, pure greed was the primary motivation.
As the Herald's Jonathan Ng and Sean Phillip Cotter reported, a big pharma bigwig is paying the piper. Michael Babich, the former CEO at Insys Therapeutics, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston on Wednesday for his role in a nationwide scheme to bribe physicians to prescribe the company's oral-spray painkillers meant for cancer patients facing extreme pain.
"It is very important that companies like Insys be held responsible for corrupting the medical community, as well as endangering and sometimes killing innocent patients," said attorney Mike Moore, who's leading some efforts to sue pharmaceutical companies two decades after securing a massive settlement against tobacco companies.
Babich, 42, admitted he used Insys as a vehicle to bribe doctors into prescribing Subsys to patients who did not have cancer -- a scheme that ended up lining his own pocket with $3.5 million more in profit. Those physicians would write Subsys prescriptions for no legitimate medical purpose, according to prosecutors.
Babich faces up to 25 years behind bars.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data showing that the opioid prescribing rate began to markedly increase nationwide starting in 2006 with the total number hitting its peak at more than 255 million in 2012 Thankfully, from 2012 to 2017, after the alarm was sounded, the rate fell to the lowest it had been in more than 10 years.
Michael Babich and others like him must pay a harsh price for their roles in creating and fostering the opioid epidemic. Fear of rigid punishment must be made to disincentivize the pushing of deadly drugs onto society at every level.
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