New York Charges Pharma Company for Fuelling the Opioid Crisis

The State of New York filed on Tuesday civil charges against an opioid manufacturer for fraudulently overrating the efficacy and downgrading the risks of its drugs, which the State claimed fuelled the opioid crisis. 

pills opioidPrescribed opioid pills (Photo: Find Rehab Centers, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)The New York’s Department of Financial Services, DFS, pressed its first charges in an ongoing investigation into entities that created and perpetuated the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the US.

Opioids are drugs designed to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium and are very addictive.

Charges were raised against the pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt, a statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

According to the Statement of Charges, Mallinckrodt is the main opioid drugs provider for New York State. New Yorkers on a commercial health plan obtained over one billion of the company’s opioid pills between 2009 and 2019. 

The DFS argued that many of these people did not need an opioid treatment and required the company to be fined up to US$5,000 for each fraudulent prescription and insurance claim. 

"The opioid manufacturers knew how addictive and dangerous their products were and they used it as a business model for their own financial gain at the cost of thousands of human lives and billions of dollars,” Governor Cuomo stated.

The DFS explained that the company paid “prominent doctors, advocacy groups and professional associations vast sums of money to promote the use of opioids in areas that were not medically responsible.” 

While they are considered appropriate for cancer, post-surgery and palliative treatment, Opioid drugs have been commonly prescribed for chronic pains, despite the fact prolonged use carried risks of addiction. 

Mallinckrodt downplayed these addiction risks, the statement described, and pushed the unscientifically-based concept of “pseudoaddiction” in medical education and literature. 

“These false and misleading marketing efforts were both ubiquitous and highly successful,” the DFS wrote.

The Department also claimed that Mallinckrodt neglected to prevent the diversion of its products by the black market. In some cases, prescribing patterns they should have recognized as red flags were considered as business opportunities. 

Synthetic opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and especially fentanyl have now overtaken heroin on the street market across North America. Reportedly 50 times stronger than heroin, fentanyl has led to an explosion of deaths by overdose in recent years. 

Opioids killed nearly 450,000 Americans between 1999-2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The DFS further estimated that the opioid crisis deprived the country’s economy from hundreds of billions of dollars and dramatically increased the cost of healthcare.