Sen. McCaskill to lead congressional probe of prescription drug makers
JEFFERSON CITY - As Missouri legislators debate the merits of a state prescription drug monitoring program, five of the nation's largest prescription opioid producers are coming under investigation.
The companies, which include Depomed, Mylan, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Insys, received letters from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Tuesday as part of a probe into the pharmaceutical industry by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The letters request the companies' internal estimates of addiction cases, overdoses and deaths involving prescription opioids each year. The probe also seeks audits of the companies' sales and marketing programs, including information regarding sales quotas.
The investigation is a response to the growing number of prescription drug overdoses and deaths nationwide in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from prescription drug overdoses quadrupled since 1999, with nearly 15,000 deaths reported in the U.S. in 2015.
In a statement, McCaskill 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."
Insys, one of the companies involved in the investigation, was scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Justice last year. The company allegedly bribed doctors to prescribe fentanyl medications, even when those prescriptions were not medically necessary.
In Missouri last year, an estimated 235,000 people misused prescription drugs. Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, a tracking system that prevents patients from "doctor-shopping" to obtain opioid prescriptions.
Although Missouri has not yet passed a statewide program, several cities and counties throughout the state are building a monitoring network. The Columbia City Council voted to become part of the developing database earlier this month, joining Jefferson City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Kansas City and a handful of others.
Ron Fitzwater, CEO of the Missouri Pharmacy Association, said he applauds efforts by cities and counties to adopt prescription drug monitoring programs, but a statewide system would be more effective.
"Our concern is if we don't get every county in the state of Missouri as a part of the program, then those folks that want to abuse the system are just going to go to pharmacists in counties that have not adopted the prescription drug monitoring program," Fitzwater said.
The Missouri House of Representatives is expected to begin debate Wednesday on a bill that aims to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston).