A recent CNN investigation highlights a problem that is both widespread and under-reported: the abuses that can arise when drug companies pay doctors to prescribe their medications. Though not widely known or appreciated this is a common practice in the medical and pharma industries. But, as CNN outlines, it can lead to life-threatening abuses.
As the story linked below documents one major pharmaceutical company paid “nearly 500 doctors to speak or consult on its drug, Nuedexta, between 2013 and 2016, according to government data.” According to CNN this raised two separate and equally serious issues.
First, the manufacturer was not particularly discriminating about who it paid to promote its drug. Among the doctors on the manufacturer’s payroll: one doctor who “had his prescription pad taken away after he repeatedly failed tests for his competency. Another was banned from treating mentally ill inmates and accused of endangering nursing home patients by prescribing excessive dosages of medications. At least three others had criminal convictions for illegal prescribing.”
Second, there is the question of what the drug was actually prescribed for. According to CNN the FDA has approved Nudexta “to treat a rare condition marked by uncontrollable laughing and crying.” Yet the doctors on the manufacturer’s payroll were writing scripts for it as a way of treating dementia or “to control unruly behaviors.” The news channel concludes: “This medication has experienced a massive jump in sales in recent years, propelled by prescriptions to nursing home residents for whom the drug may not be necessary or even safe.”
It is a long-established principle of the medical profession that doctors are not legally required to limit their prescriptions to the uses manufacturers have originally specified for particular drugs. In the abstract this is a good thing. It reflects the faith we place in doctors as highly-trained professionals and allows new, sometimes life-saving, uses to be developed for existing medications. In exchange for this privilege doctors also take on significant responsibilities. They remain responsible, both legally and morally, for making the correct decisions for their patients. CNN reports that authorities in Los Angeles are now investigating the allegedly inappropriate prescriptions and the use of doctors with questionable credentials.
As an Oregon and Washington lawyer I know that this is the sort of situation that can be very difficult and confusing for victims and their loved ones to work their way through. Medical abuse and neglect and medical malpractice are particularly complex areas of the law and because they directly impact people’s health they can be especially difficult for many people to deal with. Sadly, the case outlined in the CNN investigation is far from unique, and it is precisely at times like these that Oregonians often need help to determine when a doctor or drug company has acted inappropriately.