Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Opioid maker pushed doctors to prescribe more pain pills through free diagnostic tool in 2016-19, court records show

A major opioid manufacturer pushed doctors to prescribe pain pills through a free, seemingly innocuous diagnostic tool, a government investigation has revealed. According to court documents, the unnamed opioid maker secretly paid health-care software company Practice Fusion to develop the tool, which tens of thousands of doctors' offices used about 230 million times from 2016 to 2019, Emma Court reports for Bloomberg News.

The scheme aimed to increase prescriptions for addictive opioids even though overdose deaths had almost tripled in the previous 15 years. And though the civil and criminal cases against Practice Fusion don't name the opioid manufacturer, the details in the case closely match a public research partnership between Practice Fusion and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, Court reports. Reuters reported this week that it was Purdue, citing anonymous sources.

Practice Fusion, founded in San Francisco in 2005, "became known for its unique model of providing free, ad-supported health-records software to independent doctors. The company says its cloud-based platform has grown to be used in roughly 30,000 practices," Court reports. The tool looked innocuous to doctors: when they opened up a patient's electronic records, a pop-up menu would appear, asking about the patient's pain level. Then a drop-down menu would recommend a treatment plan, which frequently included an opioid prescription.

"As deaths from opioid overdoses mounted, states and citizens accused manufacturers in lawsuits of pushing drugs while downplaying risks. Many millions of pills were dispensed at pain clinics in rural areas, fueling a vigorous street trade. The Practice Fusion case shows a more subtle method of reaching drug consumers," Court reports. "Employees estimated internally that the drug company could add almost 3,000 patients and bolster opioid sales by as much as $11.3 million through the partnership. Under the contract, the drugmaker paid Practice Fusion almost $1 million."

"Big tech companies have large-scale plans to reinvent health care, promising to revolutionize areas such as electronic records, which are a crucial source of data about consumer health. But the Practice Fusion case shows how such plans can be exploited and even provide a new avenue for financial interests to influence treatment," Court reports.

No comments: