CARSON CITY – A Nevada lawmaker has asked the drug company that makes OxyContin to turn over information about Nevada doctors suspected of overprescribing the pain medication.
“I have been concerned for some time about the mounting death toll related to certain addictive drugs, such as OxyContin,” state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, wrote in a Friday letter to John Stewart, president and chief executive officer of Purdue Pharma.
“I am dismayed by the findings of the Los Angeles Times investigation that revealed that although Purdue Pharma L.P. has compiled a database of hundreds of doctors who are suspected of recklessly prescribing OxyContin, it has been unwilling to alert authorities in each state about its findings,” he said in the letter.
Saying the company has an ethical duty to turn over such information, Segerblom asked that it be immediately given to the state Board of Medical Examiners.
“I am also requesting that the criteria utilized by Purdue Pharma in determining signs of reckless/dangerous prescribing of this narcotic be sent, as well,” he said.
Segerblom, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has long been interested in legislation to reduce the number of patients who become addicted to such narcotics.
Purdue Pharma did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Douglas Cooper, executive director of the state medical board, said he would need not only the names of the physicians but the information that raised red flags about them before he could investigate.
If the information was provided and was the basis for a complaint, the board would open an investigation and take appropriate action, he said.
Segerblom’s request comes just days after two California state senators made a similar request based on the article in the Los Angeles Times.
The newspaper reported on the company’s efforts to identify “potentially problematic” prescribers of the drug. The report said the company has a database of 1,800 doctors who showed signs of dangerous prescribing, yet only 154 cases have been referred to law enforcement or medical regulators since 2002.
OxyContin is a trade name for the drug oxycodone hydrochloride, which is prescribed for chronic pain.
In 2007 Purdue Pharma paid $600 million to settle claims that it misled doctors about the drug’s risk of addiction.
Larry Pinson, executive secretary of the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy, said there is no question that prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in the United States. Pinson, who lectures on the topic, said 80 percent of manufactured opiates in the world, which includes OxyContin, are consumed in the U.S.
The statistic came from congressional testimony by the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Due in part to direct advertising to consumers, which Pinson called a bad decision, “we’ve grown up with the idea that there is a drug for everything.”
Pinson said Nevada has one of the longest-running prescription monitoring programs in the country, which identifies consumers who are “doctor-shopping” to get prescription drugs. Doctor shopping is a felony in Nevada, he said.
When evidence of such behavior emerges, the pharmacies and doctors used by the patient are contacted so they can deal with the person and provide treatment, Pinson said.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report last year called prescription drug overdoses a U.S. epidemic.
The CDC said the unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300 percent rise since 1999 in the sale of strong painkillers such as OxyContin.
A 2013 CDC report showed that Nevada had the third-highest prescription drug overdose deaths in 2008. Nevada was also tied for second among states in the kilograms of prescription painkillers sold per 10,000 people in 2010.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.