According to a recent press release Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures OxyContin, will provide a $1 million grant to support the operation of a prescription drug monitoring program ("PDMP") in the state of Florida, to help combat the illegal diversion and abuse of prescription medications. The Company also announced a $1 million grant to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to support that organization's program to help State PDMPs detect "doctor shopping" across state lines.
What about California?
On May 5, 2010 I took a group of alumni to Sacramento to lobby for passage of SB 1071, a bill aimed at providing continued funding for CURES, California’s online real time PDMP. The State of California was broke at the time (still is) and was unable to continue underwriting CURES although it was being used by more and more doctors to quickly determine if a patient was doctor shopping or pharmacy hopping for drugs like oxycontin, vicodin, valium, fentanyl, and morphine.
At the urging of his constituent Bob Pack, whose children were killed by a woman driving under the influence of multiple vicodin prescriptions, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) undertook the responsiblity of finding ongoing funding for CURES. Pack, a computer company owner, had already helped the Department of Justice modernize California's antiquated system.
Senator DeSaulnier staff, working with Pack and the Office of Attorney General (now Governor) Jerry Brown, determined that the most likely sources of underwriting were the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these highly addictive narcotics. SB 1071 called for a tax of $0.0025 for each Schedule II, III and IV narcotic prescription filled in California -- less than 25 cents a prescription.
I spoke briefly during the hearing with Frederick H. Noteware, a lobbyist who represents the pharmaceutical industry in Sacramento. He had just testified against passage of the SB 1071. He thought the purpose was “worthy,” but he insisted that the pharmaceutical companies which manufacture narcotics were not responsible for the irresponsiblity of doctors who over prescribe, and wrongly prescribe. We did not agree, and neither did the many parents who testified that day about the children they had lost to OxyContin.
As Senator DeSaulnier said at the hearing: “I differ with the pharmaceutical companies. When they make a profit and there is a mitigation for the profit, they should participate.”
SB 1071 did not get enough "yes" votes from Senate Health Committee members to move to the Finance Committee. Senator DeSaulnier found some interim funding to keep the database alive and continued his campaign to find permanent funding.
On July 28, 2010 the Contra Costa Times, a newspaper in Senator DeSaulnier's district, published an article about OxyContin entitled "A Silent, Growing Problem Among Youths." Journalist John Simerman quoted an email from Libby Holman, a spokeswoman for Purdue Pharma. She wrote that while the company opposed SB 1071 it supports "appropriately designed" prescription monitoring programs. "Prescription drug abuse is a serious public health concern and Purdue is taking an active role in being a part of the solution to the problem."
Several days later, on August 3, 2010 Senator DeSaulnier wrote to John H. Stewart, President and CEO of Purdue Pharma, requesting that Purdue take an immediate and productive role to combat the problem of abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers in California.
Senator DeSaulnier then met with Robert McElderry, the Regional Director of Purdue. According to Indira MacDonald, the Senator’s legislative aide: “The Regional Director vowed to be supportive of the Senator’s efforts, but not the way he went about it in SB 1071. In the meeting, Purdue would not commit funding without California first meeting higher marks in terms of what funding practitioners and pharmacist contribute to the CURES.”
On March 14, 2011, after Purdue Pharma officially announced they would provide funding to Florida’s online data base, Senator DeSaulnier again wrote to the President and CEO of Purdue Pharma.
'I write to continue our dialogue regarding your company’s commitment and support of California’s prescription drug monitoring program... As we begin a new legislative session, I am eager to work with your company in responding to the problem of abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers.
'While the launch of our state PDMP is a constructive step forward, we now face an enormous challenge to register more users. The sheer number of California practitioners and pharmacists eligible to prescribe and dispense prescription controlled substances makes this outreach effort an enormous one. Before even having the capability to register all potential users of the PDMP, we must first enhance the system’s capability (this includes: hardware, software, etc.) to withstand the volume of registered users and hits (requests for patient information), as well as provide the necessary staff to appropriately manage this registration process and upkeep the system.
'I applaud your company’s responsible economic support of the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Program (NASPER) under the Department of Health and Human Services to support states in establishing PDMPs as well as your company’s recent grant award to combat the illegal diversion and abuse of prescription medications in the state of Florida.
'I would like to ask for your assistance to the California Department of Justice office of the Attorney General in providing CURES with the necessary resources to enhance the capacity of our PDMP as this is the obstacle we currently face to prevent and detect the diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Without additional funds, achieving full usage of the PDMP cannot be met and therefore, our ability to fully protect the public is hindered.
'Without your company’s direct reinvestment into states’ efforts to combat the crisis before us, being an active part of the solution, we cannot win this fight. As a longtime business owner, I have always held that financial success should come by way of responsible business practices. Consumer’s safety and trust is greatest when businesses meet their moral obligations to mitigate negative effects. As a product steward, your reinvestment is appropriate and necessary. With your alliance and a public/private partnership we can make improvements to the responsible market of prescription controlled substances, ensure patient privacy and access to appropriate medical care, while also detecting the illegal diversion of controlled substances in order to save lives.
'I look forward to working with you and your company to support the operation, expansion and awareness of prescription drug monitoring programs. In particular, I look forward to hearing from you in regards to funding the CURES’s PDMP for the systems sustainability enhancement to increase registration and usage."
Great letter. No response as yet from Purdue Pharma.
Footnote: Readers will hopefully remember the “Addiction by Prescription” article I wrote for this blog on October 02, 2010 article.
It was about Bill, 22, a resident of Simi Valley, one of L.A.’s bedroom communities whose young people are being decimated by addiction to prescription drugs, especially OxyContin. Bill’s mom had committed to walking from one side of Simi Valley to the other 40 times, carrying a sign that said “Not One More.” She wanted to dramatize the fact that many of the kids Bill grew up with were dying from overdoses of OxyContin or, when they could not afford prescription pills any longer, heroin.
She called us one day crying, begging for help. Bill had taken so much OxyContin and Xanax the day before that she was sure he was going to die. We took him in because Purdue Pharma has yet to establish a fund to pay for detoxing and treating dying kids whose families have no financial resources.
A week ago Bill, his mom, and his sister came to Malibu Beach Recovery Center to celebrate his six months of sobriety. Bill is working full time, physically fit, and zealous about his new life. He truly inspired the clients currently in treatment at the Center.
The only sad moment was when he told us he had recently attended the funerals of two more childhood friends, both dead from drug overdoses.