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The Opioid Reckoning Has Just Begun

Posted by Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC on 11/12/20 10:30 AM

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 OPIOID SNIP

Every few days, we see criminal charges brought against physicians and other individuals who provided controlled substances without a medical need; without a proper medical visit or exam; or in exchange for kickbacks or bribes.

On October 21, we had big news from the Department of Justice: settlements with Purdue Pharmacy and the Sackler family. Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company primarily owned by the Sackler family, is most well-known for its opioid product OxyContin.

State, private, and federal lawsuits have increasingly been filed against opioid manufacturers, and many in the healthcare industry expected to see enforcement involving Purdue and the Sacklers. Here’s what happened in October:

  • Purdue entered a criminal settlement, admitting that it misrepresented to the DEA that it had an effective diversion program. Purdue will admit that “in fact, Purdue continued to market its opioid products to more than 100 health care providers whom the company had good reason to believe were diverting opioids and by reporting misleading information to the DEA to boost Purdue’s manufacturing quotas.” Purdue will also admit to facilitating the dispensing of opioids “without a legitimate medical purpose.” Finally, Purdue will admit to kickback violations related to its doctor speaker program.
  • Purdue and its stakeholders, Sackler family members, entered civil settlements resolving allegations that Purdue submitted false claims related to promoting opioids to providers “it knew were prescribing opioids for uses that were unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary, and often led to abuse and diversion.” The settlement also resolves kickback claims. This settlement gives the U.S. a bankruptcy claim for recovery of $2.8 billion.
  • Five members of the Sackler family will pay $225 million to resolve allegations that they knowingly asked Purdue executives to increase Purdue’s share of the opioid market, even though the market had shrunk, and marketed to “Extreme, high-volume prescribers who were already writing ’25 times as many OxyContin scripts’ as their peers.”

It’s not over

These settlements are hefty for the healthcare industry – but this is far from over. The DOJ’s press release explicitly states:

  • “The resolutions do not include the criminal release of any individuals, including members of the Sackler family, nor are any of the company’s executives, or employees receiving civil releases.”
  • “Today’s resolution does not resolve claims that states may have against Purdue or members of the Sackler family, nor does it impede the government’s ability to recover any fraudulent transfers.”

Time will tell if (when?) Purdue is hit with more lawsuits, and the Sacklers face criminal charges. Time will also tell what the opioid industry will look like when the multi-million (and billion) settlements against opioid manufacturers are through.

Not just the big fish

In a previous blog post, I mentioned the frequent occurrence of criminal charges brought against physicians and other individuals who provided controlled substances without a medical need; without a proper medical visit or exam; or in exchange for kickbacks or bribes. The DOJ and many U.S. Attorney’s Offices continue to go after individuals in their efforts to combat opioid fraud and abuse. Here are just a few of the most recent enforcement actions:

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Topics: Penalties and Enforcement, Opioids, compliance

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