Doctors raked in cash to push fentanyl as N.J. death rate exploded | NJ.com @fil
The most powerful opioid ever mass-marketed was designed to ease cancer patients into death.
It’s ideal for that: the drug is fast acting, powerful enough to tame pain that other opioids can’t and comes in a variety of easy delivery methods — from patches to lollipops.
But a dose the size of a grain of sand can kill you.
Meet fentanyl. It’s heroin on steroids. It’s killing people in droves. And, in New Jersey, you can get it after having your tonsils removed.
In fact, doctors who treat children’s colds and adult’s sore knees are prescribing it with alarming frequency, far more than oncologists easing end-of-life cancer pain.
The surge is stoked by companies that shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to doctors, wining and dining them in hopes of convincing them that their particular brand of fentanyl is the solution to all their patients’ pain problems.
Evidently, it’s working.
An NJ Advance Media analysis has found that eight medical specialties in New Jersey have filed more Medicare claims for fentanyl than those by oncologists. Family practitioners, for example, filed at least five times as many claims for fentanyl from 2013 to 2015 than did cancer doctors.
“There are some powerful drivers of opioid prescriptions that have little to do with the presence of pain in the population,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins University.
The investigation also reveals:
From 2013 to 2015, doctors in New Jersey were paid at least $1.67 million by pharmaceutical companies marketing various forms of fentanyl. In the same time period, fentanyl deaths in New Jersey increased from 42 in 2013 to 417 in 2015.
Since late 2011, enough fentanyl has been dispensed to allow every person who has died of cancer in New Jersey to fill a prescription for the drug eight times.
Doctors are being disciplined for improperly prescribing fentanyl, in several cases losing their licenses after their patients die while taking the drug.