Oklahoma Attorney General: Fight Against Opioids Not Over
CLEVELAND COUNTY, Oklahoma - Oklahoma's Attorney General said his fight against the opioid epidemic is not over, despite a judge's decision to hold drug makers accountable.
Last week, Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman ruled pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson would pay $572 million for their role in the state's opioid crisis.
News On 6 viewers expressed concern after Balkman's ruling that doctors and even pharmacists should be held accountable, too.
The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office said doctors who inappropriately prescribed opioids are and will be held accountable, just like Johnson & Johnson.
In a statement, the office said, "When we receive information that shows a prescriber is running a pill mill...we do not hesitate to pursue charges against them."
The office provided Regan Nichols as one example. She's a doctor the Attorney General Mike Hunter charged with five counts of second degree murder for the deaths of patients she was treating.
Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr. William Yarborough offers another perspective. He said pharmaceutical drug reps normalized the medication when it was first produced, and told doctors to be compassionate by prescribing what their patients needed to end their pain.
"'The number one reason people come to the doctor is pain, and the number one reason people don't like their doctors is because they don't address their pain,'" Yarborough emulated. "So here, you can give them this."
"So, now everybody's doing it," he continued. "Not with bad intentions, right? The drug companies do play a role in that."
Yarborough acknowledges charges against some doctors may be warranted, but he said because of those charges, doctors are now afraid to prescribe opioids, even to patients who need them.
"There's not many doctors out there that want to mess with this because of the risks," he said.
Read the Attorney General Office's full statement below:
"It is the position of our office that the vast majority of doctors are doing the right things by their patients and it is the minority within the minority of doctors who put profit over patients and run illicit enterprises.
However, when we receive information that shows a prescriber is running a pill mill and harming Oklahomans, we do not hesitate to pursue charges against them. A recent example I can give you is with the Regan Nichols case, who we charged with five counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of patients she was treating.
Our trial against Johnson & Johnson was about showing how the company conducted a multi-decade fraudulent marketing campaign that spurred the deadliest manmade epidemic our nation has ever seen. Throughout the course of our trial against Johnson & Johnson, we showed how doctors were repeatedly lied to by corporate sales representatives, who targeted doctors 150,000 times between 2000 and 2011. With branded and unbranded sales pitches, sales representatives relentlessly minimized the risks of addiction, while using emotional selling techniques, saying opioids should be used for everyday pain.” --Alex Gerszewski, Communications Director