CLEVELAND – National pharmacies like Walmart, Walgreens and CVS and a regional pharmacy in Giant Eagle have partnered with pharmaceutical companies to flood opioid drugs across Trumbull and Lake Counties and throughout the rest of the country, according to Dr. Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University.
Lembke was the lead witness on the third day of an opioid trial that was viewed by the nation as a potential submission that other communities could use in lawsuits against drug companies and pharmacies.
Lembke testified that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors worked to mislead the public and others about the medical benefits of using opioids as long-term pain relievers.
“There’s no evidence that opioids are good for chronic pain relief,” Lembke said.
Trumbull and Lake Counties filed a joint lawsuit over the number of prescription pain relievers distributed in the counties between 2012 and 2016. The amount was 400 tablets for each Trumbull County resident and 265 tablets for each resident in Lake County.
It is estimated that each county would have to spend more than $ 1 billion to combat the effects of the drug epidemic
Since the early 1980s, according to Lembke, the large pharmaceutical companies that work with distributors and pharmaceutical companies have been able to provide targeted misinformation about opioids in order to alleviate chronic pain.
During that time, a paradigm shift in medicine began and doctors began to prescribe opioids more freely than ever before, she said.
The misinformation initially led to a demand for medically prescribed opioids, which eventually led to people taking illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl on the streets.
In the 1980s, too, there was an increased use of hospice care for the elderly, which brought corresponding efforts to relieve the pain of these patients.
“Companies started telling doctors that these opioids are not addictive, so they can prescribe them in increasing doses with no side effects,” Lembke said.
However, the opposite was true.
The higher the dosages and the longer opiates are used, the more addicting they become, according to Lembke. Misinformation from drug companies said doctors could tell which patients were at higher risk of addiction.
“We don’t have reliable tools to determine who is getting addicted or not,” Lembke said. “Increased prescriptions resulted in increased supply, increased exposure, which led to multiple generations of addictions.”
Lembke said her research into company documents showed that they were not innocent suppliers of drugs prescribed by doctors.
Each of the companies attempted to increase sales of the drugs through a variety of programs that enabled patients to obtain opioid drugs for free or at greatly discounted prices. The companies also sponsored “educational seminars” for their pharmacists based on misinformation from the pharmaceutical companies.
Pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, began asking drug companies about ways they could reach their pharmacists and retail stores for training seminars and provide places to leave materials about their products for a price.
“This created a prescription opioid crisis that later led to a spate of illicit heroin and fentanyl use,” she said.