Sunday, June 11, 2017

Drugs to cure drug addiction

What better way to the necessary feeding of the bottom lines of Big Pharma than selling mass quantities of opioid pain killers to create a problem, and then cleverly marketing a drug to treat opioid addiction.
The ads have been popping up on billboards, buses, subways and in glossy magazines, with portraits of attractive men and women and a simple question in bold letters: What is Vivitrol?

Five years ago, Vivitrol was a treatment for opioid addiction that was struggling to find a market. Now, its sales and profile are rising fast, thanks to its manufacturers’ shrewd use of political connections, and despite scant science to prove the drug’s efficacy.

Last month, the health and human services secretary, Tom Price, praised it as the future of opioid addiction treatment after visiting the company’s plant in Ohio, setting off a furor among substance abuse specialists by criticizing its less expensive and more widely used and rigorously studied competitors, buprenorphine and methadone, as medications that “simply substitute” for illicit drugs.

It was the kind of plug that Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, has spent years coaxing, with a deft lobbying strategy that has targeted lawmakers and law enforcement officials. The company has spent millions of dollars on contributions to officials struggling to stem the epidemic of opioid abuse. It has also provided thousands of free doses to encourage the use of Vivitrol in jails and prisons, which have by default become major detox centers.

With the Trump administration sending $1 billion in new addiction prevention and treatment funds to states over the next two years through the 21st Century Cures Act, Alkermes’s marketing has shifted into even higher gear.

The company’s strategy highlights the profit opportunities that drug companies and investors see in an opioid epidemic that killed 91 Americans every day in 2015 and is growing worse. But some of its marketing tactics, and Mr. Price’s comments, ignore widely accepted science, as nearly 700 experts in the field wrote the health secretary in a letter.

Not a single study has been completed comparing Vivitrol to its less expensive competitors. Some studies have shown high dropout rates, or found that many participants return to opioid use while taking Vivitrol or after going off it. In one study that the company used to secure the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Vivitrol for opioid addiction treatment, conducted with 250 patients in Russia, nearly half of those who got Vivitrol failed to stay abstinent over a six-month period, although they stayed abstinent and in treatment longer than those who got a placebo.
With Tom Price's unstinting praise of the drug should also come an examination to see how many shares are owned or beneficially owned by him. After the fiasco with his insider trading efforts with Innate Immunotherapeutics, Tom seems reticent to share this hot tip. Al least not with people who can't keep their mouths shut.


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