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I-Team: Pain med prescriptions did not cause opioid epidemic, courts rule |

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I-Team: Pain med prescriptions did not cause opioid epidemic, courts rule

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) -- Five years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated a crackdown on opioid pain medications, experts have concluded the policy has been a miserable failure. Overdose deaths have gone up, not down, and now, courts are starting to recognize the arguments used to justify the crackdown are largely bogus.

"So these numbers, they just push these false numbers and now you have courts of law calling them out," said Dr. Dan Laird. 

As a Las Vegas physician, Laird has a unique vantage point from which to evaluate the great opioid crackdown.  Laird is a pain management doctor and an attorney who represented patients who suffered pain after being denied legal medications. 

Of the 50 million Americans plagued by chronic pain, about 20 million depend on prescription opioids to try and lead somewhat normal lives. Since 2016, those millions have suffered immensely because of a war on legal pain meds. 

"Chronic pain patients are basically in a fight for their lives," Laird said. "They've been under attack for several years now with this. Anti-opioid sentiment and sort of the over-reaction to the opioid crisis."

Laird says the campaign against opioids is largely about money. More than 1,500 civil lawsuits have been filed against drug companies by state and local governments, including in Nevada, as officials and trial lawyers eye multi-billion dollar settlements. but the lawsuits, most of which accuse big pharma of being a public nuisance for causing the opioid epidemic are starting to fall apart.

In California this month, a lower court tossed out a huge lawsuit with a scathing opinion that found the underlying facts don’t support the allegation that 25% of opioid patients get addicted. And in Oklahoma, the state’s supreme court reached a similar conclusion and held that the benefits of opioid meds far outweigh the risks.   

"But the litigation narrative, the narrative that the trial lawyers want to push is that it's prescribed opioids that are causing all of these deaths. This huge upswing in opioid deaths has occurred because of fentanyl, yet they continue to pound this drum that it's prescription opioids, causing the deaths and the reason they are is because this is being driven by litigation by the people involved in this. Aren't talking about millions of dollars, they're talking about billions and billions of dollars. So if it hurts a few chronic pain patients ... and if they're collateral damage, you know, I guess they look at it as you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet," Laird said. 

But prescription drugs are not the cause of a spike in overdose deaths. Ninety thousand overdoses were recorded in 2020, a huge increase, but 87% of those were caused by illegal street drugs, notably fentanyl and heroin, not a prescription medication. Cutting down on prescriptions hasn’t worked because legal pain patients are not the ones overdosing. 

One outspoken advocate for chronic pain patients, Red Lawhern, says the CC's own statistics prove the crackdown on prescription opioids is unwarranted.

“So seniors, who get the most opioid prescribing have the lowest rates of opioid overdose-related deaths by a factor of three to one,” Lawhern told Mystery Wire. “Kids under the age of 19 have the lowest prescription rates for opioids. And they have a rate of opioid-related overdose death, that is three times that of seniors.
So what I’ve been telling people for the last roughly four years is that you can’t explain this inversion of demographics, by any model that proposes that prescribing is the problem or the cause of addiction. It’s not there, it has never been there. So what we are seeing is, statistics of the CDC itself demonstrate that the logic behind the 2016 guidelines is bogus. It’s flat not supported by the data that CDC itself has reported. But CDC has chosen to ignore the data, and instead to enlist the opinions of people who were hand-picked as anti-opioid advocates, who may even believe the nonsense that they talk. But they’re lying through their teeth.” 

Studies show less than 1% of them become addicted, not 25% as alleged in the lawsuits. Millions of patients who followed the rules and their doctors have been cut off altogether or had their dosages slashed. Suicides among those patients jumped 470%, many of them veterans in pain who were cut off by the Veterans Administration. Patients are starting to fight back by suing doctors and hospitals who deny legitimate medications.  

Also coming under scrutiny are the very same anti-opioid crusaders who crafted the CDC's opioid crackdown in 2016. Several are now working as expert witnesses in lawsuits against big pharma. 

"One person, Andrew Kolodny, who is a psychiatrist with no formal postgraduate training and pain management is an expert witness for again, Oklahoma case against Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals. His expert witness fee for that case reportedly is $500,000, so it's pretty good work if you can get it," Laird said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments whether doctors should be criminally prosecuted for prescribing legal medications, so long as they use "good faith" standards in issuing prescriptions.

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