BBC: Doctors used as 'guinea pigs' in opioid painkiller promotion

15 May, 2019

Extracts below.

Full text here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48268030

Comment from me below.

Dr Cathy Stannard was one of a group of UK pain specialists flown to New York in the early 2000s.

The trip had been presented as an educational package, an opportunity to meet "international thought leaders" from the world of pain management, she said.

She had known the company footing the bill manufactured opioid painkillers.

But she had not known that, around that time, some pharmaceutical companies would monitor the prescribing rates of the individual doctors who attended such paid-for trips, deliberately targeting those they thought they could influence.

Opioids can be effective for managing acute pain but long-term and high dose use can lead to addiction and increased risk of death.

The dependence on opioids in the UK is nowhere near on the same scale as in the US.

But new research carried out at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford has found that the extent of the problem is far greater than previously thought.

COMMENT (MC): The global opioid crisis is increasingly multifaceted. In the US, overprescription is now starting to be driven by pharmaceutical companies. Here in the UK, there was a 127% increase in prescription of opioids between 1998 and 2016, which has now prompted a full review of prescribing guidelines (the BBC report makes no mention of any such initiative in the US). In the May 2018 HIFA Blog, I wrote about the 'other' opioid crisis affecting West Africa, where the problem isn't being fuelled by overprescription or greedy pharmaceutical companies, but the widespread availability of Illegally-trafficked Tramadol, which is increasingly the recreational drug of choice for young West Africans. In all three scenarios, the urgent need to address the poor availability and inappropriate use of prescribing information is resoundingly clear.

HIFA profile: Martin Carroll was previously Head of the International Department at the British Medical Association, London UK, and has worked on issues affecting health in LMICs since 2003. He represented the BMA on the HIFA Steering Group from 2008-16 and is now an independent adviser to the group. martin_c63 AT hotmail.com