Medicine

Want Details on Opioid Makers' Misdeeds? Go Here

This post originally appeared on MedPage Today: Pain Management.

In an effort to increase public access to information about the opioid crisis, two universities have teamed up to create a digital archive of documents from lawsuits against drug manufacturers.

Last month, the University of California San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University launched the Opioid Industry Documents Archive, a digital repository of publicly disclosed legal documents related to the crisis. The archive provides free, public access to anyone interested in the continuing litigation and the evidence uncovered in the course of it.

“All too often, the public never gets the benefit of seeing and learning from litigation that generally takes place behind closed doors,” said Caleb Alexander, MD, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Johns Hopkins and the founding co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, which will assist in maintaining the archive.

“Our focus is to be sure that the millions of pages of documents arising from opioid litigation ultimately see the light of day,” Alexander told MedPage Today. “We owe it to all those who have been impacted — especially patients and their loved ones — to see to it that these materials are placed in the public domain.”

Through access to judgments, settlements, and ongoing lawsuits, the archive aims to provide transparency into the methods used by drug companies to increase opioid sales — ultimately resulting in the deadly epidemic. From 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 Americans died of overdoses involving an opioid, according to the CDC. Additionally, the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated economic costs of the crisis in 2015-2018 at $2.5 trillion.

The majority of the documents in the archive were released to the public through efforts of the Washington Post and the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, according to its website. Records include company emails, memos, presentations, sales reports, audit reports, budgets, Drug Enforcement Administration briefings, expert witness reports, and depositions of drug company executives.

The archive is located on a website called Drug Industry Archives, a UCSF project that houses documents illustrating how the pharmaceutical industry, academic institutions, continuing medical education organizers and regulatory agencies impact public health. (UCSF also maintains similar archives related to tobacco, food, chemicals, and fossil fuel industries.)

Currently, the Opioid Industry Documents Archive contains more than 3,300 legal documents, totaling more than 131,000 pages, in six collections. Much of it is from litigation in Kentucky and Oklahoma, as well as documents from the Insys investigation. The launch of this archive coincides with the universities’ efforts to host more than 250,000 documents produced during Insys’s bankruptcy proceedings that followed successful lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against the firm, which sold an oral fentanyl spray called Subsys.

“We don’t really know what’s in these documents yet, but there is a wealth of information,” said Kate Tasker, an associate librarian at UCSF who helps manage the archive. “Our number one goal is to make this information accessible and useful.”

Alexander called the opioid crisis “an epidemic of catastrophic public health proportions.” Putting legal documents in the public domain, he said, is a critical step in ensuring that lessons are learned from the crisis.

“The primary goal is to ensure that history never repeats itself,” Alexander said. “And we can’t learn from past mistakes without understanding what those mistakes have been.”

  • Amanda D’Ambrosio is a reporter on MedPage Today‚Äôs enterprise & investigative team. She covers obstetrics-gynecology and other clinical news, and writes features about the U.S. healthcare system. Follow

This post originally appeared on MedPage Today: Pain Management.

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