A woman in Rochester filed suit last month in Strafford County Superior Court for medical negligence and violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act after becoming highly addicted to the potent painkiller Subsys, which is stronger than morphine and heroin.
Her Portsmouth attorney filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in Strafford County Superior Court. Among the defendants, the lawsuit names a physician’s assistant who treated and prescribed painkillers to the woman from the fall of 2012 to the summer of 2015. The center that prescribed the medication is also listed as a defendant. Finally, Colby is suing the drug’s maker, Insys Therapeutics.
The FDA approved Subsys for use in January 2012 to treat cancer patients over 18 who had received and could tolerate opioid therapy. From 2013-2014, New Hampshire patients received over 800 Subsys prescriptions and over 100,000 units of the drug. The plaintiff’s attorney indicated that prescriptions for Subsys can cost up to $20,000 a month, and the company was bribing doctors to foster customers’ addiction. “It’s reprehensible,” he said.
In December, the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts indicted six former Insys executives on mail fraud, racketeering, and wire fraud. Allegedly, the company spearheaded a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners to prescribe the drug for unintended use in nine states, New Hampshire among them. New Hampshire gave out the second-highest number of Subsys prescriptions per capita nationally.
In 2007, the plaintiff developed chronic pain after undergoing surgery to have her tailbone removed at Massachusetts General Hospital. In October 2012, she visited PainCare, and the physician’s assistant prescribed an opioid pain medication.
He first prescribed Subsys to the plaintiff in November 2013. While her initial prescription was for 200 micrograms four times a day, in just a year’s time, she’d increased her dose to 1,200 micrograms four times a day. The physician’s assistant was simultaneously prescribing four other opioids and injections for pain.
During the years he was permitted to prescribe, he prescribed more pain medication than almost anyone else in New Hampshire. Along the way, the state Board of Medicine indicates he broke almost every rule in the book. The 41-year-old physician’s assistant failed to warn patients of the risks of opioids. He failed to screen patients for addiction and mental illness. He disregarded drug screens that suggested patients were abusing their medications. He was known to start patients on high doses and then prescribe more and more, often for no reason.
By November 2014, the plaintiff was fully addicted to Subsys. When her scheduled shipment failed to arrive, she began suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, including stomach pain, chills, sweating, vomiting, and hot flashes. According to the lawsuit, she felt like she was going to die.
The lawsuit alleges that the physician’s assistant was not sympathetic to the plaintiff’s condition, and he told her he would cut her other opioid prescriptions in half. Apparently, he was already being investigated by the New Hampshire Board of Medicine for improper practices. Desperate and hysterical, the plaintiff begged the physician’s assistant to put her back on Subsys to curb her withdrawal symptoms. After refusing her request, he told her that he was being watched.
The board began investigating the physician’s assistant in September 2013 after receiving a letter from a former PainCare employee alleging that he performed medically unnecessary procedures on a number of patients. After prescribing smaller doses of opioids to the plaintiff for eight more months, he announced in August 2015 that he was leaving PainCare. Soon afterward, his license was suspended for 90 days. He was thereafter permanently banned from practicing chronic pain management and from prescribing all scheduled II-IV controlled drugs. The Board’s ruling quoted an expert witness who said the physician’s assistant showed no “pharmacological or other skill whatsoever” in managing his patients’ medication.
According to the New Hampshire attorney general’s investigation, Insys Therapeutics was paying the physician’s assistant $44,000 to promote Subsys at speaking engagements. These events, the investigation revealed, were mainly a sham — social events at expensive restaurants in circles mainly comprised of his non-doctor friends. New Hampshire sued Insys, alleging its speaker program was a scheme. Last month, Insys agreed to pay New Hampshire $2.95 million in a settlement.
Prescription drug abuse, particularly opioid abuse, is a major public health concern in New Hampshire. The state has responded to the crisis by investigating the prescribing habits of physicians, nurses, and other clinicians.
If you have been harmed because of someone else’s negligence, you may need the assistance of a medical malpractice lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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