A state senator from Nevada has joined a California lawmaker in requesting that drug maker Purdue Pharma turn over the names of doctors the company suspects recklessly prescribed its pills to drug dealers and addicts.
Sen. Richard "Tick" Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) sent a letter to Purdue on Friday requesting that the company immediately provide Nevada's medical board with the names of Nevada physicians contained in a database of suspect doctors maintained by the company.
Segerblom, chairman of Nevada's Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes Purdue "has an ethical, if not legal duty" to inform state authorities of doctors who appear to be irresponsible prescribers of OxyContin, a potent painkiller that was highly prone to abuse before its reformulation in August 2010.
Segerblom introduced legislation aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse in Nevada, which he said is on the rise.
"The pain drugs are the biggest killer," he said. "It's something we really need to get a handle on."
Segerblom said he believes that the contents of Purdue's database could provide leads for medical investigators in his state.
"We probably have some doctors here that are just pumping the pills out like crazy," he said.
A spokesman for Connecticut-based Purdue did not respond to an email and telephone call seeking comment.
Both Segerblom's request and that of California state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) earlier this week follow a report in The Times on Sunday that described a decadelong effort by Purdue Pharma to identify potentially problematic prescribers of its potent and addictive drug. The Connecticut-based company amassed a database of some 1,800 doctors who showed signs of dangerous prescribing.
Purdue has not alerted authorities to its concerns about the vast majority of those doctors, referring only 154 cases to law enforcement or medical regulators since the program began in 2002. An attorney for Purdue said the decision of whether to refer a doctor was "essentially a judgment call" made on a case-by-case basis after an internal review.
Purdue has promoted the idea that the epidemic was fueled largely by pharmacy robberies, doctor-shopping patients and teens raiding home medicine cabinets. The company's database suggests it has long known that physicians also play a significant role in the crisis.
Beginning in 2002, Purdue trained its sales representatives to report "red flags" in doctors' offices, such as young patients, long lines, people nodding off in waiting rooms and frequent cash transactions. Purdue attorneys review their reports, and if a doctor's practice is deemed too risky, the company bars sales representatives from marketing to the physicians. The suspect doctors are removed from the company's numbered sales territories and assigned to the database, known as "Region Zero."
In 2010, Purdue introduced a tamper-resistant reformulation of OxyContin that made it less prone to abuse. A recent study by the company of 364 Region Zero prescribers found that their prescriptions for the maximum-strength dosage of the drug — the one favored by addicts — plummeted by 80% after the new pill was introduced. Purdue concluded that a small number of physicians might account for a "substantial portion" of the nation's black-market supply of prescription painkillers, according to a summary of the unpublished study.
Fifty-nine of the prescribers in the study practiced in California, the company said.