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California senators demand drugmaker turn over list of doctors illegally prescribing OxyContin

Two California state senators have called on the manufacturer of the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin to turn over a list to authorities containing the names of hundreds of doctors who may be illegally prescribing the drug. The doctors are suspected of prescribing OxyContin to addicts or drug dealers.

Despite the value that such a list would have in helping health authorities to slow the epidemic of painkiller overdose deaths, Purdue Pharma has refused to turn it over to officials. The company claims that it is not responsible for monitoring the prescribing practices of doctors. State Sens. Mark DeSaulnier and Ted Lieu—who have called for the company to make the list available to regulators—say that the company’s refusal to hand over the list gives the impression that it is more interested in protecting its profits than patient safety.

Purdue compiled the list of 1,800 doctors who showed signs of improper prescribing practices in order to alert sales representatives to avoid these physicians. Although the company has informed officials of the names of some of the doctors on the list, the vast majority of the doctors are unknown to regulators trying to curb the spread of prescription painkillers on the street and lower the number of deaths from opioids or other prescription medications that occur in the U.S. every year.

In 2009, deaths from prescription medications topped 39,000—making it the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. that year. Despite the dangers of prescription painkillers such as fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, and other opioids, many doctors continue to prescribe these medications inappropriately, putting their patients at risk of an overdose or other side effects. Hundreds of wrongful death lawsuits have been filed on behalf of patients who lost their lives to an opioid overdose caused by medical malpractice on the part of their doctor.