OxyContin has generated $35 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma.  The drug was marketed as non-addictive despite clear evidence to the contrary.  The evidence is not subtle.  According to the CDC, there have been 183,000 prescription opioid deaths since 1999.   The drug was first approved by the FDA in 1996 so the warnings came very early in the products’ cycles.    Yet, the misleading marketing did not stop.  Instead, the market was flooded with OxyContin and other prescription opiates.

Phony Research and Phony Doctors

Much like the tobacco industry in the past, the marketing of OxyContin as safe was based upon hand-picked quack researchers and doctors willing, for a price of course, to state just that.  Purdue set the stage for other opiate manufacturers to market their products as safe.  Despite the historically known dangers of opiates, the race was on in the pharmaceutical industry to get their products into the hands of unsuspecting patients.  Opiates became the drug of choice for prescribing doctors.  It was the first option for pain setting the course for the destruction of patients, their families and their children.

Worse still, even in the current climate where the opiate addiction has been deemed a national crisis, the beat goes on with the opiate manufacturers.  The CDC estimates that 145 people each day die from opiates.  These deaths are not all related to prescription opiates.  Some are related to heroin addiction with its roots in doctor prescribed opiates.  On the other hand, the CDC states that prescription opiates account for more than half of all opiate related deaths.  In short, 15,000+ Americans die each year from prescription opiates.

The National Insitute on Drug Abuse estimates that since 2000, 75% of herorin users began with prescription opiates.  In the end, the pharmaceutical companies selling opiates have generated billions in annual revenue knowing that thousands of Americans were dying each year as a result of their marketing practices.

The Costs of Prescription Opiates

The toll to patients and families cannot be quantified.  How do you put a dollar figure on the loss of a life and the reverberations through the family, the children, the community?

Although it is impossible to precisely determine the dollar value of the loss of life, the costs to communities and society can be measured and it has.  It is estimated that insurance companies spend over $70 billion per year in direct care related to opiate prescriptions and the health complications arising out of them.

States and municipalties are spending billions more.  In fact, the opiate crisis has put enormous strains on state and local government budgets.  For example, Summit County, Ohio, population 541,000, has spent $66 million from 2012 to 2015 related to the opiate crisis it their county.  Related to the indirect costs, Summit County spent another $21 million during that time on Child Protective Services relocating children from opiate addicted households.

New Mexico has been particularly hard hit with opiate addiction and opiate deaths among the highest in the nation.  With this comes enormous financial costs to the state with the New Mexico Department of Health’s outdated numbers showing $890 million spent in 2007 alone.  Since 2007, according to the New Mexico Attorney General lawsuit, the death toll from opiates has tripled.  It stands to reason that the costs to the state have also tripled.  Keep in mind too that these numbers relate only to the state budgets.  They do not include county and municipal budgets throughout the state facing the same trends on local levels.

States, Counties and Municipalities Fighting Back

The New York Times reports that there is on average one new lawsuit per day against the pharmaceutical companies that have caused this crisis.  Both Summit County and New Mexico are among those that have filed.  The Times reports that 41 states are joining together much like they did in the tobacco suits.  The Times reports further that there have been 200 lawsuits to date filed by county and local governments.

Naturally, the critics of these lawsuits, including the very corporations and their minions that caused the problems suggest this is simply greedy lawyers trying to make a buck.  This is the same refrain that was heard in the tobacco suits and every other lawsuit that seeks to protect the public against corporate abuse.

In fact, without these lawsuits, nothing will change as the current administration has named the crisis while at the same time cutting funds to address the crisis.  The current administration has also rolled back consumer protections that will directly benefit these predatory corporations to the expsense of innocent patients and families.  Lest we forget, the greatest tax bill in the history of the world will provide tax relief to these same corporations furthering burdening the rest of society with the costs of opiate crisis as the pharmaceutical companies whistle all the way to the bank.

Your Loved One is Not a Statistic

Stalin once said something to the effect that 1 death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.  Society has fallen prey to this same cynical view of the opiate crisis.  15,000 lives lost each year to prescription opiates is not just a statistic, it is 15,000 tragic and avoidable deaths brought on by corporate greed.

To the pharmaceutical companies making these products, 15,000 deaths is the costs of doing business.  They pay a fine here and there calculating those into their cost-benefit analysis.  There is no consideration of each life, just a profit analysis.

The calculations will not change until society demands accountability from these companies.  It begins with the families of the victims.  It begins with you standing up and saying my child is not an expense item on a balance sheet, my child is not a statistic, the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors doing their bidding will only listen when the cost-benefit analysis changes.  This will change only when the pharmaceutical companies and the reckless doctors prescribing the opiates are hit in the bank, their morality is inpenetrable.

New Mexico Attorney General Lawsuit

The New Mexico Attorney General lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies flooding New Mexico provides a very good factual account of the predatory and callous profit driven economics of death.

 

Here are a few recent articles.  There are many more on the topic

The Family That Built an Empire of Pain

The Family That Built an Empire of Pain Purdue launched OxyContin with a marketing campaign that attempted to counter this attitude and change the prescribing habits of doctors. The company funded research and paid doctors to make the case that concerns about opioid addiction were overblown, and that OxyContin could safely treat an ever-wider range of maladies. Sales representatives marketed OxyContin as a product “to start with and to stay with.” Millions of patients found the drug to be a vital salve for excruciating pain. But many others grew so hooked on it that, between doses, they experienced debilitating withdrawal.

Opinion | The Insanity of Taxpayer-Funded Addiction

Opinion | The Insanity of Taxpayer-Funded Addiction Purdue executives call abuse-deterrent opioids, along with highly effective non-opioid pain products, the “holy grail” for the pharmaceutical industry.

“Abuse-deterrent is a marketing term used to mislead,” says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, a pharmacology and physiology professor at Georgetown University who directs PharmedOut, a group that monitors pharmaceutical industry marketing efforts. “At least half of prescribers think that abuse-deterrent means less addictive.” It does not; abuse-deterrent pills are simply harder to crush or alter for injection or snorting. “It doesn’t prevent you from swallowing them, which is the most common way of abusing opioids,” Dr. Fugh-Berman said.

Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Pooling data from 2002 to 2012, the incidence of heroin initiation was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not (0.39 vs. 0.02 percent) (Muhuri et al., 2013). A study of young, urban injection drug users interviewed in 2008 and 2009 found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and their initiation into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, or personal prescriptions (Lankenau et al., 2012). This rate represents a shift from historical trends. Of people entering treatment for heroin addiction who began abusing opioids in the 1960s, more than 80 percent started with heroin. Of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug (Cicero et al., 2014). Examining national-level general population heroin data (including those in and not in treatment), nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin (Jones, 2013; Muhuri et al., 2013).

With Overdoses on Rise, Cities and Counties Look for Someone to Blame

With Overdoses on Rise, Cities and Counties Look for Someone to Blame The legal battle is playing out as the sale of prescription opioids, which include oxycodone and hydrocodone, have quadrupled since 1999, as have overdose deaths. More than 183,000 people died from overdoses tied to prescription opioids in the 15 years leading up to 2015. Life expectancy in the United States dropped for the second year in a row in 2016, federal officials reported this week, largely driven by drug overdoses, the vast majority of which were opioid-related. And the larger drug crisis, including heroin and fentanyl obtained illicitly, is swamping the resources of local governments and draining their budgets, officials say.

OxyContin: Purdue Pharma’s painful medicine | Fortune

OxyContin: Purdue Pharma’s painful medicine | Fortune Consider these statistics, all for 2010: 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in the U.S., according to Wall Street analysts Cowen & Co. Enough painkillers were prescribed to “medicate every American adult around the clock for a month,” the federal Centers for Disease Control reported on Nov. 1. It estimated that “nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.” Opioids generated $11 billion in revenues for pharmaceutical companies, says market research firm Frost & Sullivan.

 

According to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), there have been thousands of sexual assaults in ICE Detention facilities have gone uninvestigated between 2010 and 2016. In April of 2017, the organization filed a Federal Civil Rights Complaint noting that of the 33,126 reported incidents of physical and sexual abuse only 570 have been investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office. Usually, the office referred complaints back to originating facilities or offices.

While a number of DHS Agencies are included in the complaint, including Customs and Border Protection, TSA and the Coast Guard, the highest number of complaints originated from within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with 44.4% or 14,693 of the total.

The abuse and assaults reportedly occur at all points of interaction with detained immigrants, including; during strip searches, medical examinations and rapes perpetrated by facility guards and also other detainees.

Privately-Run Detention Facilities Are Worst of All

According to the aforementioned source, the facilities with the worst records of all are those run by private corrections contract companies, though similar circumstances prevail within ICE facilities across the nation.

In 2011 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted a FOIA request to the United States Department of Homeland Security. Following receipt of preliminary responses, the ACLU noted,

“While the information gleaned from the documents we have thus far received is surely just the tip of the iceberg, and while these documents             generally describe allegations rather than proven incidents, the results summarized above nonetheless paint a very instructive picture about how widespread this problem is and how vulnerable to abuse immigration detainees can be.”

The response documents recorded allegations of nearly 200 cases of sexual assault and abuse from facilities across the nation.

While the CIVIC report notes that reports of sexual assault and abuse are seldom followed up by independent investigations, in privately-run detention centers the situation is far worse. There are many reasons for this. First of all, what happens in private facilities is obscured from taxpayer oversight as they are not bound by the same requirements under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as publicly-run facilities.

An article in Forbes magazine further summarizes problems with privately-run facilities as follows;

“Government regulation of these private prisons is toothless and sporadic due to the comfortable relationship between regulators and the regulated.  As a former deputy director of ICE recently pointed out, for-profit prison companies have been hiring former immigration officials to help them secure favorable contract terms.  Therefore, the vast majority of private immigration detention contracts do not include any robust penalty provisions for failing to meet government standards.  Oversight of these private companies is left almost entirely to nonprofits and faith communities that volunteer to visit and monitor detention facilities with little or no formal support from the government.”

Forbes goes on to note that privately-run facilities detain 73% of all immigrant detainees.

Female immigrant detainees are an exceedingly vulnerable population: Separated by language, culture, distance from family and friends and without any semblance of political or social power, they are too often subjected to predatory correctional officers and facility staff.

Being Watchful and Seeking Assistance in New Mexico

There are currently two immigrant detention centers in the State of New Mexico, the Otero County Detention Center and the new facility in Milan in the Northwestern quadrant of the State. Both of these facilities are privately-run.

In addition to these two detention centers, some counties in the State of New Mexico have also housed immigrant detainees, including Torrance (recently closed) and San Juan Counties, though a Federal Judge recently ruled that the latter should no longer honor Ice Detainers.

As has been widely noted, the State of New Mexico has among the worst rates of sexual assault and abuse in the United States. There have been many verified incidents involving sexual violence in correctional facilities, private and publicly administered.

In addition to concerns arising out of past problems with privately-run correctional institutions in the State, there are also problems such as the rape-kit backlog in New Mexico—as a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal reported.  As has also been reported, facilities in the State are very understaffed.

The challenges and fears of those who have been subjected to sexual assault and abuse are horrible, but they are exponentially worse for immigrant detainees. Immigrant detainees are human beings and they most certainly have rights. If you know someone who has suffered sexual assault or abuse in an immigrant detention facility, make a confidential call to an attorney who will know how to fight and restore some measure of justice to the victim.

Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention | American Civil Liberties Union

Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention | American Civil Liberties Union For people swept up in the vast network of jails and prisons that is our nation’s immigration detention system, being detained means not just facing a loss of liberty, separation from their families and the prospect of deportation. It means being vulnerable to the myriad abuses that the system has been found to be rife with, including unconstitutional levels of medical and mental health care that have left people fighting for their lives.

Among the most pernicious problems to emerge in recent years is the sexual abuse of detainees. apple government contractors who staff the nation’s immigration centers.

Sexual Assaults in Immigration Detention Centers Rarely Get Investigated, Group Charges – NBC News

Sexual Assaults in Immigration Detention Centers Rarely Get Investigated, Group Charges – NBC News The OIG, tasked with investigating government wrongdoing, started categorizing “sexual abuse” complaints in 2014, and since then the agency received at least 1,016 reports — primarily from the division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — according to the complaint based on several Freedom of Information Act requests.

“That’s an average of more than one complaint of sexual abuse per day,” said CIVIC Executive Director Christina Fialho.

Yet, OIG ignored almost 98 percent of those, deeming them unsubstantiated or referring them back to the agency accused of the abuse with no follow-up, she said.

 

In our article, “The Shame of Prison Privatization and the Treatment Industrial Complex” we touched upon the expansion of services provided by private corporations into the arenas of treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders, as well as, into re-entry services for those exiting prisons and jails. Following a thirty year experiment, it became clear that the hyper-incarceration of predominantly non-violent offenders wasn’t working and that it was exceedingly costly. In this realization, legislators, courts, communities and police began to explore alternatives to incarceration.  These alternatives ranged from specialty courts (veterans, mental health and drug courts, for example) to supervised community release programs.

Not so fast said the private corrections industry.  As the national trends moved away from incarceration toward justice alternatives, private corporations that had earned billions packing their prisons then faced potential profit losses.   To offset these possible losses, they began looking for ways to expand into what is now being called the “Treatment-Industrial Complex”.  To build the treatment industrial complex, they preyed as they always had, on vulnerable populations.  In short, they were not going to give up their staggering profits, and certainly not on moral grounds.

Severe Mental Illness in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails

One of the most vulnerable and often voiceless populations caught up in our justice system are those who suffer from SMI (Severe Mental Illness), diagnosed and undiagnosed alike, including those with the following disorders or diagnoses; Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depression. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a summary of SMI Disorders.The process of civil commitment is an area being closely studied and exploited by private corrections corporations.

According to the US Census Bureau and the National Institute of Mental Health, the total adult population of New Mexico stands at 1,590,352 (2016). There are over 17,000 people with Schizophrenia who are being treated and an additional 7,000 untreated.  There are 35,000 New  Mexicans suffering from Bi-Polar Disorder and who are being treated while an additional 18,000 who are not receiving treatment. That’s a total of over 77,000 people who suffer from a Severe Mental Illness (SMI). Those suffering from severe mental health conditions, particularly if not treated, are far more likely to run afoul of our justice system.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nationally-known organization which monitors these issues closely, noted that in 2005 there were 15,081 inmates in the State of New Mexico and of that number an estimated 2,413 suffered from an SMI. The State had a total psychiatric in-patient population of 732 in 2004. The likelihood of incarceration vs hospitalization for this sub-population stood at 3.3 to 1.

As healthcare options and coverage diminish and with the current administration’s throwback to the trumpets of mass-incarceration , the very vulnerable people suffering from an SMI are simply assets and liabilities to be traded.  During the tenure of the current governor, New Mexico has chosen to treat its mentally ill as liabilities to be taken off its ledgers through a deliberate and sustained elimination of mental health services.  Instead, they have been turned over to private corrections companies who now provide their “services” under the guise of mental health providers.

Make no mistake the private prison industry has taken the opportunity to target and exploit these vulnerable New Mexicans while they are most vulnerable.

A Glance at Civil Commitment in New Mexico

The aforementioned Treatment Advocacy Center provides a grading system for civil commitment laws in the United States and the State of New Mexico, across the board, gets a grade of “F”.  As in most states, there are some criteria for involuntary commitment to treatment;

  • Be a danger to self/others;
  • Be likely to benefit from treatment, and
  • Be subject to a proposed commitment that is consistent with treatment needs and least drastic means. (Harm to self includes grave passive neglect).

A minimum of 50 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people is considered to provide minimally adequate treatment for the severe mentally ill.  New Mexico has 11 beds per 100,000 residents. Between 2010 and 2016, in-patient psychiatric beds increased from 171 to 229—a 58 bed increase. Forensic patients occupied 19.2% of that small number.

In the State of New Mexico, the statutory provisions covering civil commitments may be referenced under Chapter 43 – Commitment Procedures, Article 1 – Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Many national justice and mental health advocates are now watching forensic, civil commitments closely. In the State of New Mexico all healthcare in correctional institutions at the state and many at the county level are provided by private correctional healthcare contractors. This is a cause for concern.

Enhanced Incarceration

It may be said that having been deprived of mass incarceration, the new business plan for private corrections is enhanced incarceration.  One way to offset profit losses to reduced prison populations is to hold people longer and at higher rates to the states, towns and counties they “serve”.

Initial commitments are usually for a nine month period and then are subject for review and possible extension. Unlike regular prison sentencing, there’s technically no date of completion of sentence.  Instead, the staff for these companies determine subjectively whether the treatment goals have been met.  At an ever-increasing rate, the answer is no.

Private corrections contractors now have a new pool of human beings from whose misery they can potentially profit from greatly. What happens now is that the same private corporations who have made billions off the backs of prison and jail inmates are now presented with a very lucrative opportunity: They now have a population whose mental well-being is evaluated and determined by private healthcare providers who have every incentive to keep people right where there at.  Given the despicable track record of private corrections corporations can there be any doubt as to whether or not they will exploit such an opportunity?

Private correctional service corporations are expanding their range of services and the expansions are not benevolent or in keeping with the tenets of a civil and humane society, they are about profits and nothing more.

Photo by The U.S. National Archives

New Report Examines “Treatment Industrial Complex” | Prison Legal News

New Report Examines “Treatment Industrial Complex” | Prison Legal News As public and legislative pressure builds to reduce the number of prisoners held in state and federal correctional facilities, the private prison industry has changed gears to offer rehabilitative and treatment services – a shift criticized in a February 2016 report titled “Incorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement.” The report, published by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization, claims that this latest venture is part of the “treatment industrial complex” – a nod to the confluence of political, social and business interests known as the prison industrial complex.

Stop the treatment industrial complex

Stop the treatment industrial complex | Politico Recently, however, the political and economic coalition that created mass incarceration has come under pressure. In 2014, 30 states passed laws aimed to reduce their prison populations. These are welcome developments. Mass incarceration is a moral abomination that must be acknowledged, repudiated and unraveled.

But a new system has emerged that bears many of the same features. You could call it the “treatment-industrial complex” — the growing network of facilities and companies built to handle court-ordered community corrections, correctional medical care, and mental health and civil commitment facilities.

 

The fictional medical malpractice lawsuit crisis is among the great lies, of which there are many, of the Republican Party.  It is pure myth serving only to profit their donors in the insurance industry.  And despite the fact that these same insurance companies are making historic profits while medical malpractice claims have been in steep decline, it is not enough.  They want more!

Preventable medical error is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. trailing only heart disease and cancer.  It is estimated that over 400,000 patients die each year as a result of preventable medical error.  That is more annual deaths per year than all U.S. wartime combat deaths combined.  It dwarfs all other accidental deaths combined including guns, cars, drugs, falls, posion…

Yet rather than hold those responsible accountable for these deaths both for justice and prevention, the Republican Party (at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the medical industry and most of all the insurance industry) has chosen another path.  That path has and remains the obstruction of justice for patients and families in order to shield medical providers and their insurance providers from responsibility.

Looking at the cabinet picks including, we can expect the same from the incoming administration at a much ramped up fervor.  There has always been attack on the civil justice system by Republicans.  Justice is just not a priority.  Profits are.

So expect patients and families to face even more hurdles than they already do in the coming years.  However, as much as some folks hate to hear it, trial lawyers will be the first line of defense against the coming attacks.

And despite the outlandish and irresponsible rhetoric of those who gladly see the demise of the civil justice system along with medical malpractice claims, Collins & Collins, P.C. stands ready to help patients and families facing a system already stacked against them.   We can be reached at (505) 242-5958.

 

 

This is a pretty good article from Huffington Post addressing the coming threats to justice.  There are a number of links below to reading related to the long and ongoing attack on patients and families.

Medical Malpractice And The Mind-Blowing Hypocrisy Of Obamacare RepealA few years ago, General Mills tricked its customers into forfeiting their legal rights to go to court if, for example, a child were poisoned by a tainted bowl of cereal. The public outcry was immediate. “How can they do that? Medical Malpractice And The Mind-Blowing Hypocrisy Of Obamacare Repeal – Huffington Post

thumbnail courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Corporate recalls and other corrective measures taken by corporations typically occur under great duress.  One need not look far to see this is so.  Banking fraud recently in the news is a perfect example.  Banking fraud  is appalling but no lives were lost.  Other corporate decisions related to consumer safety have much graver consequences.  It happens time and time again that corporations fail to take action despite knowledge of deadly threats to consumers.  Why is this?

The Wisdom of Fight Club:  Airplane Chat Scene

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.

Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?

You wouldn’t believe.

Which car company do you work for?

A major one.

Tragic Consequences of Recall Economics

The scene from Fight Club is humorous and shocking at the same time.  The humor and shock derive from the absurdity, immorality and truth of the decision-making process spelled out by Jack.  Most consumers who are paying attention are fully aware of these types of decisions with or without knowledge of corporate cost-benefit analysis.  Yet we continue to buy the products that kill us and the companies that sell them continue to see lost lives as a mere balance sheet item.  The result is countless consumer deaths in auto accidents, exploding phones and vape pens, dangerous children’s toys, unsafe car seats and baby beds and many more consumer products.  It does not stop there.  It permeates even the most sacred safe places: i.e. hospitals and medical care.

In the worst cases, even given public knowledge and outrage, corporations continue to put dangerous products out to the public.  The analysis simply shifts from the costs of “out of court settlements” referred to by Jack.  The costs-benefit analysis must now simply factor in the costs of governmental fines and penalties.  These are generally a small pittance compared to the profits of keeping the products on the market.  They hardly serve to deter the behavior.

The Corporate Costs of Dangerous Misbehavior Must be Enormous to Change Behavior

Just the last year brings plenty of examples of corporate resistance to basic morality and decency.  Take banking as an example who fought tooth and nail to maintain the fraudulently earned profits.  Still ongoing is the resistance of Wall Street to any consumer protection regulations to prevent another economic collapse.  This resistance will soon have a place in the White House.

Yet again, these were financial in nature.  There were numerous others throughout the year that came with deadly consequences and unfathomable harm to consumers and their families.  They continue and will never cease until consumers hold these companies and their purveyors accountable.  This is done through the consumer choices we make.  Unfortunately for far too many, this is not an option because they or a loved one has already suffered harm.  The only thing left to do to hold the companies accountable is through the courts with the aid of the much maligned trial lawyers that make this possible.

Why Do Corporations Hate Trial Lawyers?

This question has a simple answer:  trial lawyers succeed where government regulators fall short.  There is no question that government regulations are absolutely necessary for consumer safety.  However, the fines and penalties that are imposed are meager compared to the profits associated with their violation.  Trial lawyers are the last best chance for most people harmed by corporations to have any measure of justice.

Justice comes with a costs to corporations.  Corporations on the whole have no interest in justice.  The goal is not justice or safety to their customers, but profit.  Trial lawyers cut into that profit like government regulations rarely can.  This is why there is a constant beating of the corporate drums to discredit trial lawyers and their clients.  Sadly, most Americans due to the volume and pervasiveness buy into these lies.  They do so at the peril to themselves and their families.  It is only when these wrongs hit close to home that they learn that they have been lied to.  At that point, there is no amount of money that can compensate them for their losses.  But money is the only thing available and this is what corporations hold most dear.

Speak Up, Take Action, Protect Yourself and your Family

There are plenty of ways to make your voice heard.  Stop buying the products that kill.  Stop doing business with fraudulent banks, insurance companies, and other companies.  Contact your local, state and national political leaders to voice your concerns and then hold them accountable with your votes for failure to take action.  Don’t buy to corporate lies about frivolous lawsuits, dishonest trial lawyers and greedy plaintiffs.  These lies harm but only if you buy them.

For those who do suffer harm from corporate predators, hold them accountable in the courts.  Speak with an experienced attorney and make the truth known and the company held responsible.

 

Why didn’t GM fix faulty switches? A per-car cost of less than $1 – CBS News

Why didn’t GM fix faulty switches? A per-car cost of less than $1 – CBS News General Motors (GM) faces mounting criticism that it failed to repair a defective part linked to the deaths of at least 13 people because of the costs involved in making the fix.

A Cheaper Airbag, and Takata’s Road to a Deadly Crisis

A Cheaper Airbag, and Takata’s Road to a Deadly Crisis Details of G.M.’s decision-making process almost 20 years ago, which has not been reported previously, suggest that a quest for savings of just a few dollars per airbag compromised a critical safety device, resulting in passenger deaths. The findings also indicate that automakers played a far more active role in the prelude to the crisis: Rather than being the victims of Takata’s missteps, automakers pressed their suppliers to put cost before all else.

Some automakers still use riskier Takata airbags

Some automakers still use riskier Takata airbags Despite more than 28 million Takata airbag inflators being recalled in the U.S., some automakers are still using them in new cars.

 Grilled About Deadly Superbug Outbreaks, Execs At Scope Maker Olympus Take Fifth | Kaiser Health News

Grilled About Deadly Superbug Outbreaks, Execs At Scope Maker Olympus Take Fifth | Kaiser Health News At least 35 patients in American hospitals have died since 2013 after developing infections tied to tainted Olympus duodenoscopes — flexible, lighted tubes used to peer deep inside the body. More than 25 patients and families, including the Seattle-area widow, have sued Olympus for wrongful death, negligence or fraud.

In a Feb. 6, 2013 response to a question from a U.S. Olympus executive about whether American hospitals should be warned, Nishina replied it is “not need[ed] to communicate to all the users actively,” because a company assessment of the risk to patients found it to be “acceptable.”

 

If I were to tell you that there is something that kills over 400,000 Americans each year, would you want to stop it?  What if that same thing is something you, your children, your loved ones all must have?  It cannot be avoided.  Would that concern you?  Would you be upset to learn that Congress and the new administration would protect the killer at the expense of innocent patients and families?

Medical Negligence Kills Millions

In 1999, a report came out from the Institute of Medicine finding that 98,000 Americans died each year from preventable medical error.  That was shocking at the time.  Turns out, is was grossly understated.  More recent 2013 estimates from the Journal of Patient Safety put he number at 400,000 deaths per year.

To put this is perspective, it is estimated that the total number of Americans lost in battle in all wars including the Civil War is around 680,000.  Even with the modest 98,000 figure, this means that preventable medical error would kill more Americans than all wars in less than a decade.  With the updated numbers, it would take only 2 years.

So what’s the response from Congress, the medical profession, the insurance industry, Republicans generally, and most assuredly the new administration?  You guessed it, place the burden on innocent patients and families, and taxpayers generally.

Medical Malpractice Myths

Much of the public has bought into the lies of Tort Reform and the Myths of an epidemic of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.  Perhaps the greatest lie of all was the McDonald’s hot coffee case.  It is taken as gospel due to the volume and persistence of the lie.  The myths surrounding medical malpractice predated the McDonald’s case and have been pounded into the public consciousness for decades.

Tort Reform myths up and down were perhaps the greatest fake news of all in is complete disdain for the truth.  It continues to this day while millions of Americans will die in the coming years.  They are profit driven aimed purely at avoiding financial responsibility for the horrible harm that medical negligence causes.

Don’t Wait for it to Hit Home

Unfortunately, the public has bought into the myths.  Chances are that many readers of this article have bought into it and will continue to believe it at some level even after doing their own research.  It is only when it hits home that the reality sinks in.  Consider this, the 400,000 deaths are a baseline.  The numbers are exponentially higher when looking not just at deaths, but serious injuries more generally.

What do these numbers mean?  They mean that you, your family, your friends or loved ones will at some point come face to face with the reality.  The only question now is what you would be willing to do to prevent it?  A good place to start is by contacting your state and national elected representatives to tell them that they must do more to protect patients, they must put patient safety over profits.

If It Has Hit Home Already, Get a Medical Malpractice Attorney

The fact is that for many readers of this article, it is too late to change policy.  Instead they must deal with the harm to themselves or loved ones.  Despite the gnawing in our stomachs over suing doctors and hospitals, this is the only way to protect yourself and your family.

The Albuquerque medical malpractice attorneys of Collins & Collins, P.C. can be reached at (505) 242-5958.

Price poised to protect doctors’ interests at HHS – USAToday

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/12/08/kaiser-price-poised-protect-doctors-interests-hhs/95122484/Price poised to protect doctors’ interests at HHS As a Republican congressman, orthopedic surgeon Tom Price introduced bills to protect doctors’ financial interests…. But the bill also includes fine print calling for “lawsuit abuse reforms” that would allow the HHS secretary to give states money to create tribunals to review malpractice claims. The process would make it more difficult for patients to prove medical error, setting the standard at “gross negligence.”

 

 

Big Pharma’s at it again and this time States are fighting back on corporate shenanigans on Opioids that are costing lives and colossal public resources. Most people who keep up on the news these days know that the United States faces a problem with addiction and abuse to Opiate-based drugs. An article from the Ring Of Fire network drills down on a specific set of Big Pharma culprits and the response led by the Offices of the Attorneys General of 36 States. This is an overdue response to an epidemic of catastrophic proportions.

Specifically, the actions undertaken focus on the depredations of three Pharmaceutical companies; Reckitt Benkiser, Indivior, and MonoSol Rx. Reckitt Benkiser, up until 2009, held the main patent for the production of Suboxone, controlling 85% of the market. When the patent was set to expire in that year the company teamed up with Indivior and MonoSol RX to engage in a bit of what is referred to as “product hopping”. What this entails is that through a minor product alteration a corporation can re-brand an existent product, thereby allowing them to maintain a monopoly. In this instance, Suboxone has been available as a pill. The three companies named petitioned for a new patent involving dispensing of the drug via oral, soluble strips. This repackaging had nothing to do with a concern around public health or of patient well-being and everything to do with the hundreds of millions in profit the companies stood to lose if they didn’t retain a large market share of Suboxone.

The 36 Attorneys General have joined together and filed suit alleging violations of State and Federal anti-trust laws. The aforementioned companies engaged in these practices to curtail the production of generic versions of Suboxone which would have undercut their profit margins. Consumers, over the last seven years, have also been forced to pay inflated prices for the needed drug–Suboxone greatly reduces the symptoms accompanying withdrawal from opiates.

Big Pharma’s Profiteering from a Problem it Helped Create

As reported by both Raw Story and the L.A. Times earlier this year, another corporation, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, was in large part responsible for the epidemic fostered by the false marketing of the drug Oxycontin. Purdue had advised Doctors and Medical Providers that patients would only have to take one Oxycontin pill every 12 hours to alleviate pain. However, this claim was untrue and Purdue knew it. That did not deter the company, in any way, from marketing and distributing the drug widely. Essentially, Oxycontin is a legal form of heroin. Tolerance builds exponentially along the way and withdrawal from the drug is horrendous.  As the Times coverage pointed out, nearly 200,000 people have died from opiate overdoses since 1999 and Oxycontin accounts for a high percentage of those deaths.

According to the Federal Government there are over 2.1 million people in the United States addicted to opiates with approximately one quarter of these being addicted to heroin–the rest are addicted to other prescription opiate-based medications. There’s some cross-over between these groups of people, also. Many people who began their dependency on legal drugs such as Oxycontin were then taken off improperly and they, in turn, continued their substance use by securing drugs from illicit sources.

Across the nation, States and Municipalities are facing colossal problems spawned by the policies and practices of Big Pharma. Clearly, the prime-mover at work in these corporate interests is the placement of profits over the lives of human beings and the communities they live in.

Pharmaceutical Companies Conspire to Keep Opioid Addicts from Getting Help – Now States Are Fighting Back

… is a vital treatment in helping addicts to get the proverbial monkey off their back – and two drug companies have been conspiring to keep the price inflated by blocking the manufacture of generic versions by competitors. Pharmaceutical Companies Conspire to Keep Opioid Addicts from Getting Help – Now States Are Fighting Back

 

Shocking Upward Trend in Deaths by Preventable Medical Error from 1999 to 2013

The medical community and its insurers have lied to the public from the beginning.  They have not just failed to protect patients, they have actively misled the public on the issue of medical negligence.  Rather than addressing the problem, they have spent countless millions trying to bury it.

To do this, they have engaged in a 30 year continuing campaign of lies suggesting the problem is not with medical negligence but with frivolous and unjustified lawsuits.  Naturally, politicians jump on board to protect their own coffers.

440,000 patient deaths per year and growing says otherwise!

Medical Malpractice Claims Difficult with Many Hurdles Placed in Way of Innocent Patients and Families by Insurance IndustryA bill passed through the U.S. House of Representatives last month.  H.R. 1470’s stated purpose is:

“To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to repeal the Medicare sustainable growth rate and improve Medicare payments for physicians and other professionals, and for other purposes.”

Buried deep in the bill is a provision that states that standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the non-payment of medical providers for preventable hospital acquired conditions will not serve as a standard for medical malpractice claims. The CMS list of non-compensable hospital acquired conditions was created in response to the billions in costs to Medicare and over 30 thousand patient deaths each year related to those highly preventable conditions.

When given billions in costs and hundreds of thousands of unnecessary patient deaths, the obvious political response is to suggest that the list of preventable medical errors should not serve as a standard for medical care, thus protecting the insurance industry from its medical malpractice coverage obligations and perhaps contributing to the escalating incidence of death by preventable medical error.

Medicare’s List of Non-Compensable Hospital Acquired Conditions

As of 2006, CMS stated the annual costs of “never events” at $9.3 billion and 32,600 deaths.  To put this in perspective, the CDC Fact Sheet on Unintentional and Accidental Deaths states that there are a total of 130,557 such deaths each year.   The top 3 causes on the 2013 list are:  accidental falls at 30,208, auto accidents at 33,804, accidental poisoning at 38,851.

Keep in mind that CMS numbers on patient deaths relate only to Medicare/Medicaid covered medical care.  That means that death by preventable medical error for Medicare patients alone would be right near the top of accidental death.  Unfortunately, the CMS numbers pale in comparison to estimates of total deaths by preventable medical error which go as high as 440,000 per year.

Worse yet, according to an article in the Journal of Patient Safety, even these extraordinary estimates consider only deaths related to hospital care.  According the article, “This is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year”.

CMS Statement of Basis for List of Non-Compensable Hospital Acquired Conditions

One very concise and readable assessment of the problem that led to the list was stated in the CMS’ Fact Sheet Eliminating Serious, Preventable, And Costly Medical Errors – Never Events.

As part of its ongoing effort to pay for better care, not just more services and higher costs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced that it is investigating ways that Medicare can help to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of “never events” – serious and costly errors in the provision of health care services that should never happen.  “Never events,” like surgery on the wrong body part or mismatched blood transfusion, cause serious injury or death to beneficiaries, and result in increased costs to the Medicare program to treat the consequences of the error.

Bill to Prevent Medicare’s List from Creating Any Standards of Medical Malpractice

Having addressed the origin of the list, obvious savings to taxpayers and the improvement to medical care to Medicare and Medicaid patients, one paragraph on the 158th page H.R. 1470 seems fairly remarkable.

Buried at page 156 of the 158-page bill, there is a very brief provision that states:

“… The development, recognition, or implementation of any guideline or other standard under any Federal health care provision shall not be construed to establish the standard of care or duty of care owed by a health care provider to a patient in any medical malpractice or medical product liability action or claim.”

What is it they are referring to?  You guessed it, it refers in part at least to the CMS list of non-compensable preventable medical errors and consequent hospital acquired conditions.

“Most Scientifically Sound Evidence” Forms Basis for CMS List

The Medicare list of non-compensable medical errors arose from national standards, which were developed by a wide array of healthcare related studies.  These in turn resulted in “evidence based guidelines” upon which Medicare relied in the creation of the list.

According to CMS 2014 report, Evidence-Based Guidelines for Selected, Candidate, and Previously Considered Hospital-Acquired Conditions, “The result of this process is that guideline recommendations rely only on the most scientifically sound evidence base.”  Naturally, one would not want to see anything like science establishing standards for medical care.

However, they are in fact by definition national standards to address a very real and very well documented national problem, which in the case of Medicare/Medicaid covered medical care, as of 2006, was $9.3 billion in annually and 32,600 avoidable lives lost.

So what is the point of the provision?  This is the good question.

What is the Purpose of this Provision?

To answer this question, it might be asked when in the history of medicine would operating on the wrong body part in the safe confines of a hospital not be medically negligent?  It seems safe to say that most patients, their families and the general public would have to agree with Medicare’s position that this type of medical procedure/error should not be compensated and that it was negligent.

So what is the real purpose of the bill?  It seems fairly reasonable to conclude that the provision is for the protection of insurance companies.  It most assuredly does not protect innocent patients and arguably does little to help doctors since it is highly unlikely that the law, if passed, would result in any decrease in premiums to doctors.

Goal of Language is to Keep Information from Juries

The debate is always wrongfully framed in terms of trial lawyers against doctors.  This is a gross mischaracterization of the real issue.  The real battle is between insurance companies and innocent patients and families harmed by medical error.  The bill’s real harm no doubt rooted in the interests that it serves is in the message that it sends and the foundations that it will set moving forward.

The provision in the bill seems to be an opening volley in what will surely follow in the form of prohibitions on allowing juries to hear that these standards were breached.  If, as the bill would have it, do not create standards, then medical experts could potentially be prevented from even referencing the items in court.   After all, if they do not state standards, then mention of them would raise issues of relevancy, prejudice, and evidentiary issues.

The ultimate purpose, as there seems to be no other, is to hide information from a jury.  This is information that a jury should hear.  It does not mean that an item on the list is per se or even presumptive medical malpractice.  The fact that an item is on the list would be just one element presented through expert medical testimony for the jury’s consideration.  The medical experts on both sides are free to debate the item under the circumstances.  The insurance company’s expert is even free to argue the item should not be on the list at all or that there were special circumstances negating the rules.  The jury can weigh the evidence as it may.

No Need to Protect Medical Malpractice Insurance Companies from Jury

The battle is not between doctors and lawyers.  It is between insurance companies and patients injured or killed through medical negligence.  As is generally the case in politics, the money (i.e. insurance industry) is winning.

Make no mistake; the burden is on the patient.  It is a very heavy burden and difficult to overcome as evidenced a steep decline in medical malpractice claims made over recent years and a very low success rates for the claims that are made.  These statistics are particularly interesting and worrisome with skyrocketing estimates of annual deaths and injuries resulting from preventable medical errors.

Insurance companies have managed this remarkable con on the public and the medical profession through a long campaign decrying the mythological frivolous medical malpractice crisis.  There simply is no such thing.  But they have successfully sold the myth resulting in a steep continuing decline in claims made along with a steep continuing increase in malpractice premiums to doctors based upon the same myth.

It’s a pretty good deal if you can get it.  Better yet, don’t stop there but somehow render national scientifically based medical care standards irrelevant and inadmissible.  And do this on the backs of doctors; medical care providers and most of all innocent patients and families.

The jury should not be denied this information.  It makes little sense to deny a jury the right to hear on this matter from the medical experts.  In essence, that would be to deny the jury of mountains of research and studies leading to inclusion of items on the list simply by virtue of the item of being on the list.

Medical malpractice insurance carriers do not need further protection.  Based upon the myth that the industry has created, they gouge doctors on one end on outlandish premiums and injured patients on the other through routine denial of claims.  They do not need the added advantage of hiding evidence of clear violation of medical standards from the jury and this no doubt is the end game of the legislation.

 In light of all the hype regarding the crisis of frivolous medical malpractice claims, most folks might be surprised to learn that Congress has recognized the epidemic of medical malpractice since 1986.  In fact, an Act of Congress was passed in that year to try to deal with it.

The simple fact is the way it was dealt with then and continues to be dealt with now has made the problem worse.  All the while thousands upon thousands of Americans die each year as result of preventable medical error.  Exponentially greater numbers are seriously and/or permanently harmed.

Costs Can Pile Up Quickly in a Medical Malpractice CaseAnd yet the beat goes on with virtually every breed of politician.  Attack the trial lawyers and attack the innocent patients along with their families who have been harmed in order to protect the insurance industry.  A brief history of the problem and the response is illustrated beginning with the most recent and perhaps most remarkable Congressional action first.

Congressional Hearing to Address 1000 Preventable Deaths Each Day

Just this month, there was a Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held on July 17, 2014 entitled: “Subcommittee Hearing – More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety.”

I am no mathematician but it appears the subcommittee has recognized at least 365,000 American deaths each year as a result of preventable medical error.

In other words, medical negligence is killing Americans by the thousands and this has been well established since at least 1986.  But lets back up.

Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986

There are few Americans that have not heard about the mythological attack on innocent medical providers by greedy and opportunistic patients and their lawyers. Unfortunately, far too many have been swayed by the constant onslaught of insurance industry driven propaganda.

Every year, every election cycle, every legislation session, every month and every day, the refrain goes on and on.  No matter that it is false.  And no matter that the falsity of the myth has been known for decades.

In fact, Congress has recognized and has attempted to address the problem as early as 1986.  Under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986, 42 U.S. Code § 11101 – Findings, the Act reads:

“The Congress finds the following:

(1) The increasing occurrence of medical malpractice and the need to improve the quality of medical care have become nationwide problems that warrant greater efforts than those that can be undertaken by any individual State.”

From the Beginning – Focus on Medical Providers/Insurers Rather than Patients

Thus, Congress recognized a national problem, which could not be addressed by the states alone.  Unfortunately, even then in 1986, the focus was not on patients but on the medical community and more precisely their insurers.

The Act reads further:

“(2) There is a national need to restrict the ability of incompetent physicians to move from State to State without disclosure or discovery of the physician’s previous damaging or incompetent performance.

(3) This nationwide problem can be remedied through effective professional peer review.

(4) The threat of private money damage liability under Federal laws, including treble damage liability under Federal antitrust law, unreasonably discourages physicians from participating in effective professional peer review.

(5) There is an overriding national need to provide incentive and protection for physicians engaging in effective professional peer review.”

In short, despite the obvious problem driven by negligent medical care, Congress chose to protect physicians and their insurance carriers over patients.

How did that work out for patients?  Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Death by Medical Error Has Skyrocketed!

Leaving it up to physicians to deal with their crisis, which was created by those very physicians, has had disastrous effects for patient safety.

The Institute of Medicine found in their landmark study, To Err is Human, that up to 98,000 Americans were killed each year as a result of preventable medical error.

The response of politicians was as outrageous as it was predictable, more calls to reign in the fabled medical malpractice lawsuit crisis.

Since that time, the numbers have only gotten worse.  In fact, the number of preventable deaths has gone up by as much as 400%.  A more recent study from the Journal for Patient Safety, published in 2013, estimates that up to 440,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable medical error.  The study suggests further that the figure could be much higher and that incidents of “serious harm” could be as high as 10 to 20 times those numbers.

Political Response Continues to Side with Medical Providers/Insurers

Remarkably, the response of most politicians, both Democrat and Republican, is to push for further protections for doctors or, more accurately, their insurers.

The fact is despite the huge increase in deaths and serious harm to patients, medical malpractice lawsuits have been in decline for the past 20 years or so.  Yet, medical malpractice insurance premiums continue to go up.

The refrain is that opportunistic patients and their lawyers prey on the poor doctor who is just doing his best to help patients. In reality, it is the insurance industry that preys on doctors and patients alike.  

What Can Patients Expect?

Perhaps it is cynical, but it seems that they can expect more of the same.  As we speak, there are initiatives in many states to throw further obstacles in front of patients who have been harmed or killed through medical negligence.

Likewise, as we speak, political campaigns are funded not by patient groups or really even medical groups, but by insurers.

Even with the recognition of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging that “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many”, little will likely change.  The simple fact is that voters eat up the attack on lawyers.

It is easy to vilify lawyers.  However, these same lawyers are the only ones seriously advocating patient safety. They are the only ones putting their time and money in to addressing medical malpractice.

Unfortunately, due to all the many hurdles put in their way, only the most outrageous acts of medical negligence involving serious injury or death can be taken on by many law firms.  This leaves literally hundreds of thousands of victims with no recourse and no recovery.

This is unlikely to change.  It is a fail-safe campaign strategy to attack lawyers.  No matter that the real victims of these attacks are innocent patients and families.