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Expert witness says marketing strategies caused doctors to prescribe more pain pills

CHARLESTON — The state alleges drug manufacturers exaggerated the benefits of long-term opioid use in their marketing strategies significantly contributing to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

Those allegations came in testimony Thursday in the ongoing trial between the state and manufacturers Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan Finance LLC.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the Medical Director of Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, testified the manufacturers had several marketing themes including “long-term daily use of opioids are effective, improve function and improve quality of life in patients with chronic pain.”

“My opinion is consistent with the CDC is that we have very good evidence of the risks (of long-term use) but we lack evidence of benefit,” Kolodny said.

He said any kind of medical intervention, whether surgical or medicine that has serious risks, that show more risk than benefit should be prescribed rarely. He said that didn’t happen during the epidemic.

“When it comes to opioid for chronic pain, doctors were encouraged through messaging by the opioid industry to routinely prescribe opioids for chronic pain, a treatment that is far more likely to harm than help,” Kolodny said.

He said that prescribing came for chronic conditions like lower back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia.

Kolodny also testified about a CDC warning letter that talked about promotional materials from some opioid manufacturers. One such warning came for a program called the Co-Pay Assistance Program. “The promotional materials are misleading if they contain representations that the drug is better or more effective than has been demonstrated by substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience,” the letter said.

Attorneys for all three drug manufacturers objected to the warning letter being placed in the record because it wasn’t addressed to their companies.

The manufacturers have criticized the state’s case against them during cross-examination of the state’s witnesses.

The bench trial is being heard by Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope.