Opioid trials against drug distribution companies begin in Georgia

Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp and JM Smith Corp have been accused by families of opiate addicts in Georgia of acting as illegal drug dealers, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, in Detroit, a doctor was sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison for an “extensive” scheme to prescribe opiates.

Reuters: Georgia families’ opioid trial begins after COVID delay

Trial began for the second time Monday in a lawsuit filed by families of Georgia opiate addicts accusing drug distributors Cardinal Health Inc, McKesson Corp and JM Smith Corp of acting as illegal drug dealers. The case was originally heard in Glynn County Superior Court last year, but ended in a mistrial three days later after Judge Roger Lane threw it out due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the region. It was the first trial of opioid claims brought by individual plaintiffs rather than government agencies. (Pearson, 1/30)

In other news on the opioid crisis —

AP: Doctor gets nearly 17 years in prison for massive opioid scheme

A Detroit-area doctor was sentenced Monday to nearly 17 years in prison and ordered to pay $30 million for running a scheme to bill Medicare and private insurers for unnecessary painkiller injections and writing millions of opioid prescriptions. Frank Patino’s fraud spanned years and was one of the most egregious health care schemes in U.S. history, prosecutors said. (1/30)

KOMO: Dozens protest opiate treatment center opening in Lynnwood

Dozens of people in Lynnwood, Wash., protested Sunday against the opening of a new opioid treatment center in their town, saying they never had a say before the state signed off on the license. But the healthcare operator insists it will be transparent about security and how it works. Organizers with the group Safe Lynnwood are building a safety plan to address concerns about a new opioid treatment clinic at 196th Street Southwest and 24th Avenue West. The clinic, which is scheduled to open Monday, is located near playgrounds, businesses and neighborhoods. (Kent, 1/29)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Federal authorities have just lifted restrictions on the prescription of a popular drug for addiction. What does this mean for patients?

People struggling with opioid addiction will now be able to access addiction treatment medicine from any doctor licensed to prescribe controlled substances, instead of having to seek out doctors with specialty credentials. In December, the federal government lifted restrictions on who could prescribe the opioid buprenorphine for addiction treatment, thanks to a legal change pushed by the Biden administration to lower barriers to addiction care. (Whelan, 1/30)

The Guardian: Vending machines for life-saving drugs grow as US opioid crisis rages

The police chief in the small town of Vine Grove, Kentucky, knew from heartbreaking experience why he needed a machine gun outside his office. Kenneth Mattingly’s daughter was twice brought to the brink of death by heroin and twice pulled back by paramedics carrying the antidote, naloxone. Mattingly then responded to an opioid overdose call early last year in which a woman saved a friend’s life because she was carrying naloxone spray, commonly known by its brand name Narcan. (McGreal, 1/29)

WLRN 91.3 FM: UF scientist is part of research team looking to make fentanyl less dangerous

A group of scientists, including a University of Florida researcher, may have found a way to alter the chemical components of fentanyl and reduce its deadly side effects. Jay McLaughlin, a neuroscientist and professor of pharmacodynamics in the UF College of Pharmacy, worked with scientists at the University of Washington, the University of Southern California and Stanford University, who discovered a safer version of it. (Saragova, 1/30)

KHN: Some addiction treatment centers make big profits by cutting back on care

Toward the end of his planned three-month stint at a rehab center outside Austin, Texas, Daniel McKegney was forced to tell his father in North Carolina that he needed more time and more money, he recalled recently. His father has already received bills from BRC Recovery totaling about $150,000 to cover McKegney’s treatment for an addiction to the powerful opioid fentanyl, according to insurance filings shared with KHN. But McKegney, 20, said he found the program “suffocating” and was unhappy with his care. (Rayasam and Farmer, 1/31)

This is part of KHN’s Morning Briefing, a roundup of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for email subscription.

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