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US Senators Show No Courage to Investigate Big Pharma and Save LivesMarianne Skolek-Perez, Salem-News.com Investigative Reporter
My testimony in 2007 in front of US Senator Patrick Leahy's Judiciary Committee.
(MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.) - How many deaths could have been prevented Senator Leahy if you had the courage to initiate an investigation into the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma when I implored you to do so? Would we now be fighting for the lives of our children in a Holocaust of heroin deaths?
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Evaluating the Propriety and Adequacy of the OxyContin Criminal Settlement
July 31, 2007
_________________________________________My name is Marianne Skolek. I had a beautiful 29 year old daughter named Jill. She had the misfortune of being prescribed OxyContin in January 2002 and was killed on April 29, 2002.
Why did a $9 billion privately held pharmaceutical corporation take the life of my precious daughter? My work against Purdue Pharma for the past 5 years initially focused on J. David Haddox, dentist turned psychiatrist and Senior Medical Director of Purdue Pharma. I also focused on Robin Hogen, former Public Relations spokesman for Purdue Pharma.
In 1996, the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the American Pain Society issued a set of guidelines for the use of opiates in the treatment of chronic pain. These guidelines are referred to as a “consensus statement.”
The statement leaning toward a more liberal use of opiates was adopted just as the marketing push for OxyContin began. This consensus statement was produced by a task force, which was headed by J. David Haddox, former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, who was senior medical advisor for Purdue Pharma – the maker of OxyContin.
Haddox was quoted as saying that “the point was to gather consensus. If you are going to do this, this is how it should be done.”
There was question as to whether it was ethical for Haddox to be associated with a pharmaceutical manufacturer to guide the formation of a document that would play a key role in promoting the use of products made by the company – Purdue Pharma.
When OxyContin was introduced on the market, it was intended for the treatment of cancer patients and they were losing the patent on MS Contin. At one point, in the greed and sheer evil of Purdue Pharma, they intended to market OxyContin to OB/GYN patients.
I flooded the country with emails and faxes to Attorney Generals and the media reporting that we had enough devastation in the country without addicting infants to OxyContin. This marketing ploy was terminated by Purdue Pharma.
Pain patients from various pain societies will speak of the merits of OxyContin and their quality of life being restored because of the drug. These pain societies throughout the country – are funded by Purdue Pharma.
Let the pain patients not a part of any funded pain society of Purdue Pharma speak about the quality of life they have after becoming addicted to OxyContin – and when their physicians refuse to renew prescriptions for the drug – and they go on the street to buy the drug because they can’t kick the habit of this less addictive drug. Ask the FDA and the DEA why OxyContin is in such plentiful supply on the streets all over the country.
Jill and thousands of victims of an out of control, greedy pharmaceutical company headed by three convicted criminals marketed OxyContin as less likely to be addictive and abused.
There are assertions that the only victims in the criminal activities of Purdue Pharma were the physicians who were misled by Purdue Pharma’s sales representatives. The physicians, who were used as pawns by Purdue Pharma, were not ingesting a powerful narcotic that was being marketed as less likely to be addictive or abused – the patients were ingesting OxyContin and were becoming addicted and dying.
If patients aren’t victims of Purdue Pharma’s criminal activities, tell me what they should be called.
The addictions and loss of lives because of OxyContin continue to impact every state in the country every single day. The far reaching consequences of the criminal activity of Purdue Pharma did not end in 2001 or 2002 as they would like it to be believed – no one can turn the clock back. This has been allowed to become a national crisis because there was no conscience in the marketing of OxyContin – there was only greed.
We all hear on the news every day about individuals who work for government agencies or private industry who embezzle funds. Purdue Pharma has been found criminally responsible for marketing OxyContin which resulted in death and addiction.
Is it justice to have these convicted criminals – these monsters – fined an amount of money that is very well afforded by them, or will the Senate send a message that because of the magnitude of the crime committed, they deserve to be further investigated by the Senate?
Anything that is imposed against these convicted criminals will not give us back Jill, but I will guarantee that Purdue Pharma will never forget the name Jill Skolek. When I began my work at exposing these three convicted criminals and Haddox and Hogen, I told Hogen that you messed with the wrong mother – and they did because my work is not over.
I want to know why the FDA allowed OxyContin to cause such destruction to the lives of scores of innocent victims. I want to know why 12 warning letters were sent by the FDA to Purdue Pharma about their marketing of OxyContin and to this day, they are not required to put “highly addictive” or “addictive” on the label of the drug.
I want to know why the FDA deleted without reading so many of my emails about the marketing of OxyContin until this last month. I want to know why Curtis Wright while employed by the FDA played an intricate part in the approval of OxyContin and then was hired by Purdue Pharma.
I want to know why Attorney General Blumenthal of Connecticut’s Citizen Petition which requests strengthened warnings for OxyContin as a result of information they uncovered in their investigation against Purdue Pharma has been sitting at the FDA – without any action – since January 2004.
I want to know how Rudy Guliani could be the “big star” hired by Purdue Pharma to play down the abuse and diversion of OxyContin and also get paid by the DEA for work performed for them. I want to know why the Sackler family has not been held accountable for their involvement with Purdue Pharma and the mass marketing of OxyContin.
Eventually Purdue Pharma will introduce another blockbuster drug similar to OxyContin and as they did with another devastating drug called Palladone. Palladone was removed from the market after a couple of months. I like to think that my faxes and emails all over the country played an intricate part in having it removed.
My advice to Purdue Pharma is when you are ready to introduce another drug such as OxyContin or Palladone, look behind you, because I will be right there.
I will be working at having Howard Udell disbarred for his criminal activities and Paul Goldenheim’s medical license revoked for what amounts to white collar drug trafficking.
I will be actively working at Friedman, Udell and Goldenheim never being able to work in the pharmaceutical industry again because they are convicted criminals who criminally marketed OxyContin.
I will accomplish this – hopefully with the help of Attorney General Blumenthal -- do not doubt me at not being successful at achieving this.
Her name was Jill Carol Skolek. She did not deserve to be prescribed OxyContin and die because of the criminal activities of individuals of Purdue Pharma. Please give my family justice and investigate the criminal activity of Purdue Pharma.
Thank you Senators for giving me the opportunity to speak for thousands of victims of an out of control pharmaceutical corporation.
(Here ends my 2007 testimony in front of US Senator Patrick Leahy's Judiciary Committee.)
Below is Senator Patrick Leahy's most recent statement -- nine years after I delivered testimony in front of him and the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Leahy looked at me after I delivered my testimony and informed me there would be no investigation into the criminal activity of Purdue Pharma and their lies in marketing OxyContin.
How many tens of thousands of lives could have been spared Senator Leahy, if you and your Judiciary Committee had launched an investigation into Purdue Pharma in 2007? We sure wouldn't be debating the lukewarm Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and "settling" for passage of it.
I call it blood on your hands.
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Cloture Vote of S.524, the Comprehensive Addiction And Recovery ActStatement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Cloture Vote of S.524, the Comprehensive Addiction And Recovery Act
July 13, 2016
Today, Congress is taking a step forward in how it responds to opioid addiction. By advancing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), we are leaving behind decades-old misconceptions about how to confront addiction.
For too long, Congress relied on punitive measures that only served to push addicts further underground and away from recovery. This legislation treats opioid addiction as an illness, and combats it as we would any other public health issue: through a commitment to evidence based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.
Yet our commitment today also falls short. This conference report promises critical programming, but it does not provide the resources necessary to support that programming. Given the lack of funding, I worked to direct CARA’s limited resources to benefit communities that have been particularly hard hit by opioid abuse, communities like those in Vermont.
But unfortunately CARA lacks sufficient funding to benefit all communities impacted by opioid addiction. As a result, this should be heralded only as a first step. If Congress considers its job done today, we will have failed the countless communities across the country grappling with addiction. And we will have done little to stem the reach of this epidemic.
Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to fund the programs authorized by CARA. When the legislation was first considered on the Senate floor, Republicans opposed Senator Shaheen’s amendment that would have provided $600 million in new funding through emergency supplemental appropriations.
Through the appropriations process in Committee this year, emergency funds to fight this addiction epidemic were denied. Senate Republicans keep assuring us that there will be a time and a place to include real funding. Last week’s Conference meeting was such an opportunity.
I, along with other Democratic conferees, identified commonsense and bipartisan offsets that would enable us to dedicate almost $1 billion in new resources to put the programs in CARA to work. We told our Republican counterparts we could not sign the Conference Report unless it included meaningful funding. Republicans again voted against funding CARA, and I did not sign the report.
But they also made a new promise: at the Conference meeting, Republicans promised to include $525 million in new funding to combat addiction through the appropriations process. I will continue to press—and the American people should demand—that Congress keeps its promises and provides meaningful funding for CARA without partisan, poison-pill offsets.
I will soon again join Senators Murray, Wyden, and Shaheen to introduce legislation to provide $920 million to fund CARA. This new funding could be fully paid for with offsets we proposed to the committee conferees last week, all of which have all received overwhelming bipartisan support. If Congress is serious about combatting the opioid epidemic, there is no excuse to not support this commonsense proposal.
If CARA were funded, it could make an important difference in communities across the country. The bill lays the groundwork for expanding prevention efforts and access to treatment and recovery services. It removes arbitrary restrictions on prescribing Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which will allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants in Vermont to treat addiction just as they treat other illnesses.
It authorizes a critical public health program I helped create to expand MAT programs. Some Vermonters struggling with addiction have had to wait nearly a year to receive treatment. At the Chittenden Clinic in South Burlington, Vermont, several have died while waiting. Sadly, this story is not unique.
The bill also includes my provision to support our rural communities by increasing access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. Rural locations have the highest death rates in the country from opioid poisoning. Getting this drug into more hands will save lives.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act also recognizes that the over-prescription of opioids is largely responsible for this epidemic, and the legislation includes a provision I strongly support to encourage the National Institutes of Health to intensify research on the effectiveness of opioids in treating chronic pain, and to encourage the development of opioid-alternatives to manage chronic pain.
Two weeks ago, on a beautiful Vermont evening, a standing-room-only crowd filled a conference room at the Green Mountain Technical and Career Center for a community meeting on opioid abuse. The event was organized by Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux. He is a former DEA agent who has seen the toll that heroin and opioid abuse has exacted on this rural region of my state.
Dr. Betsy Perez, a panelist and longtime practitioner at nearby Copley Hospital, surprised many in the crowd when she addressed the opioid issue from a personal, rather than a medical, perspective. She told the heart-wrenching story of her addicted daughter’s journey. Despite many efforts at treatment, her daughter repeatedly relapsed, eventually winding up homeless on the streets of Burlington. Her daughter is now two years into recovery and recently became a mother. The cost of her intensive residential treatment was high, and it drained the doctor’s retirement savings, but she would have it no other way.
Many are not so fortunate. Each day, 129 people die from drug overdoses in our country. I suspect that almost every Vermonter knows someone who has been impacted by addiction. This is not the future we want for our children, for our grandchildren, or for our communities. In Vermont we know what it takes to get ahead of addiction.
While I appreciate the attention Congress has given this issue, CARA will only work for Vermont and states across the country if Congress is willing to provide the funding that is necessary to fight this epidemic.
I was proud to help usher CARA through the Senate, and I will support it today. But I am greatly disappointed that Congress has so far refused to treat this public health crisis as seriously as it did the swine flu or Ebola. As Vermonters know too well, lives are at stake here at home and time is of the essence. It is time for Congress to act like it, and fully fund CARA.
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