Opioid Evangelist Switches Sides in Case Alleging Pharma Abuse


A doctor who was an early evangelist for increased use of highly addictive opioids like OxyContin to treat chronic pain -- and who was paid to promote the idea -- has switched sides and now says drug makers helped to create a U.S. epidemic by failing to acknowledge the risks of abuse.

Dr. Russell Portenoy, a medical-school professor who studied pain for more than 30 years, has agreed to testify against the industry in trials of lawsuits brought by local governments seeking billions in social costs associated with addiction, according to unsealed court filings. In a sworn statement, he said drug makers were too aggressive in promoting opioids for all kinds of ailments.

“The opioid manufacturers should have tempered their positive messaging about opioids with a greater focus on risk, particularly as early signals of opioid risk emerged,” Portenoy said in his court declaration. Drug makers also “should have responded as evidence of increasing adverse affects mounted” to increased awareness and “reduce inappropriate or risky prescribing,” he said.