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The aggressive marketing of a drug named Nuedexta to seniors has many questioning the ethics of big pharma and the doctors they work with. Nuedexta is approved to treat pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a condition that affects around one percent of Americans. Recent sales efforts focused on expanding the drug’s use for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s have boosted the drug’s use by 400 percent in four years.
Some believe most of these prescriptions are not only unnecessary for most patients, but may be extremely dangerous to them. CNN investigated how Nuedexta is marketed to vulnerable seniors, who is benefitting from sales, and who is being harmed.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Nuedexta to treat PBA, a condition marked by uncontrollable crying or laughing. PBA is common in patients with multiple sclerosis and ALS. Nuedexta is also FDA-approved for patients with other neurological conditions including dementia — although doctors and medical researchers tell CNN that PBA is actually quite rare in patients with dementia. Two different doctors raised red flags during the FDA approval process for Nuedexta, arguing that the safety and efficacy of Nuedexta for patients with other conditions is unclear.
Nuedexta hit the market in 2011, and doctors, nurses, and patients’ families reported problems shortly after. Issues range from gastrointestinal discomfort and dizziness to coma and death. The FDA received nearly 1,000 adverse event reports about side effects and drug interactions involving Nuedexta. One clinical trial found that Alzheimer’s patients taking Nuedexta suffered double the number of falls as others taking a placebo.
Avanir Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufacturers Nuedexta, focuses most of their marketing efforts on long-term care patients. In 2016 alone, Nuedexta sales reached $300 million. Many have criticized the company, arguing that the drug giant is profiting on selling to a vulnerable population who does not need the drug.
Avanir handsomely rewards doctors who prescribe Nuedexta. They receive meals, trips, and money. Between 2013 and 2016, Avanir and its parent company Otsuka paid physicians close to $14 million to promote the medication. Avanir spent $4.6 million on travel and dining perks for speakers and doctors they wanted to prescribe Nuedexta.
During its investigation, CNN found that half of doctors filing Medicare claims for Nuedexta in 2015 had received some sort of incentive from Avanir. Medicare is footing a hefty Nuedexta bill as well, spending $138 million on the drug in just one year.
Avanir says they are committed to “an ethical culture” and are determined to give doctors truthful, balanced information so they can determine what is best for their patients.
Elderly patients are often unable to advocate for themselves or feel like they are at the mercy of doctors and nurses who may have their own agenda. Patients prescribed the wrong medication or have been misdiagnosed do have legal recourse. Those who have been injured or harmed by a doctor’s negligence should contact a medical malpractice lawyer for help and legal guidance.
At Folkman Law Offices, P.C., we work with qualified experts to evaluate each and every case, and hold careless physicians responsible. Call 856-354-9444 or contact us online to schedule a free case review with an experienced Cherry Hill medical malpractice lawyer today. Our offices are located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Philadelphia and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to serve clients in South Jersey and the greater Philadelphia area.