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Oct 8, 2015 5:00 PM

NH1 News Investigates Heroin Highway: Are big pharmaceutical companies to blame for NH epidemic?


CONCORD - Many recovering addicts say the addiction began with pricey prescription painkillers - and when they couldn't afford the pills, they turned to heroin.

Now, the N.H. Attorney General's office is launching an investigation into the big pharmaceutical companies to see if these companies knowingly misled doctors and their patients about opioids and oxycontin.

Attorney General Joseph Foster wants to know if the companies told doctors the pills worked wonders, while at the same time may not have revealed how addictive they could be.

"I've held in my hands thousands of pills on numerous occasions,” said Ed McDonough, who first popped a Percocet at the age of 16 - and for nearly a decade, never looked back.

"I did start with pills that led to heroin in the end,” McDonough said.

He says the main reason he started heroin was that the pills got too pricey, and heroin was cheap and easy to get.

Years later, he got clean and now runs the Gate House Sober Community in Nashua where he helps others on the road to recovery.

McDonough talked about the men who were hooked and are now cleaning up their lives.

"They started off on pills, whether they were prescribed them or someone else's prescription,” he said. "All of them. All of them that I've come into contact with.”

Just like him, McDonough said, they turned to heroin.

One study shows four out of five heroin users went that same route.

Foster is now zeroing in on how the pharmaceutical companies marketed the drugs, and if they were upfront about their addictive qualities.

"One of the things we want to look into is how these prescription medications were marketed to physicians,” Foster said.

Foster may not be pointing any fingers, however Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan are.

"Opiods are being overprescribed, and we know that they're being misused,” Ayotte said.

"What is the influence pharmaceuticals might have on overprescribing?” Hassan.

Overprescribing is something Doctor Howard Suls of Bedford says he was taught in medical school.

"From the very beginning of my training, it was drilled into us, you don't want to give narcotics,” Dr. Suls said. "These things are potentially addictive.”

But what about those other doctors - specifically the ones that overprescribe?

"You'll get a prescription for a narcotic,” Foster said. "Is that really necessary? And if it is, why not 1 pill or 2 - and not 30.”

While Foster admits that his investigation won't solve the problem, McDonough says whoever started it has caused one vicious cycle.

When asked who is to blame, McDonough said, "I think accountability lies in all areas. The big pharmaceutical companies to the doctors to the addicts who use.”

The A.G.’s office is working with other state agencies, too.

In the end, a new set of protocols might be put in place for doctors when prescribing opioids.

However, the investigation could take up to a year.


--  Dealing with the Disease of Addiction? Click here for help --

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