Criminalizing the Opioid Epidemic: Marketing Vivitrol to Judges



The pharmaceutical company Alkermes, is marketing Vivitrol, a medication given to Heroin addicts, directly to court judges and other officials. Unlike other heroin treatments, such as methadone and buprenorphine, Vivitrol claims to be nonaddictive, which is appealing to judges facing the effects of the opioid epidemic. This news made it on to SERMO quickly, and the majority of doctors expressed shock and anger at this marketing practice:

I am outraged at the absurdity of a premise that pharma detail reps can “educate” adequately a judge with little or no understanding of pharmacology, physiology, etc required to make a decision about which medical treatment is optimal for treating a drug addict. Why are doctors excoriated for prescribing a new medication based on educational information provided by the manufacturer but nobody is screaming about the judges. - Pathology

A judge should not be able order a specific medication, if they are doing so they are practicing medicine w/o a license and the Medical Boards should take action. The best scenario would be to have the person be ordered to be seen by a physician with expertise in addictions and let them decide the treatment. – Psychiatry

The specific marketing tactic employed by Alkermes, while the start of the conversation, was viewed by some as a downstream effect of treating the opioid crisis primarily as a criminal issue. Drug addiction is increasingly viewed as primarily a health problem, not a criminal problem across the world. There are large benefits to addressing addicts as patients instead of criminals, and by putting more money towards treatment instead of jailing, countries stand to see other substantial economic benefits as well: for a dollar spent on treatment, up to 3 are saved in crime reduction. This is aligned with a recent SERMO poll that showed 62 percent of doctors think that illicit drug use should be treated a public health issue over a criminal one. The sale of Vivitrol directly to judges raised commentary about these bigger systematic issues as well:

The premise that drug problems are dealt with in the justice system is a big problem here. Addiction is a disease, and these judges are trying to give people a chance of treatment, but the pharmaceutical company is exploiting their good will for profit. – Psychiatry

Maybe it’s a case of hating the game, not hating the players, but I think what the company is doing is strategically-sound targeted marketing, a mere incremental evolution of a problem doctors can not possibly control. – Anesthesiology

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