Editorial: Scrutiny of Overland Park pain doctor highlights challenge of fighting opioid addiction


An Overland Park doctor is in the crosshairs of an expanding investigation into the business practices that are fueling American’s addiction to opioids.

The records of Steven Simon of The Pain Management Institute have been seized by the FBI. He earns more than only a handful of other doctors in the U.S. from payments by drug manufacturers to promote both opioids and the medications that treat side effects of the drugs. It’s a revenue stream that can influence doctors to write more prescriptions.

The former executives of one of the companies that Simon is linked to, Insys Therapeutics, are under federal indictment.

The investigation highlights the tangle of challenges in what sometimes feels like a losing fight against opioid addiction. The intensifying battle against these addictive drugs must be waged on several fronts, with additional efforts to treat patients, to identify doctors such as Simon who are writing the lion’s share of prescriptions and to hold big pharma companies accountable for their role.

The ways in which doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and federal reimbursements for health care are involved must be better understood to fight this scourge.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens tried last week to take a step in the right direction and end Missouri’s reign as the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program. But his plan is not sufficient to allow doctors and pharmacists to identify patients struggling with addiction. Greitens’ version will help single out doctors who overprescribe.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is suing several of the largest opioid drug manufacturers under consumer protection laws.

And U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill began an investigation in March, looking at audits of sales, marketing policies and other business practices of some of the same manufacturers.

Corrupt systems tend to morph under pressure. It’s likely that as governmental, criminal and journalistic investigations expose illicit business practices, new ways to game the system will emerge.

Diligence is essential to coordinate these varied efforts to attack this problem from all angles. Lives are literally at stake.