Woman Sues Fentanyl Spray Maker Over Painful Withdrawal Symptoms

By McCarton Ackerman 02/01/17

“It alleviated everything, but I didn’t even know I was addicted until it was too late.”

Woman with headache

A woman who became addicted to a fentanyl spray that she used for chronic pain is now suing the drug maker over her painful withdrawal symptoms.

Mackenzie Colby, 36, of Rochester, New Hampshire, became hooked on a powerful painkiller called Subsys, which was approved by the FDA to reduce pain symptoms in cancer patients. Her lawsuit is against Insys Therapeutics, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Subsys, along with the physician’s assistant who prescribed it for her and the pain clinic where he worked. Filed court documents accuse them of violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act and of medical negligence.

“It alleviated everything, [but] I didn’t even know I was addicted until it was too late,” Colby told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “I am the least likely person. I’m college educated, married 16 years. I have never seen drugs in my life. I own my own home. My husband has a good job.”

Colby’s troubles began after breaking her tailbone in 2007. Desperate for pain relief, she underwent surgery to remove her tailbone, but the procedure left her with chronic pain. Finally she was referred to the PainCare clinic in Somersworth, where she was treated by physician’s assistant Christopher Clough.

In November 2014, Clough terminated her Subsys prescription and also cut dosages in half for four other opioids that she was using to relieve chronic pain symptoms. Colby had asked Clough to wean her off the medications, but he refused. She then experienced intense withdrawal symptoms for several months that included vomiting, chills and sweating. However, she has now remained opioid-free for about a year.

“I still have daily pain, but I have a wonderful husband,” she said. “Without him, I don’t think I would have made it through this. Even now, he does a lot; he’s very hands on. He deserves that credit.”

Fittingly, Clough was being reviewed at that time by the New Hampshire Board of Medicine for overprescribing opioids, and his license was revoked last year. The board’s investigation determined that Clough wrote 84% of all Subsys prescriptions in the state in 2013 and 2014.

The state’s attorney general also noted that Insys paid Clough $44,000 to promote the drug at high-end speaking engagements that investigators referred to as a “sham.” The state ultimately sued Insys and the pharmaceutical company agreed to pay New Hampshire a settlement of $2.95 million.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.