As a pharmacist by trade, local entrepreneur Dave Stack has all the motivation he needs to develop better medicine.
It doesn’t hurt, however, that he has a personal connection to the widespread problem being addressed by his company’s product.
“I had a family member, a highly regarded athlete, who went to college on a sports scholarship, but ended up being injured and requiring back surgery,” Stack said. “She spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas in a heroin rehab clinic.”
She tragically ended up there by becoming another victim of the opioid epidemic, Stack said.
“It started with a Percocet prescription filled multiple times, with no one in the family having any idea until — as happens to most of these folks — the person can’t get the opioid refilled anymore,” he explained. “Then, they revert to heroin, which is much cheaper than those opioids.”
As chairman and CEO of Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Stack leads a company with a non-opioid analgesic. It’s called EXPAREL, and it can be administered during certain surgeries to control pain for several days after the operation, reducing and in some cases eliminating the need for opioids.
But opioids remain the cornerstone of post-surgery pain management in the hospital setting.
“The operating room is unfortunately the gateway to this addiction,” Stack said. “Most people treated for pain after surgery are still on opioids six months later. And, as you calculate that against the over 70 million surgical procedures performed in the United States last year, you see where the problem is.”
Through Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Stack has been collaborating with regional medical organizations such as Trinity Health to implement low-opioid strategies following surgery. On top of that, the company has been involved with programs to educate surgeons about their connection to the opioid epidemic and the importance of different treatment plans.
Most don’t need a whole lot of convincing, as Stack said it has long been known in the medical community that opioids were causing problems. His company actually far predates news about the opioid epidemic ever reaching headlines, for that very reason.
“Over the years, there have been requests by surgeons and anesthesiologists that always made it to the top of the list,” Stack said. “And one of them was: Could you make a local anesthetic last longer?”
Stack has spent years listening to what medical practitioners want out of the pharmaceutical industry. And, through that activity, he spearheaded drug development and launches at the multinational Hoffmann-La Roche as well as in his top roles at Stack Pharmaceuticals Inc., The Medicines Co. and Innovex Inc.
In a number of his positions, he brought jobs to the New Jersey community his current company is based in — Parsippany. He moved operations from Yardley to Parsippany at Innovex, and at The Medicines Co. he relocated its base all the way from Boston to Parsippany.
From its local base — utilizing all the talent now centered in the area — Pacira Pharmaceuticals has been producing a non-opioid option for pain management for certain patients, with no potential for addiction and the potential to ambulate sooner in the surgery recovery process.
It has been used to treat 3 million people in the country as of today. Stack is encouraged by that.
“We hope we’re changing the way medicine is practiced,” he said. “It’s hard work, but it makes it worth going into work every day.”
New Jersey residents don’t have to leave home to see the detrimental effects of the opioid crisis.
It’s the state with the highest rates of emergency room visits due to opioid abuse, according to recent reports. The Garden State has reportedly seen one of the biggest spikes in overdose deaths overall, compared with other states.
Local elected officials have tried to address this by implementing some of the toughest limits on prescriptions anywhere. Gov. Chris Christie also recently was named the chair of the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis task force by President Donald Trump.
“These efforts give us a kick in our step,” said Dave Stack, chairman and CEO of Pacira Pharmaceuticals. “(But) it’s a big problem that faces the country.”