Dr. Scott Martin hasn’t written a prescription in more than a year. He says that makes him an anomaly among the roughly 60 pain doctors in Las Vegas.
“As I learned how narcotic manufacturers were manipulating data to sell drugs, it didn’t settle well with me,” he says. “Shortly after I moved to Las Vegas, I made a pretty large practice decision to stop writing narcotics altogether.”
A board-certified interventional pain medicine specialist, Martin’s views and perspective have evolved dramatically since he first started practicing in Flint, Michigan 13 years ago. Over the years, he’s treated most of his patients for cancer and trauma as well as refractory pain that’s resistant to treatment. Before moving to Las Vegas, he spent nine years in Southern California, where his eyes were opened to new alternatives.
“You’re steeped in holistic medicine,” Martin says of his time in the Golden State. “If you want to be busy, you need a well-balanced practice. You have to understand holistic and herbal medicine, and be able to weave through the 20 or 30 supplements that patients are taking in addition to their prescription medications.”
As I learned how narcotic manufacturers were manipulating data to sell drugs, it didn't settle well with me.
Taking a seat in his southwest valley Las Vegas office, Martin is casual, sporting a polo shirt and slight facial scruff. He speaks in detail—in measured tones, but without hesitation—like a man with nothing to hide. Martin doesn’t speculate or grasp for answers. He’s exactly the kind of person you’d want as your doctor.
The 45-year-old physician knows narcotics aren’t just products in an industry driven by profit and marketing—they’re also deadly. The latest CDC numbers reveal more than 42,000 Americans die a year from accidental opioid overdoses. Sounds bad, but the stats are even more alarming when looking at pain medications not often viewed as dangerous by the general public. Based on available data and research, Martin says an additional 200,000 deaths a year are connected to the use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
“It isn’t that people take Motrin and die,” he explains. “Motrin causes intimal damage and elevation in blood pressure. People end up dying from a heart attack, stroke, or GI bleed, but the primary cause was actually the NSAID… It can increase your risk for a cardiovascular event by 50%. Most people don’t know that.”
Martin’s perspective is unique. He’s not only an expert in pain, he’s a victim of it. The doctor has a rare condition connected called spondyloarthropathy. “It’s a fancy term for my-body-attacks-my-own-joints,” he says. “I had it for a long time. I just didn’t know it”
The effects were felt hard back in 2013, when the doctor was training for a marathon. Martin took large amounts of ibuprofen and suffered a massive gastrointestinal (GI) bleed. “About two or three liters of blood,” he remembers.
An additional 200,000 deaths a year are connected to the use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs.
Martin declined a risky blood transfusion, which left him tired and drained for months. Knowing he was done with any and all NSAID medication, the doctor spent more than a year trying out a variety of holistic products but didn’t feel much better. He had those products independently tested in a lab and as it turned out, some contained far less active ingredients than advertised on the label—or had none at all. An expensive supplement sold in a popular grocery chain was nothing but capsules made from rice flour.
So Martin decided to create his own supplement—one that accurately reflected the exact ingredients listed on the label, was produced in an FDA-certified facility, and held up to the scrutiny of third-party lab testing. He also wanted something that actually worked.
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“You can take curcumin all day long,” says Martin. “But unless you have a good water-soluble source, the curcumin doesn’t work.”
Martin was also interested in making an extra-strength version of Preleve that contained cannabidiol (CBD). Through his research, the doctor learned the human body has double the amount of receptors for cannabis than it does for narcotics, making CBD a compelling alternative for pain relief. However, just like curcumin, cannabidiol isn’t water-soluble.
“If you take cannabinoid extract in the form of an oil and drop it into a glass of water, you’re going to see it just sits on top of the water,” says Jesse Lopez, CEO of SourceOne Global Partners. “The body has to try and break that down into a form where it can be efficiently utilized.”
Lopez and his Chicago-based company proved to be an ideal partner for Martin, mastering a pure and potent version of cannabidiol delivered in an innovative water-soluble form.
“Our technology allows us to pre-digest these cannabinoids,” says Lopez. “So once consumed, they’ve already been optimized for absorption and bioavailability.”
The final product was also guaranteed 100-percent free of THC, which unlike CBD, can build up a tolerance in users. “Some people do well with THC,” says Martin. “But I’m a doctor. I wanted a medical solution.”
By combining the all-natural anti-inflammatory formula of Preleve with Jesse Lopez’ HempCHOICE, the partners had all the bases covered to treat pain in a safe, affordable and effective way that was non-addictive and free of side effects. “We made what I thought was a narcotic killer,” says Martin.
Preleve HempCHOICE, was sold online and private-labeled for local physicians and businesses. It was stocked on the shelves of specialty pharmacies, primary care offices and dispensaries, earning positive feedback and strong reviews from customers.
“We took a lot of people off narcotics in the state of Nevada using this product,” says Martin. “These were people who didn’t want to taper off, didn’t want to go on Suboxone or methadone. They wanted something clean. It was fantastic.”
Then Martin got a phone call from an attorney representing Bayer.
“He said, ‘I’m letting you know I’m suing you.'”
The attorney said the name Preleve was too similar to Bayer’s Aleve, generating potential confusion in the marketplace since both products treated inflammation. It didn’t matter that the labels looked nothing alike or one was a holistic herbal supplement and the other a brand name for naproxen, a chemical produced in a lab.
“He said, ‘Let me make it simple for you, Dr. Martin. You don’t have enough money to defend yourself.’ And he was right.”
Martin had no choice. No matter how much money he made as a doctor or entrepreneur, he couldn’t afford to battle an international conglomerate whose revenue was nearly $41 billion last year. Martin signed an agreement in late 2017 surrendering the trademark, copyright, website address and marketing materials connected to his supplement. Preleve was no longer allowed to exist.
But could Martin repackage his formula under a different brand? Bayer didn’t make it easy. After sorting through a list of options, the company finally allowed Martin to market his blend as NiHerbals, a clunky name that didn’t resonate with customers in the same way Preleve did.
Martin still hasn’t given up, however. A new version of the product, Hope-Filled Hemp, is being produced in coordination with breast cancer advocates. The doctor is also eager and willing to lease out the patent for just $1 a year. His team handles production and packaging to ensure quality. The reason is simple—getting his product into the hands of people who need it is more important than making money off it.
Does he feel guilty?
“It’s almost atonement,” says Martin. “I wrote narcotics for a long time. I dealt with very sick cancer patients that nobody else wanted to see. And some of those patients did very upsetting things with meds accidentally. I didn’t sleep for a long, long time.”
“It isn’t guilt,” he responds. “But when you stand beside a bed where a patient is dying—and I did that a lot—it’s more about frustration. I didn’t have options.”
In some ways, Martin’s hands were tied. “When I was in practice early in my career, pain was (considered) the fifth vital sign,” he says. “In the state of California, I could get sued if I didn’t treat your pain.”
Everything changed in March, 2016 when the CDC responded to the growing opioid crisis by revising its stance on prescriptions, dramatically shifting away from the use of lab-made drugs for treating pain. “The new guidelines basically said narcotics were the worst thing in the world,” says Martin.
There was a time when he’d lecture on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, but now Martin prefers to work with pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) teams like Ascend. Together, they’re promoting hemp-based painkillers as step therapy; meaning they would be covered by insurance as a cost-effective alternative for a set period of weeks or months before opioids are given shot. While the idea might be seen as a threat to pharmaceutical producers like Bayer, it could also be eagerly welcomed by insurance companies whose top expenses involve the treatment of cardiovascular conditions.
Martin says if the concept takes hold, it would revolutionize the industry. “We need some metrics and numbers, but I believe we could potentially reduce the cost of healthcare.”
The next step is for American doctors to come around to the benefits of CBD. The biggest obstacle is a lack of literature and difficulty in securing clinical trials approved by the federal government.
“I have a colleague in Arizona who wants to use CBD in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries,” says Martin. “She spent seven years getting an IRB (Institutional Review Board) and after those seven years, the government forced her to use one of the worst CBD products on the market for the clinical trial. Because the product was so bad, she knew the results would be terrible.”
Jesse Lopez knows the problem all too well. “A top priority for this emerging industry is real science backed by solid clinical evidence,” he says regarding his company’s trials. “We had to move into the international market (Germany and Australia) where there’s a clear picture about the legal status of these cannabinoids.”
Dr. Martin has faced fewer roadblocks in marketing HemPep, an energy supplement in which the stimulating effects of natural caffeine are balanced by SourceOne’s water-soluble phytocannabinoid-enriched hemp. While those elements may initially appear to conflict with each other, there’s actually a synergistic benefit. The CBD takes the edge off the caffeine, which is sourced from coffee beans and tea leaves, reducing energy spikes and crashes.
Martin was inspired to create HemPep after hearing about a 21-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack from chugging energy drinks at a nightclub. “Most people don’t know it, but about 18 people die every year from cardiac toxicity due to energy drinks,” he says.
The HemPep formula is rounded out by yerba mate for mood elevation, the cognitive sharpening effects of B12, the performance enhancing effects of teacrine and the anti-inflammatory effects of the same curcumin and ginger originally found in Preleve.
“He’s quite a genius in regards to formulation,” says Lopez of Martin.
Through it all, Martin remains a full-time doctor, working five to six days a week. He understands there’s a balance between commerce and care, so his office visits are all about education. He remains ahead of the curve in an industry that’s changing by the day—and wants his patients to fully grasp the difference between supplements and medications in life-and-death circumstances.
As opioid-related deaths continue in record numbers, those who make, market and prescribe narcotics face a growing backlash that may affect the health industry at a quicker pace. And the repercussions could be huge.
“I don’t think there will be a single narcotic sold on the market by brand five years from now,” Martin says with confidence.
He leans forward in his chair and goes further: “I anticipate that five years from now, no narcotics will be on the market for anything other than the use of oncology.”
It’s an intriguing vision, if an optimistic one. Between pain relief and energy supplements, Martin follows a simple paradigm: Make sure the public is in good hands, and save a life whenever possible.
“I invested quite a lot of my own money,” he says. “Half a million dollars over the last three years. I just wanted to make the most holistic alternative to the drugs that kill people.”