Drugmakers paid advocacy groups to promote opioid use, senator says

Mar 09 2018

Drugmakers paid advocacy groups to promote opioid use, senator says

One of the U.S. Senate’s most prominent critics of the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the opioid crisis has released a report describing how drugmakers helped fund patient advocacy groups that promoted increased opioid use. 

The report by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) says five major opioid manufacturers donated nearly $11 million to 14 advocacy groups, and affiliated physicians, between 2012 and 2017. The manufacturers are Purdue Pharma, Insys Therapeutics, Mylan, Depomed and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

McCaskill said the groups in her report, “Fueling an Epidemic: Exposing the Financial Ties Between Opioid Manufacturers and Third Party Advocacy Groups,” “have engaged in pro-opioid advocacy over a long period of time, including through guidance minimizing the risks of opioid addiction and the endorsement of opioid use for the long-term treatment of chronic pain—an approach not backed up by medical science.

These groups have issued guidelines and policies minimizing the risk of opioid addiction and promoting opioids for chronic pain; lobbied to change laws directed at curbing opioid use; and argued against accountability for physicians and industry executives responsible for over-prescription and misbranding,” McCaskill said.

“Notably, a majority of these groups also strongly criticized 2016 guidelines from the CDC that recommended limits on opioid prescriptions for chronic pain — the first national standards for prescription opioids and a key federal response to the ongoing epidemic.”

The report says that, according to lawsuits filed across the country, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, which received almost $1.2 million from the five manufacturers under investigation between 2012 and 2017, issued a 2009 patient guide stating that “opioids are rarely addictive when used properly for the management of chronic pain.” 

Another advocacy group, the Washington Legal Foundation, criticized 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prescribing guidelines that recommended limits on opioid prescriptions for chronic pain—the first national standards for prescription opioids and a key federal response to the ongoing epidemic—as procedurally flawed and tainted by bias—and also received $500,000 from Purdue Pharma between 2012 and 2016.

The Academy of Integrative Pain Management, which received over $1.2 million from the five manufacturers, has partnered with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network on opioid-related lobbying in 18 states as of 2016, including efforts to block limits on opioid prescribing.

The fact that these same manufacturers provided millions of dollars to the groups described [in this report] suggests, at the very least, a direct link between corporate donations and the advancement of opioids-friendly messaging. By aligning medical culture with industry goals in this way, many of the groups described in this report may have played a significant role in creating the necessary conditions for the U.S. opioids epidemic,” the report adds.

Patient-advocacy groups are not required by law to reveal their donors. As a result, both the public and policymakers have no way of knowing if the lobbying and educational efforts of these groups is being influenced by corporate money, McCaskill said.

The financial relationships between these groups and opioid manufacturers should be clear to the general public,” McCaskill said in a statement released with the report. “We passed a law ensuring the public had information on payments to doctors by pharmaceutical companies, and I can’t imagine why the same shouldn’t be done in this space.”