The top five manufacturers of opioid drugs set the stage for the nation’s epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction by investing millions of dollars into certain advocacy groups that aggressively promoted use of the highly addictive painkillers, a U.S. Senate committee investigation determined.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigation, spearheaded by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), examined the financial ties between the nation’s leading opioid manufacturers and outside organizations, such as patient advocacy groups, professional medical societies, and pain management awareness associations.
Sen. McCaskill concluded that the opioid manufacturers invested more than $10 million into these groups, which in turn “echoed and amplified” messages about opioid drugs that encouraged their use. “I think these groups were cheerleaders too often … cheerleaders for opioids,” Sen. McCaskill said.
The investigation focused on the five largest opioid manufacturers by global sales volume. Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, was the largest doner to outside advocacy groups. Others were Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Mylan, Depomed, and Insys Therapeutics.
Among the groups receiving funds from these opioid makers were the U.S. Pain Foundation, the National Pain Foundation, the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, and the American Pain Society.
According to the report, these groups not only used money from the drug makers to disseminate “opioids-friendly” messages to physicians and patient populations, but actively lobbied against federal efforts seeking to curb opioid prescriptions and use.
According to USA Today, opioid advocates “buoyed by big pharma money,” lobbied against federal guidance on opioid drugs, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to doctors on when to prescribe opioid drugs in primary care settings. The CDC called on physicians to prescribe non-opioid drug therapies to treat chronic pain except in cases of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.
Last week, Purdue told the press it would stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, reversing or at least slowing years of aggressive opioid sales strategies. Under increasing pressure from government officials and multiple lawsuits, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said it is cutting its sales force by more than half to 200 representatives. The remaining sales reps are also no longer pushing OxyContin and other pain drugs to doctors.
“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement.