May 9, 2012 — Since the 1990s, prescriptions of opioid painkillers for chronic conditions have skyrocketed, and so have the number of severe additions and overdose deaths. In 2011, several independent journalist investigations unearthed startling evidence that several nonprofit pain advocacy foundations were paid millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies to produce literature that minimized the risks of addiction and overdose. Now, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is conducting its own investigation into illicit financial ties between drugmakers and advocacy foundations.
The senators have sent letters to the following pharmaceutical companies:
- Johnson & Johnson
- Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin)
- Endo Pharmaceuticals
The following nonprofit pain advocacy organizations have also received letters:
- American Pain Foundation
- American Academy of Pain Medicine
- American Pain Society
- Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group
- Center for Practical Bioethics
The senate investigative committee is requesting documents that detail the pharmaceutical companies’ financial ties to the advocacy groups, including correspondence and marketing information.
This week, the American Pain Foundation announced they were shutting down. They claim the reason is due to “economic circumstances.” A journalist investigation revealed that 90% of $5 million in funding came from the pharmaceutical drug industry.
The American Pain Foundation and the other advocacy agencies are responsible for producing literature, which is distributed to doctors and consumers. The materials include prescribing guidelines, pamphlets, patient literature, and doctor education courses. These organizations are under fire for producing literature that advocates aggressively prescribing opioid painkillers for chronic, non-cancer pain disorders such as back pain, headaches, and fibromyalgia — all while downplaying the deadly risks of addiction and overdose.
Every year, opioid painkillers (Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, etc.) are responsible for more deaths than heroin or cocaine combined. In 2008, nearly 15,000 people died from overdoses on the drugs. While most of the deaths were due to illicitly obtained drugs, many more were due to accidental overdoses from legitimate patients.
This recent Senate action is just another chapter in a scandal regarding the marketing of opioid painkillers. In 2007, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to criminal charges that they intentionally misled doctors, consumers, and regulators about the risk of addiction with OxyContin.
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