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Groups to Senators: Release Findings of Investigation Into Opioid Makers’ Role in Addiction Epidemic

Sept. 16, 2015

Groups to Senators: Release Findings of Investigation Into Opioid Makers’ Role in Addiction Epidemic

Three Years After Investigation Began, Results Still Not Made Public

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The results of a 2012 investigation into financial ties between producers of pain medications and organizations that aggressively promote the medications need to be made public, physician groups, addiction agencies and consumer advocacy organizations said today.

In a letter being sent today to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, 36 groups detail the importance of the investigation launched on May 8, 2012, by U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The investigation was spurred by growing evidence that pharmaceutical companies and the groups they fund may be responsible for the increasing epidemic of pain medication addiction and overdose deaths by promoting misleading information about the medications’ safety and effectiveness.

In 2012 the senators sent letters to three opioid manufacturers and seven nonprofit organizations, and the Senate Finance Committee staff spent months collecting and sorting through records they requested.

“To bring our nation’s epidemic of opioid addiction to an end, we must reduce overprescribing of opioids. This goal will be difficult to achieve if opioid makers, and the groups they fund, continue to promote aggressive and inappropriate prescribing. We urge you to release the findings from the Committee’s investigation of their activities,” the letter reads.

The aggressive push to prescribe opioid painkillers for common conditions like low back pain, where risks of use outweigh benefits, has led to soaring rates of addiction, overdose deaths, infants born opioid-dependent, and other health and social problems.

“By promoting opioid use for common problems, drug makers and their proxies ushered in an addiction epidemic that will take decades for our country to recover from,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and chief medical officer of Phoenix House, a national nonprofit addiction treatment agency.

“The results of the investigation are not simply a matter of historical importance. They are crucial to saving lives because these groups continue promoting aggressive opioid use and continue blocking federal and state interventions that could reduce overprescribing,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research group. “This addiction epidemic will not go away on its own. We need Congress to act.”

Judy Rummler, chair of the Fed Up! Coalition and president of the Minnesota-based Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, believes that greater transparency is required.

“Release of the findings will make it harder for these pain groups to keep claiming their efforts are on behalf of patients,” she said. “The prescribing practices they promote are hurting many chronic pain sufferers, not helping them.” Judy Rummler’s son Steve lost his life to an opioid overdose after becoming addicted to medication prescribed to him for chronic pain.

Read the letter.