In 2016 more than 63,600 lives were lost to drug overdoses, the most lethal year yet of the drug overdose epidemic, according to a 2017 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
42,249 US drug deaths(66% of the total) involved opioids in 2016, the report says. That’s over a thousand more than the 41,070 Americans who die from breast cancer every year. Yet during all this these deaths from opioids, companies are profiting and paying advocacy groups to push their addictive product.
On Monday, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill released a report exposing the opioid industry’s ability to mold the public opinions on the drug. The report from McCaskill examines advocacy funding by the makers of the top five opioid painkillers by worldwide sales in 2015. The financial information the companies provided to Senate staff showed that they had spent more than $9 million between 2012 and 2017 to support only 14 advocacy groups and affiliated doctors.
The leading opioids manufacturer named in the report, Purdue Pharma, just announced it would stop promoting opioids to doctors. The founder of the top association taking drugmakers’ money — the U.S. Pain Foundation — said that “any funding we receive has never nor will it ever influence what we will do to help people with chronic pain.”
Purdue Pharma, who is the maker of OxyContin, contributed the most to the groups, funneling $4.7 million to organizations and physicians from 2012 through last year.
The findings could bring in an avalanche of lawsuits that would be aimed at holding the opioid drugmakers responsible for helping fuel an epidemic blamed for the deaths of more than 340,000 Americans starting back in 2000.
The suits that have came so far have alleged that drugmakers misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids by enlisting “front groups” and “key opinion leaders” who oversold the drugs’ benefits and encouraged overprescribing. In the legal claims, the governments seek money and changes to how the industry operates, including an end to the use of outside groups to push their drugs.
The request was sent last year to five companies: Purdue Pharma; Insys Therapeutics; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, owned by Johnson & Johnson; Mylan; and Depomed.
The report also found that 14 nonprofit groups representing pain patients & other specialists, they received $9 million. It also found that drug makers spent $1.6 million in affiliated doctors.
Most of the groups included in the investigation took industry-friendly positions. That included issuing medical guidelines promoting opioids for chronic pain, lobbying to defeat or include exceptions to state limits on opioid prescribing, and criticizing landmark prescribing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Featured photo via Study Breaks