Opioid makers funneled $millions to patient advocate groups to boost prescribing, says McCaskill report

Opioid makers funneled $millions to patient advocate groups to boost prescribing, says McCaskill report

With so much attention on what’s called the opioid epidemic, and so much intention from so many good people trying to end it, it’s disturbing to learn that the biggest opioid pain-pill makers have been funneling millions of dollars to patient advocacy groups, physicians and other policy influencers, apparently to sway sagging opinions about opioid safety and effectiveness, as well as bolster sagging opioid prescribing.

“The fact that these same manufacturers provided millions of dollars to the groups suggests, at the very least, a direct link between corporate donations and the advancement of opioid-friendly messaging,” says a report released by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

As a senior ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, McCaskill has been probing the activities of pharmaceutical companies and their wholesalers for close to a year.

Specifically, reports STAT+, five drug companies funneled nearly $9 million to 14 groups working on chronic pain and issues related to opioid use between 2012 and 2017. The companies cited in the report are Purdue Pharma, Mylan, Insys Therapeutics, Depomed, and Janssen, a unit of Johnson & Johnson. Additionally, physicians affiliated with these groups accepted more than $1.6 million from the same companies. In total, the drug makers made more than $10 million in payments since January 2012.

“Everyone knows…”

It’s kind of an “everyone knows” that opioid makers use patient advocacy groups to influence healthcare providers and the public about the safety and effectiveness of their painkillers. And for some chronic pain patients who depend utterly on opioids, it’s something of a blessing.

But the McCaskill report said: “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 McCaskill report points out that these advocacy groups have issued “guidelines and policies” that promote the use of opioids and minimize the risk of opioid addiction. Some of them lobbied to curtail laws that would attempt to curb opioid use and “argued against accountability for physicians and industry executives responsible for over-prescription and misbranding” – the very crimes that has cost pharma companies over nearly $40 billion in federal and state fines over the past two decades.

“Stonewalling” the committee

Last July, McCaskill asked pharmaceutical companies Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, Endo International, and Mallinckrodt, and distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen, about what they’re doing to address the opioid epidemic, particularly by monitoring suspicious orders and preventing diversion.

However, one company, Teva Pharmaceuticals, has refused to comply. “Teva’s refusal to cooperate with Congressional requests strongly suggests they have something to hide,” McCaskill said in a statement. “I’d hope that everyone involved or associated with the company takes note that they’re dealing with an entity that’s stonewalling a Senate investigation examining a national public health crisis.”

For their part, Teva claims protection of proprietary company info and points out that their reps have met repeatedly with McCaskill’s people and provided tons of information.

Side Note

On a side note, Teva recently agreed to pay more than $519 million to settle civil and criminal charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribing foreign government officials in Russia, Ukraine, and Mexico. Teva now is the latest company to join an “elite” group of pharmaceutical companies dubbed the “$1 billion club” – companies that since 1991 have had to cough up $1 billion or more in federal and state fines for civil and criminal crimes usually involving breaches of drug marketing law, deception, bribery and so on.

Others in the “$1 billion club” include pretty much all the big players – GlaxoSmithKline ($7.9 billion ), Pfizer ($4.7 billion), along with Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly, Novartis, AstraZeneca, another newcomer, Mylan, and now Teva. All have continued to ignore various laws for decades.


Here at Novus, we keep an eye on developments in D.C. And we continue to provide the safest, most effective, 24/7 medically supervised detox that we know of. Don’t hesitate to call Novus for help with any substance use disorder.

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