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Senators Launch Investigation Into 'Dubious Marketing Practices' of Pain Pill Manufacturers

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By Alexander Gaffney

Explosive allegations have emerged from two prominent Senators regarding marketing tactics used by a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson, which are alleged to have engaged in “misinformation and dubious marketing practices.”

The Senators, Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), charge the companies were involved in establishing “improper relationships between the companies and the organizations that promote their drugs,” including the American Pain Foundation (APF), the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Center for Practical Bioethics, the Wisconsin Pain and Policy Study Group, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

The Senators said they have launched an investigation to find out if the aforementioned groups “have promoted misleading information about the risks and benefits of opioids while receiving financial support from opioid manufacturers.”

“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become an epidemic, and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” Baucus said.  “When it comes to these highly-addictive painkillers, improper relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the organizations that promote their drugs can put lives at risk.”

The Senator’s inquiry was triggered by a New York Times investigation into the growing use of opioid medications in the use, which they noted had increased “nearly fourfold, with only limited evidence of their long-term effectiveness or risks.”

“There is growing evidence pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioids may be responsible, at least in part, for this epidemic by promoting misleading information about the drugs’ safety and effectiveness,” wrote Baucus and Grassley in their letter to Johnson & Johnson.

Further investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today and ProPublica “revealed extensive ties between companies that manufacture and market opioids and non-profit organizations,” the Senators said.

The Senators said they were looking for information pertaining to all payments made to the groups and a number of individuals based at academic centers, any information used in the formation of a State Medical Board book on the prescription of opioids, and numerous other documents and reports pertaining to other collaborations.

ProPublica reported 8 May the APF, the group at the center of its original investigation, shut down several hours after the Senators announced their investigation citing “irreparable economic circumstances”, potentially complicating Grassley and Baucus’ efforts to obtain related information.

The groups’ Board of Directors had reportedly voted to dissolve APF on 3 May after it was unable to surmount a “significant gap between available financial resources and funds needed to remain operational.”

The groups have until 8 June 2012 to respond to the Senators’ letters seeking information.


Read more:

Press Release: Baucus, Grassley Seek Answers about Opioid Manufacturers' Ties to Medical Groups

ProPublica - American Pain Foundation Shuts Down as Senators Launch Investigation of Prescription Narcotics

ProPublica - The Champion of Painkillers

American Pain Foundation – APF Updates

Medical Marketing & Media - Makers of pain pills, advocacy groups at center of Senate probe




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