Groups seek details on Senate probe into painkiller ties

September 16, 2015 byMatthew Perrone

Anti-addiction activists are calling on a Senate committee to release findings from a 3-year-old investigation into links between painkiller manufacturers and nonprofit medical groups.

In a letter Wednesday, a coalition of groups asks the Senate Finance Committee to make public information from the probe, which was launched in May 2012. At the time, former Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters to three drug manufacturers asking about their collaboration and financial ties to seven medical groups. The drugmakers were Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.

The Senate has not publicly released any documents or findings from the investigation.

The request comes as deaths linked to addictive painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin have reached an estimated 16,000 per year, more than heroin and cocaine combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called on doctors to limit their use of the medications to the most serious forms of pain, such as cancer patients and end-of-life care. But the vast majority of prescriptions written in the U.S. are for more common ailments like arthritis and back pain.

"To bring our nation's epidemic of opioid addiction to an end, we must reduce overprescribing of opioids," states the letter signed by National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse and 35 other groups. "This goal will be difficult to achieve if opioid makers, and the groups they fund, continue to promote aggressive and inappropriate prescribing."

According to the letter, Senate staffers spent "several months collecting and sorting through the records they requested."

But calls to Senate Finance staffers on Wednesday indicated there are no immediate plans to release information from the probe. And any documents collected by Senate staff are unlikely to see public release anytime soon.

Baucus left the Senate in 2014 to become the U.S. ambassador of China. Grassley remains on the committee, but is not in a leadership position.

A spokeswoman for the current Senate Finance Committee chairman, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "While this was an investigation closed under a previous Chairman during another Congress, Chairman Hatch believes this is an issue of serious concern and will be talking with members of the Finance Committee on how they would like to move forward."

A spokesman for ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he is committed to continuing the investigation and "bringing the full facts of this problem into the public eye." But he added "the Finance Committee is unable to release documents collected in the course of an investigation until conclusive findings have been reached and incorporated into an official committee report."

Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, said in a statement that the company responded to the committee's initial questions when they were received.

Purdue and the two other companies targeted by the probe are also named in closely-watched lawsuits in Chicago and California, where local governments are seeking to recover millions of dollars spent on treating opioid addictions and overdoses. The lawsuits allege that opioid drugmakers misled doctors and patients about the risks and effectiveness of their medications in treating chronic pain.

But attempts to release company documents from that case have been limited by court order. And two federal judges overseeing the cases separately dismissed most of the allegations against the companies because they were either not specific enough or fell under the federal government's authority to enforce.

Explore further: Senator renews scrutiny of pharma ties on federal panel

Related Stories

Senator renews scrutiny of pharma ties on federal panel

June 24, 2016
A high-ranking Senate Democrat is pushing for more answers on why doctors and patient advocates with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry came to serve on a panel that advises the federal government on pain issues.

Painkiller panel drops experts linked to pharma industry

July 7, 2016
A group advising the Food and Drug Administration on medical issues abruptly dropped four experts from a panel on prescription painkillers after concerns emerged about apparent ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Mylan CEO to testify in hearing on EpiPen price increases

September 14, 2016
The head of the pharmaceutical company Mylan will face lawmakers' questions at a hearing next week on steep price increases for its life-saving EpiPen injector device.

CIA director: We didn't hack Senate computers

March 11, 2014
CIA director John Brennan says the spy agency did not hack into computers that Senate staffers were using to investigate Bush-era interrogation programs.

Pfizer agrees to note addiction risks in opioid marketing

July 6, 2016
The city of Chicago and Pfizer announced an agreement Wednesday committing the drugmaker to disclosing the serious risks of addiction in its marketing of prescription opioid painkillers.

Federal pain panel rife with links to pharma companies

January 27, 2016
A federal panel that has recently criticized efforts to cut back on painkiller prescriptions is studded with members who have financial ties to drug companies.

Recommended for you

Study: What patients really think about opioid vs non-opioid medications for chronic pain

August 14, 2018
Prescriptions of opioids for chronic pain has increased dramatically since the 1990s in spite of their known harms. Despite a shortage of scientific studies on the long-term effectiveness of opioids such as morphine, oxycodone ...

Doctors nudged by overdose letter prescribe fewer opioids

August 9, 2018
In a novel experiment, doctors got a letter from the medical examiner's office telling them of their patient's fatal overdose. The response: They started prescribing fewer opioids.

Benzodiazepine and related drug prescriptions have increased among young people in Sweden

August 7, 2018
The prevalence rate of prescriptions for benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs (BZD)—medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric conditions—increased by 22% between 2006 ...

Unwise opioids for wisdom teeth: Study shows link to long-term use in teens and young adults

August 7, 2018
Getting wisdom teeth removed may be a rite of passage for many teens and young adults, but the opioid painkiller prescriptions that many of them receive could set them on a path to long-term opioid use, a new study finds.

Behavioral nudges lead to striking drop in prescriptions of potent antipsychotic

August 1, 2018
A study led by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that letters targeting high prescribers of Seroquel (quetiapine), an antipsychotic with potentially harmful side effects in the elderly, significantly ...

US opioid use not declined, despite focus on abuse and awareness of risk

August 1, 2018
Use of prescription opioids in the United States has not substantially declined over the last decade, despite increased attention to opioid abuse and awareness of their risks, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.