New report highlights the need for reforms in the marketing and sale of opioids

As part of the ongoing investigations into the marketing and sales practices of opioid manufacturers, a new report has shown an alarming trend of companies pushing the use of the drugs among medical professionals. The report has accused five of the top manufacturers in the US of paying patient advocacy groups close to $9 million between 2012 and 2017, which led to a huge increase in the number of patients being prescribed opioids.

The investigations, which was carried out by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, found that manufacturers had frequently misled insurance companies and falsified medical records. It also found that 14 patient advocacy groups, including the US Pain Foundation and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, received payments from pharmaceutical companies of over $8million in the last five years. The US Pain Foundation received a large share of the payments – a total of close to $3 million.

The manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP provided nearly half of all the money paid out to the groups, and the report found that they made payments of over $4 million in the five year period. This follows recent criticism of the company, who have been accused of aggressive marketing practices in regard to the painkiller OxyContin. They responded to the claims by saying it would no longer be sending sales representatives to promote the drug to doctors or other medical professionals.

Purdue noted in a statement its “significant sales force reduction of more than 50%” and said those remaining on the job will be promoting “non-opioid products.” The company has also acknowledged the donations that were made. However, Executive Director for Communications Robert Josephson protested that “We have supported third-party organizations, including with annual dues and unrestricted grants, that are interested in helping patients receive appropriate care.”

Other pharmaceutical companies under fire include Mylan, Insys and Depomed. Christine Dusek, head of global communications at Mylan, said in a statement, “Over the past few years, Mylan made very limited payments to the American Pain Society solely as part of its participation in the organization’s annual conferences. We did not sponsor or fund any speakers or presentations at these conferences.”

Depomed has admitted to making contributions to nine foundations detailed in the report to a total of over $1million in the last six years. “These contributions covered corporate advertising, conference booth fees, sponsoring training certifications and membership fees,” said vice president Christopher Keenan. He added that he believes Depomed behaved ethically and responsibly.

Insys confirmed that it had made payments, but called them “patient focused.” In a statement they said “With regard to the US Pain Foundation specifically, our donation was directed to a disease-state fund for cancer patients with breakthrough pain, which many medical experts and health care providers believe is significantly undertreated in the US.” The firm added that they had shifted their funds towards research and development towards the end of 2017, resulting in a 77% fall in the contributions it made to the groups.

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