Pain Societies Told to Disclose Financial Ties to Opioid Makers

Megan Brooks


July 02, 2019

The US Senate Finance Committee is demanding that pain societies and advocacy groups disclose any and all payments received from opioid manufacturers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who heads the committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the minority leader, sent letters to 10 organizations asking about their financial relationships with opioid makers and other medical entities that manufacture products to treat pain.

"As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, we have a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in matters that directly affect Federal healthcare programs and tax-exempt organizations. This responsibility includes examining the extent to which pharmaceutical manufacturers fund tax-exempt organizations and how these payments may influence pain treatment practices and policy," the senators write.

The letters were sent to the American Chronic Pain Association, the American Pain Society, the American Society for Pain Management Nursing, the American Society of Pain Educators, the Center for Practical Bioethics, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the Joint Commission, the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the Alliance for Patient Access, and the International Association for the Study of Pain.

The Senate Finance Committee has a long history of investigating pharmaceutical manufacturers and their ties to tax-exempt entities that influence pain treatment practices and policy, the senators point out in their letter.

Sen. Wyden recently identified several individuals and tax-exempt organizations with "significant" financial ties to opioid manufacturers who have been appointed to various federal panels charged with making decisions and recommendations relating to opioid prescribing practices, the letter states.

Accountability Needed

In December 2018, Wyden launched an investigation to examine conflicts within medical advisory boards and asked the Department of Health and Human Services for information relating to "apparent conflicts" within its Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force (Task Force), as well as Task Force members affiliated with the US Pain Foundation and the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

"Based on information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Open Payments database, some members on the Task Force have received tens of thousands of dollars from opioid manufacturers.

"It is imperative that Congress ensure that these organizations and their members are adequately disclosing these conflicts to the Federal government to ensure that their guidance remains objective and transparent to the medical community and to patients," the senators write.

Federal data show that every day in the United States, about 130 people die after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

The total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone tops $78 billion a year. This figure includes the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

"These figures demonstrate that the US continues to suffer from an opioid epidemic and that taking prescription opioids for an extended period of time or in higher doses increase a patient's risk of opioid addiction, overdose, and death," Grassley and Widen write.

"At the same time, the relationship between opioid manufacturers and non-profit medical organizations remains robust, which calls into question their ability to make impartial recommendations to the medical community and to patients on opioid prescribing practices," they add.

The senators acknowledge in the letter that the answer to the opioid epidemic continues to be "anything but simple. However, we believe that it is important to shed light on these financial relationships to ensure transparency and accountability in matters that affect Federal healthcare programs and the patients that participate in them," they write.

The committee has asked that the requested information be sent by July 29, 2019.

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