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How Pharma Companies Are Spending Millions to Influence the Drug Abuse Policies

There are hundreds of internal documents that reveal how pharma companies and their allies have been trying to shape the national opinion to support the prescription opioid use. What's noteworthy is that heroin and other opioid-based drugs have claimed more than 165,000 lives in the US since 2000, based on the estimated by federal agencies.

What's The Hidden Initiative?
Painkillers are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the country. This is why pharma companies and allies of drug-makers have a multitude of interests associated with these drugs. Interestingly, an organization named Pain Care Forum has been demonstrating more interest than others in the issue and trying to promote the pro-painkiller agenda. Over the decade alone, members of this group have spent above $740 mn lobbying not just in the nation’s capital but in each of the 50 statehouses on a number of related issues. The same set of groups has attempted to strengthen their influence by spending more than $140 mn on political campaigns, which includes $75 million worth of donations to federal candidates, political parties, and action committees.

How Their Influence Is Overpowering The Public Sentiment
The combined spending on campaigns, lobbying, campaigns and other donations by the Pain Care Forum sum up to an amount that's more than 200 times larger as compared the $4 mn which a handful of groups have spent in the same period to support the restriction on the prescription of painkillers. Still, opioid sales have been growing and have crossed $9.6 bn in 2015, according to IMS Health.

“When you have a lot of money, you can go a long way in getting whatever you want,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor at Stanford University and a former adviser on drug policy to President Barack Obama. “It’s only when things get disastrous that finally there is enough force to push back,” he claims.

It All Started Back In The 1990's
Painkillers are like modern versions of many ancient painkiller medicines that were derived from opium poppy, which also the source of heroin. Though prescription opioids were reserved for a long time to treat only the most severe kinds of pain associated with injury, surgery, or terminal diseases, their usage gradually changed in the 90s with a big surge in prescriptions when health professionals started recommending these drugs for common ailments like headaches, back pain, and arthritis.

Opioid Drugs Were Made Available To The Public
Pharmaceutical marketing, new medical guidelines, and insurance policies fueled the usage of long-acting opioid-based drugs like OxyContin. Even though Purdue Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, had pleaded guilty in 2007 for misleading the health practitioners about the potential risks associated with OxyContin and agreed to pay $600 mn in fines. Still, the drug continued to grow in sales and went on to generate more than $22 bn over the last decade.

How Drug Makers Are Influencing The Federal Policies
The Pain Care Forum has been co-founded by Burt Rosen, who is Purdue Pharma’s own Washington lobbyist. After coming into existence more than a decade ago, the group coordinates monthly meetings with dozens of influential lobbyists and executives. The forum is known to host high-ranking officials from the FDA and even the White House, despite the group having no physical address or an established online presence.

It's An Artificial Conflict
“The biggest misconception out there in the public is that there’s a real conflict between controlling our dependence on opioids and care for the patients in pain,” claims Caleb Alexander, who's the co-director of Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at the Johns Hopkins University. “It’s just an artificial conflict, and there are a lot of vested interests hidden behind it.”


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