Is The Opioid Lobby Behind Attacks On The CDC Prescribing Guidelines?

By Kelly Burch 06/17/19
"Opioid manufacturers stand to lose substantial profits with the widespread adoption of the CDC guideline. Public health, however, benefits from the guideline, and attacks on it bear industry’s fingerprints."
Opioid Lobbyist

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines around prescribing opioids in 2016, there has been controversy over whether the recommendations are appropriate. One group believes that this skepticism is being fed by a coordinated effort by the pharmaceutical industry to undermine the guidelines. 

Writing for STAT News, Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, Judy Butler and Ben Goodwin point out the many ways that the pharmaceutical industry has influenced organizations that have spoken out against the CDC guidelines.

The authors are all associated with PharmedOut, an initiative from Georgetown University Medical Center that aims to bring awareness to pharmaceutical marketing and promotes evidence-based prescribing. 

The authors point out that no one has disputed the crux of the CDC guidelines. 

“Criticism of the guideline follows a consistent pattern: no evidence provided to refute any statement in the guideline and no evidence provided for the critics’ claims,” they write.  

Yet, the constant criticism points to a coordinated effort. 

“The eerily similar attacks on the guideline, and the subsequent spinning of the CDC’s we-meant-what-we-said responses to critics as some kind of admission of error or inadequacy, raise the question of whether this is a coordinated attempt by opioid manufacturers to use third parties to undermine, discredit, and smear the guideline,” the authors wrote. 

Groups including the American Academy of Pain Management and even the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which spoke out against the guidelines, received funding from industry groups, the authors note.  

In fact, a 2017 analysis found that “opposition to the guidelines was significantly more common among organizations with funding from opioid manufacturers than those without funding from the life sciences industry.” It also found that no groups disclosed their opioid-related funding when formally submitting comments on the CDC guidelines. 

The authors also pointed out that a 2019 letter against the recommendations drafted by Health Professionals for Patients in Pain and signed by 300 providers received extensive press coverage, while a similar letter in support of the guidelines drafted by PharmedOut received very little coverage. 

Even chronic pain patients can have their stories hijacked for the bottom line of opioid manufacturers, the authors said. 

“It is essential that we not abandon patients on long-term opioids—but it is also important that we not create more of them,” they wrote. 

Ultimately, the CDC guidelines will cut down on profits, and that has the industry fighting against the guidelines, the authors wrote. 

“Opioid manufacturers stand to lose substantial profits with the widespread adoption of the CDC guideline,” they said. “Public health, however, benefits from the guideline, and attacks on it bear industry’s fingerprints.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.