Purdue Pharma Accused Of "Corrupting" WHO To Sell More Opioids

By Lindsey Weedston 05/30/19

Officials say the World Health Organization helped Purdue "traffic dangerous misinformation" about opioids.

Purdue Pharma's prescription opioids

Members of Congress released a report last week alleging that the World Health Organization (WHO) has been “corrupted” by the leaders of the opioid industry, particularly Purdue Pharma and Mundipharma International, both of which are owned by members of the Sackler family.

U.S. Representatives Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers accuse WHO of essentially replicating claims made by these companies’ marketing materials, some of which have been found in court to be inaccurate and misleading.

“The web of influence we uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been corrupted by the opioid industry,” said Clark according to the Guardian. “The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility, and as a result, a trusted public health organization is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic.”

The report claims that current WHO guidelines, implemented several years ago, still “mirror Purdue’s marketing strategies to increase prescriptions and expand sales.” This includes statistics and statements that have been contradicted by multiple studies, such as the assertion that less than one percent of patients who are prescribed opioids develop a dependence on the drug.

Additionally, the WHO removed guidelines recommending that pain patients be started on a combination of low-dose opioids and non-opioid pain relievers to instead recommend that highly potent opioids, such as Purdue’s OxyContin, can be given immediately.

To make matters worse, the WHO did not change its pro-opioid guidelines even after several members of Congress sent a letter to the organization in 2017 warning that Purdue was attempting to take its business worldwide after allegedly causing or heavily contributing to the opioid epidemic in the U.S.

The WHO did not respond to the letter, which led Clark and Rogers to launch their investigation.

In addition to mirroring Purdue marketing materials, the report alleges that the WHO was influenced by “industry-funded” advocacy groups such as the American Pain Society and the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).

The American Pain Society recently announced that it may cease operation due to legal costs related to accusations that the organization is little more than a front for opioid industry interests. 

“While the findings in this report are tragic and alarming, they are unsurprising given this company’s unscrupulous history,” said Rogers. “The WHO must take action now to right the ship and protect patients around the world, especially children, from the dangers associated with chronic opioid use.”

Clark and Rogers are calling on the WHO to withdraw its current guidelines related to opioid prescription. The WHO has said it is currently studying the report, and as usual, Purdue Pharma issued a statement denying all allegations of wrongdoing.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston