Senator: Delay FDA Opioid Workshop, Investigate Ties To Drugmakers

By Victoria Kim 05/11/17

Senator Ron Wyden wants to ensure that the opioid workshop is fair, balanced and without corporate influence.  

Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Ron Wyden

It’s a matter “literally of life and death.”

One U.S. senator is intent on exposing the “deep financial ties to opioid manufacturers” among certain organizations participating in a workshop set for Tuesday and Wednesday (May 9 & 10) in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The goal of the Food and Drug Administration workshop—“Training Health Care Providers on Pain Management and Safe Use of Opioid Analgesics”—is to discuss how to improve pain management and the safe use of opioids through training and education. 

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to Secretary Tom Price of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking him to delay the FDA workshop so officials may review participating groups’ ties to drugmakers like Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, which he says could skew the workshop’s balance of views.

“The apparent financial relationships between opioid manufacturers and pain advocacy groups participating in the workshop raise serious conflict-of-interest concerns that could undercut efforts to cut over-prescribing,” wrote Wyden in his letter dated May 5th. “Given the relationships between manufacturers and the participating pain groups, I request that you delay the workshop until HHS can conduct a full conflict-of-interest review of all proposed participants.”

Wyden names six pain groups including the American Academy of Integrative Pain Management and the American Pain Society—which have financial ties to Purdue, Pfizer, and more.  

“The pain groups, which also receive money from the companies through advertising, grants and other forms of sponsorship, have worked, oftentimes in concert with other industry-funded groups, to steer state and federal policy toward favoring opioids as a treatment for pain,” Wyden continues.

Delaying the workshop and reviewing the organizations “will ensure that the workshop provides a genuine balance of views” so they may “diminish the influence of companies that have a financial stake in loosening opioid prescriber guidelines,” wrote Wyden.

The workshop could build on the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines from March 2016, which emphasized that physicians should try to prescribe non-opioid painkillers whenever possible—and if patients do require opioids, they should prescribe the lowest possible dose.

Wyden notes that spending on treatment for opioid use disorder—including by Medicare and Medicaid—has risen dramatically in recent years and is expected to reach $42.1 billion in 2020. 

The senator closed his letter with a plea for transparency amid the opioid crisis that has claimed more than 33,000 lives in 2015, with almost half of these deaths involving a prescription painkiller

“The long-standing and ongoing financial relationships between opioid manufacturers and participants in the upcoming FDA workshop warrant your intervention to investigate and minimize potential conflicts of interest when addressing a matter literally of life and death.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr