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Feature Conflicts of Interest

US opioid prescribing: the federal government advisers with recent ties to big pharma

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 22 August 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5167

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Opioid policies: scientists advising US government had commercial ties, BMJ investigation finds

  1. Tim Schwab, independent journalist, Washington, DC, and 2019 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow
  1. timschwab2020{at}

With the US facing an epidemic of opioid deaths linked to overprescribing, Tim Schwab finds that the influential National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has not disclosed that one of its presidents, and members of a panel it convened to advise on prescribing opioids, had recent links to the drug industry

As lawsuits proliferate against members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, for allegedly downplaying the risks of Purdue’s opioid painkiller Oxycontin (oxycodone), the family faces not only potentially bankrupting legal costs but also the end of its long history of philanthropy.12

Universities, museums, and civic institutions are sending a message to the billionaire Sacklers: your “blood money” is no longer good here.3

“It’s like tobacco money at this point,” Art Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University, told The BMJ.

In 2007 Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it downplayed the addictiveness of Oxycontin.4 The Sacklers’ role in the opioid addiction crisis “makes any of their funding of research, either institutionally or to investigators, hyper-suspect,” Caplan says.

Yet a scientific body that advises the US federal government on opioid policies, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), is staying quiet about at least $14m (£11.6m; €12.6) it has received from Raymond and Beverly Sackler since 2008.

And a new NASEM project commissioned by the US Food and Drug Administration will advise federal policymakers on clinical practice guidelines for prescribing opioids,5 increased prescribing being one driver of the addiction crisis that is responsible for 50 000 US deaths a year.6

NASEM told The BMJ that the 15 academics it has appointed to the panel, serving pro bono for the 16 months of the project, are free of conflicts of interest. But The BMJ has found that seven …

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