Big Pharma Hobbling Federal Efforts to Rein In Dangerous Opioids

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Big Pharma Hobbling Federal Efforts to Rein In Dangerous Opioids

Meanwhile, new study shows 'a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before.'

"The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting," says University of Colorado-Boulder professor. (Photo: frankieleon/flickr/cc)

Even as a new study suggests opioid painkillers may in fact make chronic pain worse, Big Pharma continues to work against efforts to stem the national opioid crisis, according to reporting at The Intercept on Tuesday.

The study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showed that addictive opioids like morphine appear to paradoxically cause an increase in chronic pain in lab rats.

Led by Colorado University-Boulder professors Peter Grace and Linda Watkins, the study showed that "just a few days of morphine treatment caused chronic pain that went on for several months by exacerbating the release of pain signals from specific immune cells in the spinal cord," according to a news release. The results suggest that the recent escalation of opioid prescriptions in humans may be a contributor to chronic pain, as Grace noted.

"The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting," said Watkins. "This is a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before."

The Washington Post notes:

The question of what exactly opioids do to our bodies is critically important as the United States is grappling with a record number of overdose deaths from the painkillers. The government has been urging doctors to use more caution when prescribing the highly addictive painkillers, and the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year began to require new "black box" warnings on packages that warn of the risk of addiction, abuse, overdose and death.

Meanwhile, Lee Fang of The Intercept sheds light on how "the boldest effort to curb the flow of legal opioids may face a setback" as Big Pharma lobbyists and corporations seek to influence recently issued Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that encourage doctors to prescribe opioids with low dosages, and only after other pain relief treatments, such as ibuprofen, have been tried. 

As Fang explains, Congress recently passed toothless legislation which calls for those guidelines "to be reviewed and potentially changed by a new panel made up of representatives from a range of stakeholders, and for the revisions to incorporate 'pain management' expertise from the 'private sector.'"

Unsurprisingly, he writes, "[t]he demand for pain advocacy and pain specialists to review the CDC guidelines comes as recent reports show that the leading societies for pain management have been funded and controlled by painkiller companies for years."

For example, the executive director of the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD)—which has received funds from OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and Endo Pharmaceuticals, which makes Percocet—recently gave a presentation to state legislators in which he decried the CDC guidelines as "affiliated with anti-opioid activists" and praised legislative efforts to derail them. 

Speaking with The Intercept, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, dismissed CLAAD as a "front group for pharma." Kolodny said that industry-funded groups like CLAAD "argue that efforts for more cautious prescribing, such as the CDC guideline, are bad for patients with pain" but that "their real agenda is to continue reaping profits from aggressive prescribing."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

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