Minnesota advocacy group joins push to combat opioid prescriptions

A letter sent to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is calling for the release of an investigation into financial ties between producers of paid medications, specifically opioids, and organizations that promote them.

Opioid painkillers can be prescribed for low back pain, which advocacy groups say has led to a variety of health issues including addiction, overdose deaths and infants born opioid-dependent.

The investigation launched in 2012 by U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was prompted by evidence that pharmaceutical companies and groups they fund could be connected to the prevalence of pain medication addiction and ensuing overdose deaths. The letter contends these groups promote “misleading information about the medications' safety and effectiveness.”

In total, 36 physician groups, addiction agencies and consumer advocacy organizations are involved in the push for the investigation’s release. That includes Judy Rummler, chair of the Fed Up! Coalition and president of the Minnesota-based Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. Steve Rummler died of an opioid overdose after becoming addicted to medication prescribed to him for chronic pain.

"Release of the findings will make it harder for these pain groups to keep claiming their efforts are on behalf of patients," Judy Rummler said. "The prescribing practices they promote are hurting many chronic pain sufferers, not helping them."

Letter to U.S. Senate Finance Committee

Dear Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden:

On behalf of dozens of organizations on the front line of our nation’s prescription opioid and heroin crisis and on behalf of hundreds of thousands of American families devastated by opioid addiction, we are writing to you about a Senate Finance Committee investigation launched in 2012. We respectfully request that you make public the findings from this investigation.
On May 8, 2012, Senators Grassley and Baucus sent letters to three opioid manufacturers and seven non-profit organizations that have promoted aggressive opioid use. In their letters to these groups, they wrote:

“There is growing evidence that pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioids may be responsible, at least in part, for this epidemic by promoting misleading information about the drugs’ safety and effectiveness.”

The Senate Finance Committee investigation sought information on efforts by opioid makers and nonprofit groups to encourage aggressive opioid prescribing for common conditions like low back pain, where risks of use outweigh benefits. These efforts led to a sharp increase in opioid prescriptions and consequently to soaring rates of addiction, overdose deaths, infants born opioid-dependent, and other health and social problems. According to the CDC, overexposure of our population to opioid painkillers has also led to a new heroin problem.

Opioid overdoses, once rare in the United States, have caused more than 220, 000 deaths (175,000 from painkillers and 45,000 from heroin) since 1999. That is more than double the number of American lives lost in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. In other words, the efforts by opioid manufacturers to increase opioid prescribing have led to a public health catastrophe that may take decades for our country to recover from.

Senate Finance Committee staff spent several months collecting and sorting through the records they requested. Regrettably, the findings from this investigation have never been shared with the public. This is why we are writing to you.

The results of the investigation are not simply a matter of historical importance. Some of these same companies and non-profit groups have continued to promote aggressive opioid use and continue to block federal and state interventions that could reduce overprescribing. In addition, some of the individuals mentioned in the Committee’s letters to drug companies continue to work as advisors to federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

To bring our nation’s epidemic of opioid addiction to an end, we must reduce overprescribing of opioids. This goal will be difficult to achieve if opioid makers, and the groups they fund, continue to promote aggressive and inappropriate prescribing. We urge you to release the findings from the Committee’s investigation of their activities.