MedPage Today Features Two Disturbing Articles on Drug Company Influence on Medical Boards, Medical Schools and Practice Guidelines

In both articles, the flash point is the use and abuse of opioid painkillers.

Some people with intractable pain (cancer or non-cancer) that has not responded to other methods, are legitimate candidates for opioid prescriptions. But as with all other medications, the goal of the pharmaceutical companies regarding opioids is to sell as many pills as possible, thus fulfilling their fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder profit.

Prescriptions for narcotic painkillers soared so much over the last decade that by 2010 enough were being dispensed to medicate every adult in the U.S. around-the-clock for a month.

Fueling that surge was a network of pain organizations, doctors and researchers that pushed for expanded use of the drugs while taking in millions of dollars from the very companies that made them, a Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation found.

Last year, the Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today found that a University of Wisconsin-Madison based organization had been a national force in helping liberalize the way opioids are prescribed and viewed. During a decade-long campaign that promoted expanded use of opioids — an agenda that critics say was not supported by rigorous science — the UW Pain & Policy Studies Group received $2.5 million from makers of opioid analgesics.

After that article was published last April, the UW Pain group said it had decided to stop taking money from the drug industry.

But the UW Pain group is just one link in a network of national organizations and researchers with financial connections to the makers of narcotic painkillers.

Because Big Pharma has essentially unlimited deep pockets (at least in comparison normal mortals) with which to bestow its largesse on any organization connected to chronic pain, and does not hesitate to use this power, we’re looking at an issue of monumental proportions.

This story is going to keep growing larger until major changes are made.