June 24,2016

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Wyden Continues Fight Against Opioid Addiction, Calls for Greater Transparency of Pain Panel Ties to Pharmaceutical Industry

Ranking Finance Democrat Asks HHS Secretary Burwell for Details on IPRCC Members’ Conflicts of Interest with Pharmaceutical Opioid Manufacturers

WASHINGTON Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell today continued an ongoing inquiry into financial conflicts of interest on the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC), a federal panel that advises government agencies on pain policy, including prescription opioids. The letter asks for documentation that IPRCC members reported any conflicts of interest, that those reports were properly reviewed by federal officials, and that members recused themselves from any deliberations relating to those conflicts.

“Americans expect significant transparency when it comes to government policymaking, particularly for an issue like the opioid crisis which is devastating communities in Oregon and across the country,” Wyden said. “I’m going to continue to demand accountability to ensure the manufacturers of these powerful prescription drugs aren’t having an undue influence on policies designed to reduce their usage. Halting the opioid epidemic can’t happen until we address the way these drugs are prescribed in the first place.”

Opioid addiction has developed into a devastating crisis around the country, resulting in 18,893 prescription pain reliever-related deaths in 2014 alone. Prescription opioid sales have increased 300% in the United States since 1999, an increase which has coincided with a rapid increase in rates of opioid utilization and addiction across the country.

In his February letter to Secretary Burwell, Wyden noted that several non-federal IPRCC members, their organizations, or both, are apparent recipients of funding from major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids or related products. This funding raises concerns over conflicts of interest. The IPRCC in December 2015 leveled significant criticism, including allegations of conflicts of interest at the CDC, against that agency’s proposed guidelines for opioid prescribing practices. Those guidelines were made official in March of this year.

Dr. Francis S. Collins of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) responded in May on behalf of Secretary Burwell, indicating a troubling lack of concern or interest in the issues raised by Wyden.

“Members are not representatives of their employers or institutions and provide advice based on their own points of view,” Collins asserted, and therefore, according to Collins, no conflicts existed even when the organizations who employ them receive significant funding from opioid manufacturers.

Wyden asked for additional details on panel member ties and broader federal policy with regard to conflicts of interest. The full letter can be found here.