December 19,2018

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Wyden Reveals Opioid Industry Ties on HHS Task Force, Probes Advocacy Group's Finances

Ranking Finance Democrat Calls on Azar to Review Pain Management Panel Members for Potential Conflicts of Interest

In Separate Letter to U.S. Pain Foundation, Wyden Questions Ties Between Group’s Patient Assistance Program and Embattled Opioid Maker Insys

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today renewed his efforts to shine a light on financial ties between opioid manufacturers, third-party advocacy groups, and government panels that provide outside expertise on pain management policy.

In one letter, Wyden calls on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to review conflicts of interest among members of the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, a panel created by congressional legislation in 2016. Wyden also sent a letter to the U.S. Pain Foundation, a tax exempt pain management advocacy group, asking for details about their financial controls as well as their patient assistance program and its connections to Insys Therapeutics, an opioid manufacturer that has been the subject of civil and criminal prosecution for abusive marketing practices. A representative of the foundation is a member of the task force.

“Congress created this task force to ensure the entire medical community was pulling on the same end of the rope to fight the opioid epidemic, not to hand opioid manufacturers and their affiliates a new avenue to spread their influence,” Wyden said. “In order to seriously take on the opioid epidemic, HHS must conduct a thorough review to ensure independent advisory panels are free from financial conflicts of interest.”

The task force was created by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), and was authorized to develop a set of best practices for chronic and acute pain management and prescribing pain medication. During the debate over CARA, Wyden offered an amendment that would have produced greater transparency among non-federal members of the panel. The amendment was accepted by the Senate, but rejected by the House. Wyden’s letter to Azar highlights several task force members who have received payments of thousands of dollars from opioid manufacturers, or are affiliated with advocacy groups that have historically received significant funding from the pharmaceutical industry, including the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the U.S. Pain Foundation.

In a separate letter to the U.S. Pain Foundation, Wyden requests information from the patient advocacy group after reports of serious financial mismanagement at the organization. The letter also asks for details about a patient assistance program, Gain Against Pain, that was apparently begun by the foundation with a $2.5 million dollar payment from Insys Therapeutics. The Finance Committee examined that company’s abusive marketing practices during a 2016 hearing. The Committee has oversight responsibility for administration of the U.S. tax code including over tax-exempt organizations such as the foundation.

The letters are the latest in an effort by Wyden to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic and ensure that federal policymaking is not influenced by those with financial ties to opioid manufacturers.

The letter to Azar regarding the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force can be found here.

The letter to the U.S. Pain Foundation can be found here.