The lawmakers underscored statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show more than 40% (or 14,800) of the 36,500 drug poisoning deaths in 2008 were related to opioid-based prescription painkillers. Furthermore, the CDC reports that deaths from these drugs increased to 14,800 in 2008 from 4,000 in 1999, which the letter said is more than any other class of drugs. Meanwhile, improper use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion each year in direct healthcare costs.
“The problem of opioid abuse is bad and getting worse,” Grassley said in a statement. “Something has to change. A greater understanding of the extent to which drug makers underwrite literature on opioids is a good start,” he continued. “Doctors and patients should know if the medical literature and groups that guide the drugs' use are paid for by the drugs' manufacturers and, if so, how much.”
Letters requesting information were also sent to the American Pain Foundation, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Center for Practical Bioethics, the Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and the Federation of State Medical Boards.
According to its website, the American Pain Foundation ceased operations on May 3.
“The American Pain Society will cooperate fully with the members and staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in complying with its request for information regarding support for the Society from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioid analgesic medications,” the organization said in a statement.
"APS also looks forward to sharing with the committee its strong support for a balanced policy approach to addressing the problem of abuse and diversion of prescription analgesic medications,” it continued. “As advocates for patients and their families, we seek a fair balance between protecting the rights of physicians and patients to have access to a wide range of effective pain medications and supporting society's need to prevent and control drug abuse.”
Purdue Pharma also issued a statement, which said the company is in the process of reviewing the senators’ letter. “We look forward to cooperating with the committee on this matter,” James Heins, senior director of public affairs for the company, said in an e-mail.