The Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the synthetic opioid OxyContin, reportedly gave $19 million to an advisory board that helped shape Washington’s response to the opioid crisis.
Michael Nevdarakis, senior reporter for the Defender, expounded on this in an April 25 article. He cited a report by the New York Times that named several members of the Sackler family as donors to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).
Dr. Raymond Sackler and his wife Beverly, both deceased, were named as contributors alongside their namesake Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation. Raymond’s late brother Arthur and his still-living wife Jillian were also named as donors.
Together, the Sacklers donated about $19 million to NASEM since 2000. A report by NASEM treasurer for the year 2021 disclosed that the said funds were invested and had grown to more than $31 million.
Until recently, however, the donations appeared to remain under the radar for both NASEM members and the general public. The Gray Lady reported that the Sackler donations became “an internal issue for the advisory group in 2019, when members of the governing council were briefed about the money.” NASEM’s governing council was reportedly “outraged,” and it “quietly removed the Sackler name” from conferences and awards the family had sponsored following internal meetings.
The Times wrote that NASEM “continued to accept funds from some members of the Sackler family, including those involved with Purdue Pharma” even as the opioid crisis continued and its impacts on American society became increasingly apparent. It added that NASEM has “kept quiet” and “largely avoided such scrutiny,” continuing to advise the federal government on matters related to opioids.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than 564,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2020. The public health agency also added that the opioid epidemic costs the U.S. economy approximately $78.5 billion every year.
Nevdarakis wrote that donations given by the Sacklers to other institutions drew scrutiny and prompted action in some cases.
In one instance, Tufts University in Massachusetts released a review of possible conflicts of interest pertaining to pain research funded by Purdue Pharma. The 2019 review was made public as part of a broader relationship with the drug manufacturer, which included Purdue executives delivering lectures to university students.
The Times also mentioned that aside from Tufts, other institutions such as Brown University in Rhode Island have redirected financial donations received from the family behind Purdue Pharma. It added that the Sacklers’ money given to these institutions is now being used “to address the prevention or treatment of addiction.”
Meanwhile, an article published in the British Medical Journal said NASEM has “not disclosed that one of its presidents and members of a panel it convened to advise on prescribing opioids had recent links to the drug industry.”
The Times also pointed out that NASEM has not yet done a public review to determine if donations from the Sackler family played a role in the release of a 2011 report on opioids. Despite the report being “now largely discredited,” federal public health agencies still use it as the basis for opioid policy decisions.
The said report alleged that approximately 100 million Americans suffered from chronic pain, an estimate the Times said was “highly inflated.” It also argued that “regulatory, legal, educational and cultural barriers inhibit the medically appropriate use of opioid analgesics.” (Related: Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical firms built opioid market on deception and lies.)
Ultimately, the only thing the 2011 report influenced was aggressive opioid sales campaigns for drug firms and the approval of “at least one highly potent opioid” by the Food and Drug Administration. A 2014 investigation done by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today found that within three years of working on the report, nine of the 19 people on the panel that produced it had financial connections to opioid manufacturers.
Opioids.news has more stories about the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma.
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