National Academies faces scrutiny over Sackler donations

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine accepted millions of dollars in donations from the Sackler family — which owns Purdue Pharma — while also advising the federal government on its opioid policies, The New York Times reported April 23. 

The Sackler family has donated nearly $19 million to the National Academies, which serves as an independent adviser to the nation on science and medicine. 

"I didn't know they were taking private money," Michael Von Korff, a prominent pain care researcher, told the Times. "It sounds like insanity to take money from principals of drug companies and then do reports related to opioids. I am really shocked."

The National Academies has issued two major reports on the opioid crisis that influenced national policy, one in 2011 and 2017. The 2011 report has since been discredited due to "highly inflated" estimates of the number of Americans who suffer from chronic pain, according to the Times; however, the 2017 report is still in use by the FDA. The reports did not disclose potential conflicts of interest with the Sackler family. The family's company, Purdue Pharma, has been accused of fueling the opioid crisis by using various tactics to increase sales of its highly addictive painkiller OxyContin. 

The National Academics has not conducted a review to determine whether the Sackler family's donations influenced its policymaking, according to the Times. The Sackler's donations "were never used to support any advisory activities on the use of opioids or on efforts to counter the opioid crisis," said National Academies spokesperson Megan Lowry. 

The National Academies was blocked from returning the donations because of legal restrictions and "donor unwillingness to accept returned funds," she told the Times.

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