Drugmakers push back against opioid limitation measures: 3 things to know

The drug companies that make prescription painkillers have deployed hundreds of lobbyists and spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions to work against legislative measures designed to curb the rates of opioid abuse and prevent overdoses, according to an investigative report from The Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press.

While the manufacturers of these opioids have pledged to make efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the report found the companies employ a 50-state strategy to obstruct the passage of state-level legislation that would limit the dissemination of opioids.

"The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing," Andrew Kolodny, MD, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said in the report. "They are reaping enormous profits."

Here are three things to know about pharma's fight against opioid legislation:

1. Money in overdose: Sales of prescription opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. According to the CDC, opioids contributed to the deaths of more than 28,000 people in 2014 alone. In 2015, 227 million opioid prescriptions were written, which, according to the collaborative report, is enough to provide a bottle of medication to 90 percent of American adults. In 2015, the maker of OxyContin (Purdue Pharma) made an estimated $2.4 billion from opioid sales, according to the healthcare information company IMS Health.

2. Funding politics: According to the report, opioid manufacturers and allied pain medication advocacy groups funded an average of 1,350 lobbyists per year across the country from 2006 to 2015. The lobbyists fought measures designed to implement opioid restrictions as scrutiny on the addictive nature of the medications increased. One such defeated bill in New Mexico would have limited initial prescriptions of opioid painkillers for acute pain to seven days. The measure offered exemptions to patients with chronic conditions, but was defeated after lobbyists rallied against it behind the scenes. Additionally, nonprofit advocacy groups provided more than $24 million to 7,100 candidates for state-level offices from 2006 through 2015.

3. The new drugs: Big pharma's lobbyists are now focusing their efforts on supporting measures to encourage the sale of new, more lucrative drugs. These drugs are known as abuse-deterrent formulations and are designed to curb addiction. However, some experts have called their safety into question, saying the medications harbor some of the same addictive properties as the drugs they are meant to curb the abuse of. These drugs have increased profitability for drugmakers because they're patent protected and have no generic competitors.

In the report, Anna Lembke, chief of addiction medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, said, "This is a way that the pharmaceutical industry can evade responsibility, get new patents and continue to pump pills into the system."

To read part one of the investigative report from The Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press, click here.

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