Purdue Pharma's opioid ties to Massachusetts General, Tufts: 10 things to know

Purdue Pharma formed relationships with two Boston-based organizations — Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts University School of Medicine — to boost prescription rates and generate goodwill toward opioids as painkillers, according to a court filing released Jan. 15.

10 things to know about the relationships:

1. Purdue Pharma struck a deal with Massachusetts General in 2001 to establish a pain program. The sponsorship of the pain program was a way to gain sway and boost prescriptions by using one of the most influential medical centers in the country, the court documents, cited by STAT, claim.  Purdue Pharma allegedly encouraged physicians to prescribe OxyContin and other opioids at a higher dosage and for longer periods of time.

2. In 2009, Purdue Pharma paid the hospital $3 million to renew its sponsorship of the Massachusetts General Hospital Purdue Pharma pain program. This also gave the Purdue Pharma sales team access to physicians, medical students and residency students.

3. Jane Ballantyne, MD, who was director of the pain center at Massachusetts General Hospital when the Purdue Pharma  sponsorship was established, told STAT she thought the deal would be great, and she was excited about working with Purdue Pharma on the shared goal of easing patient pain. But in 2003, Dr. Ballantyne co-authored a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine that raised concerns about the safety and efficacy of opioid painkillers for patients with chronic pain.

"I thought, in my naivete, that Purdue would want to know that as well, that they would want to know [opioids for chronic pain] wasn't working for patients," Dr. Ballantyne told STAT. "But that wasn’t their goal at all."

4. At Massachusetts General, the agreement with Purdue Pharma allowed the OxyContin maker to suggest pain management curriculum changes. The drugmaker also was able to appoint a member to the Educational Program Committee, according to the court documents.

5. In 2002, Warren Zapol, MD, Massachusetts General's chief of anesthesia, defended its deal with Purdue Pharma in a letter to the Boston Globe editor, saying that it "in no way allows the company to design medical seminars or materials focused on treating pain" and that Massachusetts General was in control of all of its educational programs.

6. Massachusetts General did not comment to STAT when asked about current ties to Purdue Pharma.

7. Tufts University hired a Purdue Pharma employee in 2011 to serve as an adjunct associate professor, the court documents reveal. In addition, Purdue Pharma-written materials were approved for lectures in 2014, and the company sent staff to Tufts as recently as 2017, according to STAT. Purdue's sales team stationed in the area were congratulated for "penetrating this account."

8. Purdue Pharma's ties to Tufts date to 1980, when the Sackler family, which owns the company, donated funding to establish the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. In 1999 the Sacklers gave money to start the Tufts Masters of Science in Pain Research Education and Policy, STAT reports. Through the master's program, "Purdue got to control research on the treatment of pain coming out of a prominent and respected institution of learning," the filing states.

9. A Tufts spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending legal process, according to STAT.

10. The ties to medical organizations are just a few of the details emerging from the revised lawsuit from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Read the full STAT report here.

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