When Washington state made one of the first major moves to place limits on opioid painkiller prescriptions, pharmaceutical companies fought back — using the Pain Care Forum, a national network of drug companies and opioid-friendly nonprofits, many of them funded by drugmakers.
Alarm bells rang at the forum in 2007 after Washington state’s agency medical directors — spurred by overdose deaths of patients in the worker’s compensation system — drafted guidelines that would require pain specialists to approve high doses of opioids.
Worried the guidelines would create a “domino effect” of other states adopting restrictive policies, the forum agreed to pay a public relations consultant $85,000 to prep speakers, draft patient testimonials and coordinate an educational initiative focused on elected officials and the state medical board, documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press reveal.
The core message of the campaign: Patients should have access to painkillers.
Purdue Pharma also wrote one of the Washington medical directors, calling the new proposed guidelines too tough. The company knew the role painkillers have played in America’s addiction crisis: Its executives pleaded guilty to misleading the public about their drug OxyContin’s risk of addiction that year.
The same internal memos show that advocates affiliated with the Pain Care Forum met with the Washington governor’s chief health adviser to discuss the "unintended consequences" of the guidelines. They also helped defeat a resolution from the state medical association, which represents doctors, that would have supported the guidelines.
The state medical board, which oversees doctors, also agreed to do something the Pain Care Forum wanted: send doctors a book on opioid prescribing produced by the Federation of State Medical Boards, a group that has received some funding from pharmaceutical companies.