Sackler Profiteering

(Photo: Thorkild Tylleskar, Creative Commons)

A new bipartisan report by representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Hal Rogers (R-KY) shines a spotlight on how opioid profiteers have worked to weaken WHO guidelines regarding dangerous painkillers, often by utilizing nonprofit front groups.

In 2017 alone, upwards of 50,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States. For decades, lax regulation resulted in the over-prescription of highly addictive opioids, which subsequently spurred a nation-wide public health crisis. Clark and Roger’s report indicates that the same pharmaceutical interests that advocated for large scale opioid prescriptions in the United States have pursued similiar goals overseas.

A statement from Clark’s office explains the scope of the opioid industry’s nefarious meddling in WHO policy:

The web of influence we uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been corrupted by the opioid industry. The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility, and as a result, a trusted public health organization is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic.

For example, the WHO’s report on prescribing drugs such as Oxycontin to children warns against “opiophobia.” Purdue Pharma—the highly profitable company behind Oxycontin—frequently utilizes this manufactured term to mislead consumers, lawmakers, and NGOs on the risks associated with their painkillers.

Purdue and its owners—members of the Sackler family—are the focus of multiple high-profile lawsuits by state attorneys general and victims of the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers received an additional PR blow earlier this year when major nonprofit institutions began turning down their donations in a stand against opioid profiteering.

Clark and Rogers’ report also names two nonprofits funded by pharmaceutical interests that have contributed to the international misinformation campaign on opioids: the American Pain Society and the International Society for the Study of Pain.

This global network underscores the corrupting influence of dark money on the nonprofit sector.  It is the responsibility of those committed to promoting the social good—including nonprofit professionals and donors—to learn how to spot the signs.


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