Opioid manufacturers paid $10 million to advocacy groups promoting the use of the pain killer since 2012, according to a new Senate report released Monday.
The report found five major drug companies, Purdue, Janssen, Mylan, Depomed and Insys, gave $8.8 million to 14 advocacy groups, and $1.6 million to physicians affiliated with these groups.
"Many of the groups described in this report may have played a significant role in creating the necessary conditions for the U.S. opioids epidemic," the report claimed.
In 2016, over 42,000 deaths in the U.S. involved opioids, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“It looks pretty damning when these groups were pushing the message about how wonderful opioids are and they were being heavily funded, in the millions of dollars, by the manufacturers of those drugs,” said Lewis Nelson, a Rutgers University doctor and opioid expert told the Associated Press.
Representatives from some of these companies specified they did not set conditions for how the money was supposed to be spent.
Of the five companies, Purdue, the maker of Oxycontin, gave the most with $4.1 million.
The U.S. Pain Foundation, the National Pain Foundation and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management were the three outside groups receiving the most from the drug companies.
"These groups have issued guidelines and policies minimizing the risk of opioid addiction and promoting opioids for chronic pain, lobbied to change laws directed at curbing opioid use, and argued against accountability for physicians and industry executives responsible for overprescription and misbranding," the report said.
Executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management Bob Twillman said the $1.3 million his organization received from the five companies went toward state policy advocacy, and the group has advocated for non-opioid treatments in the past.
“We really don’t take direction from them about what we advocate for,” Twillman told the Associated Press about the industry.
Almost $3 million was paid to the U.S. Pain Foundation, the most of any other organization, and $2.5 million of that amount came from Insys for a program to help cancer patients pay for pain medication.
“The question was: Do we make these people suffer, or do we work with this company that has a terrible name?" U.S. Pain Foundation founder Paul Gileno told the Associated Press.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) launched the investigation last spring. The manufacturers were chosen based on the top worldwide sales of opioids in 2015, then asked to provide records of payments to advocacy groups.
“Doctors and the public have no way of knowing the true source of this information and that’s why we have to take steps to provide transparency,” McCaskill told the Associated Press.
The report is part of the Senate's larger investigation into the opioid epidemic.