American Pain Society Files for Bankruptcy

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The American Pain Society (APS) filed for bankruptcy Friday after an overwhelming vote by its members to dissolve the financially troubled medical organization. In a membership vote last month, 93% voted in favor of a recommendation by the APS board of directors to file a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The APS is a non-profit, research-based organization that focuses on the causes and treatment of acute and chronic pain. Although many of its members are researchers and academics who are investigating non-opioid treatments for pain, the APS was targeted as a defendant by Simmons Hanly Conroy and several other law firms seeking to recover billions of dollars in damages in opioid litigation cases.

In a press release, APS said efforts to resolve the “meritless” lawsuits without lengthy and expensive litigation were unsuccessful.

“It’s the perfect storm and now pointless to continue operations just to defend against superfluous lawsuits.  Our resources are being diverted to paying staff to comply with subpoenas and other requests for information and for payment of legal fees instead of funding research grants, sponsoring pain education programs, and public policy advocacy,” APS President William Maixner, DDS, said in a statement.

“As a result, the Board of Directors no longer believes APS can continue to fulfill its mission and meet the needs of our members and the pain care community.”

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Press coverage of the APS often parroted what the opioid lawsuits alleged. The Guardian, for example, called the APS a “pawn of big pharma” and claimed the organization “pushed doctors to prescribe painkillers.”

The Guardian’s coverage was based largely on a report by Sen. Claire McKaskill (D-MO), who accepted over $400,000 in campaign donations from Simmons Hanly in her failed bid for re-election in 2018. APS is named as a defendant in several opioid lawsuits filed by Simmons Hanly, which stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars in contingency fees if the lawsuits are successful. The Guardian failed to mention any connection between Simmons Hanly and McKaskill.

The APS’ bankruptcy filing likely brings an end to its monthly publication, The Journal of Pain, which has been rated among the top five scientific journals in pain science. The current issue features research articles on diverse topics such as meditation for low back pain, diagnostic codes for fibromyalgia, whether opioids are effective for chronic noncancer pain, and the use of virtual reality to relieve arm pain.

“APS has been advocating for increased investment in research for many years, and it is particularly ironic that APS’s voice will go silent at this critical time in our history, when increased investment in pain research has finally become a reality in an effort to combat the opioid crisis,” said Roger Fillingim, PhD, an APS past president and professor of psychology at the University of Florida School of Dentistry.  

“There is a sad irony that the professional organization best poised to provide the spectrum of science to improve the prevention and treatment of pain and related substance abuse is defunct,” said APS President-elect Gary Walco, PhD, director of pain medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Now, more than ever, our nation needs the collective efforts of leading scientists and clinicians who hold patients’ well-being at the highest premium.  The principal focus on punishing those in industry that may have contributed to the problem is shortsighted and far from sufficient.”

The APS is the second professional pain management organization to cease operations this year. In February, the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) also shutdown. Opioid litigation has not only been costly for APS and AIPM, it has contributed to steep declines in financial support from pharmaceutical companies for other pain organizations, medical conferences and patient advocacy groups.   

Pain Management Association Shutting Down

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

An association of pain management providers that was a leading advocate for patient access to pain care is closing its doors. The board of directors of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) voted unanimously this week to cease operations, largely due to financial problems.  

“This is an incredibly difficult and sad decision,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, AIPM’s Executive Director. “Our message has never been more relevant than now, amid the nation’s opioid crisis, yet we have found it increasingly difficult to maintain the resources needed to sustain our efforts.”

For over three decades, AIPM promoted an “integrative model” of pain care that utilizes a variety of different treatments, including both drug and non-drug therapies.

Although that model has become a standard of pain care, AIPM’s membership has steadily declined due to demographic and other industry trends. With doctors under increasing scrutiny for opioid prescribing, pain management is not an attractive specialty for recent medical school graduates.

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“Joining associations like ours just is not a high priority for younger health care providers, and decreased interest in attending in-person educational events has contributed to significantly decreased conference revenues for AIPM,” said W. Clay Jackson, MD, President of the Board of Directors.

The demonization of opioid medication by policymakers and politicians also played a major role, causing many drug makers to limit or drop their support for medical associations and patient advocacy groups.

“My understanding is that the decreased industry support is not limited to the pain space, but it is especially acute here because for many years it was the opioid manufacturers who were the greatest source of funding,” Twillman wrote in an email to PNN. “As recently as five years ago, it would not be unusual for a company to drop nearly $100,000 at a single conference, between big exhibit hall booths, grants for continuing education programs, sponsored meal programs, and items such as bags, lanyards, key cards, etc.

“But when the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers started to ramp up, the logical response from the manufacturers was to withdraw support. After all, if they are being accused of using groups like ours as ‘front organizations,’ then it is completely logical for them to stop any behavior that might be perceived that way.”

A 2018 report by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) even accused the AIPM and other industry supported groups of playing “a significant role” in starting the opioid epidemic.

“These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the most deadly drug epidemic in American history,” McCaskill's report alleged.

"Sen. McCaskill and the others haven’t spent the necessary time talking to us to understand how we do things and what we have to offer," Twillman said at the time. "It appears that they’ve simply looked at how much money we got from a set of pharma companies, constructed a narrative about what that means, and published it."

Over a five-year period, McCaskill’s report found that AIPM received over $1.25 million in support from opioid makers. But the report failed to mention that AIPM also accepted funding from chiropractors, yoga therapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists.

We’re all very sad at this turn of events, but we’re also very proud of what we accomplished.
— Dr. Bob Twillman

Among other things, those donations helped AIPM host the 2017 Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress, a meeting that united dozens of providers, insurers, patients, researchers and policymakers.

The Congress adopted a consensus definition of integrative pain management that is “person-centered and focuses on maximizing function and wellness.”

Twillman says AIPM — formerly known as the American Academy of Pain Management — had less of a financial cushion than other pain organizations and was not able to adjust to changing times or the backlash against pain management.

“I fear for the future of those organizations, because I'm not sure this set of problems is going to get better, and I don't see the other organizations adapting as quickly as perhaps they should,” said Twillman, who has long stood up for patient rights and been a reliable source of common sense for PNN.

“I very much want to remain in a pain policy position if possible, because that is my real passion,” he said. “We're all very sad at this turn of events, but we're also very proud of what we accomplished, and can only hope that others will pick up the baton and continue the race while we look for ways to keep pursuing our passion.”

Prominent Pain Doctor Faces Hundreds of Lawsuits

By Pat Anson, Editor

Imagine spending your retirement defending yourself against hundreds of lawsuits in courthouses around the country – all of them alleging that you played a key role in starting the opioid crisis and that you were indirectly responsible for thousands of overdose deaths.

“It is mind boggling to me and its frightening, actually. I don’t know how I’m going to defend myself,” says Lynn Webster, MD, a pain management expert and former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “Right now, we’re just trying to keep our head above the water.”

Webster has been named as a defendent in so many class action lawsuits – along with Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo, Janssen and other opioid manufacturers – that he’s lost track. He knows of at least 80 lawsuits but believes there are many more.

“I think it could be several hundred,” he says.

The latest one was filed this week by Salt Lake County, Utah -- where Webster lives -- alleging that drug makers employed him in deceptive marketing practices that downplayed the risks of addiction and overdose. Like the other lawsuits by states, counties and cities, Salt Lake County seeks to recover taxpayer money spent on treating addiction, combating opioid abuse and policing opioid related crimes.    

DR. LYNN WEBSTER

DR. LYNN WEBSTER

“Utah’s opioid crisis stems directly from a callously deceptive marketing scheme that was spearheaded by certain opioid manufacturers and perpetuated by prominent doctors they bankrolled,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Dr. Webster’s advocacy of opioids was designed to create a veneer of impartiality. But Dr. Webster was a forceful proponent of the concept of ‘pseudoaddiction,’ the notion that addictive behaviors should be seen not as a warning, but as indicators of undertreated pain. The only way to differentiate between the two, Dr. Webster claims, was to increase a patient’s dose of opioids.”

Until he retired from clinical practice in 2010, Webster operated the Lifetree Pain Clinic in Salt Lake City. The lawsuit makes a point of mentioning that at least 20 of Webster’s patients died from overdoses and that he was investigated – but never charged with a crime -- by the DEA and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.

“Most of what they have in there, at least about me, is false. And I think I can prove that,” Webster told PNN.

A footnote in the lawsuit contains the curious but important disclaimer that “Salt Lake County asserts no claim against Dr. Webster arising from his medical practice. The claims against Dr. Webster relate solely to his participation, as a KOL and otherwise, in Manufacturing Defendants deceptive marketing campaign.”

'Key Opinion Leader'

KOL is an acronym for “key opinion leader” – a euphemism for doctors alleged to be so influential that they helped convince other physicians to prescribe more opioids. Webster and three other pain doctors -- Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine and Scott Fishman -- are portrayed in the lawsuits as KOLs who greedily accepted millions of dollars in payments from drug makers in return for their promotion of opioids.

“It's mind boggling to think how four individuals can be accountable for essentially brainwashing all of the doctors in the country to do something intentionally to make pharmaceutical countries rich. How can anyone think that is plausible? It’s crazy,” says Webster. “Most of the pharmaceutical companies that they’ve listed I never received a dime from.”

According to the Salt Lake County lawsuit, Webster was “handsomely rewarded for his efforts,” receiving nearly $2 million from opioid manufacturers from 2009 to 2013. Webster says that dollar amount is unfair and misleading because most of it stems from his work as a researcher. He is currently Vice President of Scientific Affairs at PRA Health Sciences, a clinical research company.

“If you’re a principal investigator in a research program that has contracted with a pharmaceutical company, that money goes under your name. But its money to conduct a trial. Not a penny of it goes to me,” says Webster. “I have received compensation for consultant work and advisory boards. My consultant work is because of my area of expertise. That’s not unusual. And I do not speak for a company’s product. I do not benefit at all because I personally have no shares in any pharmaceutical company.”

Since retiring from clinical practice, Webster has become an outspoken critic of efforts by the government and insurance industry to limit opioid prescribing -- which he believes have gone too far and unfairly punish pain patients, while ignoring the larger issue of illicit fentanyl, heroin and other black market drugs.

He's written a book, called "The Painful Truth" and self-financed a PBS documentary by the same name.  Webster also comments frequently on PNN about opioid related issues.

With so many lawsuits hanging over him, Webster’s financial future is uncertain.  He says he and his fellow KOLs could be bankrupted by legal fees before any of the lawsuits come to trial.

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“We don’t have any big pocket that’s going to pay for anything,” he said. “If a jury decided to award money from us, they wouldn’t get any money, because there is no money. We would be all bankrupt by the time we got to court.”

Drug makers, on the other hand, do have big pockets. And during the 1990’s many of the same law firms now involved in opioid litigation helped win big settlements with the tobacco industry worth upwards of $200 billion.  That includes the law firm of Hagens Berman, which is handling the Salt Lake County lawsuit. The firm also represents the city of Seattle in a nearly identical lawsuit against opioid makers, in which Webster is named as a KOL.

Webster is also named in a string of lawsuits filed by the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, which represents dozens of states, counties and cities. Simmons will pocket one-third of the proceeds from any opioid settlement,  which could run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Simmons is well connected politically, having donated $219,000 to the re-election campaign of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), who coincidentally released a report in February that's highly critical of patient advocacy groups and medical associations for accepting money from opioid manufacturers.

It is against these political, financial and legal forces that Webster must find a way to defend himself.

“The body of the allegations are inaccurate, misleading and irresponsibly paint a picture which ignores the realities of Dr. Webster’s compassionate commitment to alleviating suffering in his chronic pain patients,” Peter Striba, Webster’s attorney, wrote in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune. “It is estimated that there are approximately one-hundred million chronic pain patients in our Country, and it is very telling that their suffering and their medical condition is entirely absent in the narrative of the Complaint.” 

It's a Myth America Consumes 80% of World’s Opioids

By Roger Chriss, Columnist

Getting the facts right about the opioid crisis is essential. And the claim that the United States consumes 80% of the world’s supply of opioid medication -- while having only 5% of the world’s population -- is incorrect.

This “80/5” claim is popular and persistent. Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted about it last year. Recently Consumer Safety and the Reporter Newspapers repeated it. And news organizations like The Guardian, Business Insider, CNN and ABC News have all reported the “80/5” claim as fact at various times. 

The truth is that Americans consumed only about 30% of the world’s opioid medication in 2015. And the U.S. has about 4.4% of the world’s population.  That's still a lot, but nowhere near "80/5."

So where does the claim that the U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s opioids come from? It took a little digging to find out.

In 2014, Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, submitted the following testimony to the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control:

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"The number of prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone."

A footnote reveals where Volkow got that information. It came from a 2008 report from the International Narcotics Control Board, which states:

“In 2008 the United States accounted for over 99 per cent of the global consumption of hydrocodone and 83 per cent of the global consumption of oxycodone.”

This ultimately seems to be the origin of the “80 percent” part of the claim. At one time, the U.S. was responsible for over 80% of the world’s consumption of one particular type of opioid medication: oxycodone.

But the numbers vary significantly for each type of opioid. According to the Global Commission on Drugs, the U.S. consumed 57.3% of the world’s morphine in 2013. And Statista reports that in 2015 the U.S. consumed 29.3% of the world’s supply of prescription fentanyl, followed closely by Germany at 23.7 percent.

The U.S. at one time did consume 99% of the world’s supply of hydrocodone. But as a Pain Medicine article by Mark Rose explains, that is because “other countries with adequate opioid access prefer dihydrocodeine or low-dose morphine to hydrocodone for moderate to moderately severe pain.”

Hydrocodone prescriptions have actually plummeted in the U.S. since 2014, when it was rescheduled by the DEA as a Schedule II controlled substance.

So what are the real numbers for opioid consumption?

As Politifact notes while debunking McKaskill’s “80/5” claim, “while the United States is clearly the largest consumer of opioids, it, at most, accounts for roughly 30 percent of global consumption.”

At present, however, there are opioid shortages in some hospitals and hospices. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and fentanyl — staples of pain control and sedation in hospital settings — are in short supply.

“The shortage of hydromorphone is beyond acute,” Beverly Philip, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Society of Anesthesiologists, told the Inquirer.

The shortage is due, in part, because the DEA has lowered annual production quotas for fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine over the last two years by 35 to 46 percent.

This demonstrates the risk of persistent false claims. As Sally Patel, MD, wrote in an excellent Politico piece about the opioid crisis: “We need to make good use of what we know about the role that prescription opioids plays in the larger crisis.”

Otherwise we’ll find ourselves awash in a false narrative while enduring very real pain.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Survey Finds Media Bias in Coverage of Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Nearly two-thirds of health journalists believe the treatment of chronic pain is a major cause of the opioid epidemic, according to a new study that suggests many reporters are biased or ignorant about the true nature of the overdose crisis.

“The CNN Effect: The Mediaization of Pain Policy” was released by the PAINS Project, a coalition of patient advocates and pain management experts that seeks to make chronic pain a public health priority. “The CNN Effect” is a term first used in the 1990’s to describe the impact of 24-hour cable news on public policy.

“One of PAINS’ foundational working assumptions is that the media shapes public perception, public perception translates into votes, and votes equal public policy,” the PAINS report explains. “This theory can also be applied to public health policy related to both chronic pain and the opioid crisis.”

To test that theory, PAINS worked with Mugur Geana, PhD, a professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism at Kansas University, in a survey of over 1,000 health journalists who cover chronic pain or the opioid crisis.

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While the response rate was low – only 193 reporters and editors completed the survey – the results do provide some insight into the mindset of journalists and how they cover opioid stories.

The survey’s major finding was that many journalists believe there is a direct relationship between chronic pain and opioid substance abuse – even though studies have shown that it is relatively rare for pain patients to become addicted. Sixty three percent of the journalists surveyed believe that chronic pain was a major cause of the opioid epidemic and over a third (36.5%) believe that overprescribing of opioids by doctors was the primary cause.

Most of those surveyed also believe that opioid abuse is a bigger public health problem than chronic pain, even though pain patients outnumber opioid abusers by a 50 to 1 margin.  Nearly 70% “strongly agree” that opioid abuse was a major problem, compared to less than half who think chronic pain is a major problem.

“Another interesting finding was the very low use of people living with chronic pain as drivers or main sources for stories - compared to medical and academic sources, for example. We keep hearing from patient advocates that their stories seldom make it above the fold (if they make it in the paper at all), and that was reflected in our findings,” Geana said in an email.

Asked what primary sources they used to prepare stories, about 70% of health journalists said they turned to “medical experts” and nearly half said they used local, state or federal agencies. Only about 20% said they used “anecdotal stories from patients” as a primary source.

“Of particular interest to PAINS was evidence that patients are not considered ‘expert’ resources by health journalists. People living with chronic pain seem to be approached only to provide illustrating examples for stories that are driven primarily by information from other published articles/stories, academic sources, and data provided by federal agencies,” the PAINS report found.

“Although the low response rate does not allow conclusive results, this study does imply a bias among healthcare journalists and the need for pain advocacy organizations to help those reporting on these issues to engage with articulate chronic pain patients who can relay their experiences in a way that journalists/reporters find authoritative. Otherwise, reporting on chronic pain and the opioid crisis will continue to be what could be called an ‘echo chamber.’”

The CNN Effect

One example cited by PAINS of the “CNN Effect” was a 60 Minutes report last year that was highly critical of a law passed by Congress that limited the ability of DEA agents to investigate companies that distribute pharmaceutical drugs. After the report aired, Sen. Claire McKaskill (D-MO) invited former DEA investigators who appeared in the 60 Minutes segment to speak at a roundtable discussion on the opioid issue with her Senate colleagues.

PAINS asked Sen. McCaskill and her staff to include medical experts and pain patients in the roundtable and was turned down.

“Initially, we were told that it was simply too close to the date set to extend additional invitations. PAINS sent her staff a list of five highly qualified individuals to participate in the roundtable and offered to facilitate their participation. In response, PAINS’ Director was invited to attend, contingent upon Senator McCaskill’s approval. Two days later the invitation was rescinded,” the PAINS report said.

McCaskill recently released a report that was sharply critical of patient advocacy groups and medical pain societies for accepting nearly $9 million in funding from opioid manufacturers. Among the groups mentioned was the Center for Practical Bioethics, a non-profit closely affiliated with the PAINS Project, which received $163,000 from opioid makers.

“These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the most deadly drug epidemic in American history,” McCaskill's report alleges.

As PNN has reported, McCaskill has received over $6 million in campaign donations from law firms since 2005, including some currently involved in litigation against opioid manufacturers. According to OpenSecrets.org, contributors affiliated with the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy have donated over $300,000 to McCaskill, who is running for reelection this year.  

Simmons Hanly Conroy represents dozens of states, counties and cities that are suing Purdue Pharma and other drug makers over their marketing of opioids, and stands to pocket one-third of the proceeds from any settlement, according to reports.

Report Alleges Opioid Makers Bankrolled Patient Groups

By Pat Anson, Editor

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has released a scathing report that is sharply critical of patient advocacy groups and medical pain societies for accepting money from opioid manufacturers.

The report found that Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Mylan, Depomed and Insys Therapeutics provided nearly $9 million to over a dozen non-profits and medical societies from 2012 to 2017.  In many cases, the amount of the donations was not fully disclosed by the recipients.

“These financial relationships were insidious, lacked transparency, and are one of the many factors that have resulted in arguably the most deadly drug epidemic in American history,” McCaskill's report alleges.

    Opioid Maker Payments to Advocacy Groups

  • Purdue Pharma              $4,153,000
  • Insys Therapeutics         $3,146,000
  • Depomed                        $1,071,000
  • Janssen                             $465,000
  • Mylan                                  $20,250

Over the same five year period, physicians affiliated with the advocacy groups and medical societies accepted more than $1.6 million in payments from the opioid manufacturers.  

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McCaskill, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has long been critical of opioid prescribing practices and the role they played in fueling the so-called opioid epidemic.  Her report suggests that advocacy groups that criticized the CDC’s 2016 opioid prescribing guidelines did so to curry favor with drug makers -- not because of the well-documented harm the guidelines were causing pain patients.  

“Initiatives from the groups in this report often echoed and amplified messages favorable to increased opioid use — and ultimately, the financial interests of opioid manufacturers. 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 found.

"The fact that these same manufacturers provided millions of dollars to the groups described below suggests, at the very least, a direct link between corporate donations and the advancement of opioids friendly messaging. By aligning medical culture with industry goals in this way, 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."   

Top 10 Recipients of Funding from Opioid Makers

  1. U.S. Pain Foundation                                                      $2.922,000
  2. American Academy of Integrative Pain Management     $1,265,000
  3. American Academy of Pain Medicine                              $1,199,000
  4. American Pain Society                                                       $962,000
  5. National Pain Foundation                                                   $562,000
  6. Washington Legal Foundation                                           $500,000
  7. American Chronic Pain Association                                   $417,000
  8. American Society of Pain Management Nursing                $323,000
  9. AAPM Foundation                                                              $304,000
  10. Center for Practical Bioethics                                             $163,000

"Sen. McCaskill and the others haven’t spent the necessary time talking to us to understand how we do things and what we have to offer," Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Integrative Pain Management said in a statement. "It appears that they’ve simply looked at how much money we got from a set of pharma companies, constructed a narrative about what that means, and published it."

Perhaps the most surprising detail in the report is the amount of money Insys Therapeutics gave to the U.S. Pain Foundation – over $3.1 million --- with $2.5 million paid in 2017 alone. Insys is the manufacturer of Subsys, a potent fentanyl-based spray that has been blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths.

Former Insys executives and sales representatives have been charged with racketeering and bribing doctors to prescribe Subsys off label to non-cancer patients. The Arizona drug maker has also been accused of misleading and defrauding insurance companies to pay for Subsys, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for each 30-day prescription.

U.S. Pain founder and president Paul Gileno released a statement defending his non-profit's acceptance of the Insys money. He said the funds were used by the organization to fund a co-pay assistance program for cancer patients.   

"This funding, like any funding we receive, does not influence our values. When it comes to opioids, we believe both that people with legitimate pain have a right to effective care and that systematic changes must be made to address the ongoing opioid crisis," Gileno said.

McCaskill’s report makes no mention of the increasing role played by illegal opioids, such as heroin and illicit fentanyl, in fueling the opioid epidemic. A recent CDC report blamed illicit fentanyl for over half of the overdoses in ten states -- including McCaskill's home state of Missouri.  

Law Firms Major Donors to McCaskill Campaign

According to OpenSecrets.org, McCaskill has received over $6 million in campaign donations from law firms since 2005, including some currently involved in litigation against opioid manufacturers. Contributors affiliated with the law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy have donated over $300,000 to McCaskill, who is running for re-election this year.

Simmons Hanly Conroy represents dozens of states, counties and cities that are suing Purdue Pharma and other drug makers over their marketing of opioids, and would pocket one-third of the proceeds from any settlement, according to reports.

A statement on the Simmons Hanly Conroy website claims the law firm "effectively invented large-scale, multi-defendant opioid litigation" and is a "trusted ally to local and state governments who seek justice and reprieve from the often debilitating costs associated with fighting the opioid crisis."

According to a survey of over 3,100 patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation, the CDC guidelines have reduced access to pain care, harmed many patients and caused some to consider suicide. Over 70 percent said their opioid medication had been reduced or cutoff by doctors, and 11 percent said they had obtained opioids illegally for pain relief since the guidelines came out. 

GOP Report Blames Medicaid for Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new congressional report claims there is “overwhelming evidence” that Medicaid has  contributed to the nation’s opioid crisis by making it easy for beneficiaries to obtain and abuse opioid prescriptions.

The lengthy report, called “Drugs for Dollars: How Medicaid Helps Fuel the Opioid Epidemic,” was prepared by the Republican controlled Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Democrats on the committee complained the report was concocted to discredit and demonize Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The report cites 1,072 people since 2010 that have been convicted or accused of using Medicaid to improperly obtain prescription opioids.  That is only a tiny fraction of the nearly 70 million people enrolled in Medicaid, but the report nevertheless draws some sweeping conclusions.

“Overwhelming evidence shows that Medicaid has inadvertently contributed to the national tragedy that is the opioid epidemic, and has taken a toll that is playing out in courtrooms across the nation,” the committee staff reported.

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“Other well-intended government programs, such as Medicare, may provide similar incentives for rational actors to engage in bad behavior with highly addictive opioids. These issues hold major ramifications for public policy, along with the nation’s health. They deserve serious consideration and a sober national debate, one we hope this staff report will help to initiate. The victims of this terrible epidemic deserve no less.”

The report cites dozens of examples of doctors and beneficiaries abusing the system, such as a $1 billion scheme to defraud Medicaid and Medicare that involved numerous health care providers.

Committee staff also claimed that drug overdose deaths were rising nearly twice as fast in Medicaid expansion states as in non-expansion states. About 12 million more Americans receive Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.

“While there is clearly no single cause to the epidemic, evidence has emerged that Medicaid is playing a perverse and unintended role in helping to fuel and fund the opioid epidemic,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) wrote in a letter to Eric Hargan, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The data uncovered in this examination point to a larger systematic problem – because opioids are easily obtained and inexpensive through Medicaid, the structure of the program itself creates a series of incentives for beneficiaries to use opioids and sell them for potentially enormous profits.”

‘Total Hogwash’

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Claire McKaskill of Missouri, called the report misleading.

"This idea that Medicaid expansion is fueling the rise in opioid deaths is total hogwash," McCaskill said in a statement. "It is not supported by the facts. And I am concerned that this committee is using taxpayer dollars to push out this misinformation to advance a political agenda."

“Separate scientific studies conducted by other authors show that (the) opioid epidemic predates Medicaid expansion and that recent increases in overdoses stem from fentanyl and heroin, not prescriptions obtained through Medicaid.  Unlike the report released by the majority staff today, these studies were both scientific and comprehensive.”

The report’s conclusions were also questioned by a longtime critic of opioid prescribing.

“I believe the access to prescribers that Medicaid, Medicare and commercial insurance offers does increase the likelihood that someone might develop a disease often caused by prescriptions,” said Andrew Kolodny, MD, founder and Executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP).

“But I do not believe that Medicaid should be singled out in this regard. Opioid overdoses have been increasing in people with all types of insurance and in people from all economic groups, from rich to poor.”

A report released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that states with above average overdose death rates includes 18 states that expanded their Medicaid coverage and 8 states that did not.  Overall, Medicaid covers nearly 40% of the two million Americans estimated to have opioid addiction.