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Senators Baucus, Grassley investigate pushing of painkillers

Sens. Baucus, Grassley investigate opioid painkiller promotion by drugmakers, including Endo.

Opioid painkillers have pushed aside heroin and cocaine as the biggest drug killers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of that - and suspicions that pharmaceutical manufacturers are inappropriately pushing sales - Senate Finance Committee leaders, Max Baucus (D.-Montana) and Charles Grassley (R.- Iowa), began an investigation this week on the matter, though its not their first health-care inquiry.

Baucus and Grassley sent letters to drug companies and organizations they think support their causes, seeking information about payments to doctors to encourage them to write prescriptions.

The companies were Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.

The link to the committee's announcement is here. Along the right side of that web page are PDFs of individual letters, including the one to Endo.

"When it comes to these highly-addictive painkillers, improper relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the organizations that promote their drugs can put lives at risk," Baucus said in a statement. "These painkillers have an important role in health care when prescribed and used properly, but pushing misinformation on consumers to boost profits is not only wrong, it's dangerous."

The senators want information from American Pain Foundation, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Center for Practical Bioethics, the Wisconsin Pain and Policy Study Group, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

"Something has to change," Grassley said in a statement. "A greater understanding of the extent to which drug makers underwrite literature on opioids is a good start. Doctors and patients should know if the medical literature and groups that guide the drugs' use are paid for by the drugs' manufacturers and if so, how much. Education on the proper use of pain medication is a key step in preventing abuse and misuse, so it's important to understand what material is out there."

Endo, which is based in Chadds Ford until it moves to Malvern, said it is cooperating.

"Part of Endo's corporate mission is a commitment to educating physicians and patients about the responsible use of pain management therapies," an Endo spokesman said via email. "Endo continues to demonstrate good corporate citizenship by prioritizing appropriate therapy use and patient health and safety. We work closely with government agencies, such as the FDA and DEA, to ensure open lines of communication and aligned actions for the good of patients and society as a whole. And we look forward to cooperating with the Senate Finance Committee."