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Former Temple University adjunct helps promote opioids abroad, blasts critics

A former adjunct associate professor at Temple University has helped a leading maker of opioids promote potentially addictive pain medications in new foreign markets that have not yet seen an overdose crisis like that in the United States, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found.

The physician, Joseph V. Pergolizzi Jr., is based in Naples, Fla., and has not been affiliated with Temple since June 2014, the school said.

In April, Pergolizzi lectured at a cancer pain seminar in Brazil sponsored by Mundipharma, an international network of pharmaceutical companies that sell OxyContin and other opioid drugs, the Times reported.

In an interview, Pergolizzi called the Times article "very misleading" and said that the current backlash against opioids will deprive cancer patients of a vital tool for managing pain.

"It's obvious that there's an assault on pain medication," Pergolizzi said. "It's unfair to our cancer patients that when they have moderate to severe cancer pain, it's not going to be an option."

The article said U.S. prescriptions for OxyContin, sold by privately held Purdue Pharma of Connecticut, have dropped nearly 40 percent since 2010 amid concern that the drug serves as a gateway to addiction and abuse. As a result, the related Mundipharma companies have started to promote OxyContin and other opioid drugs in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, the article found.

The article said governments in some of these countries were ill-equipped to manage an addiction crisis.

Pergolizzi countered that it is unfair to blame the drugs. The people prescribing them can prevent abuse by keeping tabs on patients through commonsense strategies such as the monitoring of prescription databases, he said. Education also is important, he added.

"You can't just put medications out there and not have an educational platform behind them," Pergolizzi said.

Citing government records, the Times said that since 2013, Purdue and other U.S. drugmakers had paid Pergolizzi more than $1 million for consulting work, speaking engagements, and other services, as well as travel reimbursements.

At the Brazil lecture in April, Pergolizzi was presented as still affiliated with Temple. Pergolizzi said he was not aware his credential with the university had lapsed, and has let Mundipharma know.

A spokesman for Temple said he was affiliated with the university's medical school from January 2012 through June 2014, doing research in the pharmacology department.