Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, who for years has championed aggressive scrutiny of conflicts of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, sent letters Tuesday to drug companies, advocacy groups and academic researchers, seeking details on their financial ties. Days earlier, the American Pain Foundation, an advocacy group largely funded by drugmakers, voted to go out of existence. It’s unclear if that decision was related to either the Senate’s impending investigation or a ProPublica report several months ago detailing the group’s close ties to drug companies. The foundation received 90 percent of its funding from drugmakers, ProPublica reported, and its recommendations fit neatly with the agenda of its corporate sponsors.
More than 40 people die every day from overdoses of prescription painkillers, including OxyContin and Vicodin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure has tripled in the last decade.
“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become epidemic and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” Baucus said in a statement.
Health advocates have long been concerned with conflicts of interest in medicine. A dozen years ago, the Courant explored the financial links between drugmakers and academic researchers, finding that industry cash had changed the culture of scientific inquiry at top universities, with some researchers skewing studies to assure favorable outcomes and taking money to promote the drugs they were studying.