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Bipartisan Lawmakers Accuse U.N. Agency of Helping Purdue Pharma Expand Opioid Use Around the World

Should Congress investigate Purdue Pharma's efforts to expand globally & influence the WHO?

by Countable | 5.24.19

This content leverages data from USAFacts, a non-profit that visualizes governmental data. You can learn more on its website, Facebook, and Twitter.


A bipartisan pair of lawmakers released a report on Wednesday alleging that the World Health Organization (WHO) has been enabling Purdue Pharmaceutical in a “propaganda campaign” aimed at promoting opioid sales around the world that was similar to the drug company’s actions in the U.S. The WHO is a United Nations agency tasked with leading global public health efforts.

The 38-page report was authored by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Hal Rogers (R-KY), and alleges that the WHO ignored warnings from lawmakers in 2017 that Purdue was “using the same fraudulent marketing tactics that instigated the opioid crisis in the United States” to expand its sales overseas.

The lawmakers point to two WHO guidance documents for the administration of controlled medicines which said opioids “are known to be safe and there is no need to fear accidental death and dependence” in addition to claiming there is no maximum dosage of strong opioids ― a central feature of Purdue’s marketing strategy. The WHO's claims counter findings from U.S. public health agencies that “fatal overdoses skyrocket in adult patients who are prescribed above 90 morphone milligram equivalens (MME) per day.”

The opioid addiction crisis in the U.S. has continued in recent years despite efforts to reduce the rate of opioid prescription and advance alternatives for pain management. These charts from USAFacts show recent trends in the opioid prescription rate, admissions to public treatment facilities for opioids (by type), and fatal overdoses from opioids versus non-opioids.

The executive summary of the report produced by Reps. Clark & Rogers concludes:

Based on the course of events that has taken place in the U.S. over the past 20 years, if the recommendations in these WHO guidelines are followed, there is a significant risk of sparking a worldwide public health crisis... As we are limited to publicly available information, it is possible that there may be more to uncover regarding Purdue and the Sackler family's efforts to expand internationally."

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / sdominick)

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