Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family’s drug manufacturer connected to the national opioid crisis, has used its financial power to try to spread its sales worldwide. The company has corrupted the World Health Organization (WHO), according to the findings of a bipartisan Congressional report released in May. Purdue Pharma funding and influence brought about a 2011-12 re-write of WHO’s public-health best-practices guidelines, which were changed to contain “dangerously misleading and, in some instances, outright false claims about the safety and efficacy of prescription opioids.”
The over-dose epidemic began after Purdue Pharma promoted its opioid-based drugs to physicians and patients in the US in order to increase prescriptions and expand sales, despite the known risks of addiction and death among the population. The consequent plague of opioid-addiction enriched the Sacklers by billions of dollars and causes the deaths-by-overdosing of tens of thousands of Americans annually. It remains a public-health scourge, despite state and federal efforts to control it.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), in releasing the report with Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), said “The web of influence uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been corrupted by the opioid industry. The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility. As a result, a trusted public health organization, is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic.”
The WHO, headquartered in Switzerland, made no response to a 2017 letter of warning from Congress that Purdue Pharma was expanding its marketing of opioid-based drugs world-wide through “fraudulent” claims. Lawsuits have been filed by dozens of states in the US (including five new suits in May alone) against Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers, who deny any wrongdoing.
As a clinical social worker, do you work with addicted clients and their families? What has been your experience in dealing with opioid abuse? Has your state implemented programs to diminish the terrible loss of life? What advocacy are you engaged in?