The American Pain Foundation (APF) describes itself as an advocacy organization for patient pain relief. The non-profit foundation promotes the message that the threat of addiction to prescription painkillers has been exaggerated and pain medication is underused. A non-profit news organization named ProPublica has investigated the American Pain Foundation and found that almost 90% of the group’s $5 million in funding in 2010 came from pharmaceutical companies. One of these companies is Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin.
The views promoted by APF are in contrast to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than 15,000 people die each year from overdoses of opioid painkillers like OxyContin. The CDC has called the painkiller situation an epidemic and a growing group of experts question the effectiveness of these drugs.
Although Will Rowe, chief executive of the APF, has stated that the chief interest of the group is in helping people who are affected by pain, several board members have financial ties to drug manufacturers. The foundation has a history of lobbying against state and federal legislation to regulate opioid use, arguing that pain is undertreated in the U.S. The APF has also sided with and assisted drug makers that have been the target of lawsuits. In 2001, the organization provided information to help block a class action suit against Purdue Pharma brought by patients in Ohio who were addicted to OxyContin.
The foundation uses a variety of websites and online publications to spread its message. ProPublica reporters reviewed the foundation’s patient guides and found that they downplay the risks associated with opioids while extolling the benefits of painkiller medication. This is a typical example from the organization’s website: “With proper pain management, your overall health, well-being and quality of life will improve. Your mind and body will be less stressed. You’ll be able to sleep better and enjoy relationships with friends and family.”
On a website called PainSAFE.org, the APF says this about opioids: “Every medication has risks, and so does the decision not to treat pain… In general, opioids are safe and effective when used as directed.” According to the APF, the side effects of opioids are minor and pass within a few days. Far more risks are described for over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, head of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, was quoted by ProPublica as stating that many politicians and policymakers are unaware of the ties between the American Pain Foundation and the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Kolodny characterizes the foundation as a “front for opioid manufacturers.”
In 2010, $8.5 billion in narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet were prescribed in the U.S. About $3 billion of this amount when for OxyContin alone. According to Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, “Right now, the system is awash in opioids, dangerous drugs that get people hooked and keep them hooked.”