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  • Tablets of opioid-based hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017.

    Tablets of opioid-based hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 May 2019

Dozens of U.S. states have lawsuits pending against Purdue.

Highly-addictive opioid-maker Purdue Pharma has influenced the content of the World Health Policies in order to make more profits in its sales of opioids, according to a congressional report released on Thursday and reported by Ars Tecnica.

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"The web of influence we uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been manipulated by the opioid industry," said one of the report's author, representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), in a statement.

"The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility, and as a result, a trusted public health organization is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic," she added.

The report, commissioned in 2017 after representatives alerted the Congress, found two problematic guidance documents issued by the global organization in 2011 and in 2012: one affirming that opioids caused dependence in less than 1 percent of the case - an estimate that was already contested then - and a second one dismissing doctors' "opiophobia", affirming that there was no maximum doasge recommended for children, despite scientific literature already contesting such statement.

"It is difficult to imagine that the WHO could have been unaware that their claim was widely disputed," the report said. "Moreover, it seems impossible that the agency remains unaware of the true risk of substance-use disorder today. Yet [the guidance] remains available to the public."

Purdue faces roughly 2,000 lawsuits accusing the Stamford, Connecticut-based company, and increasingly the Sacklers, of aggressively marketing prescription opioids while misleading prescribers and consumers about risks from their prolonged use.

U.S. states, counties and cities are seeking billions of dollars in damages to address harm from opioids. Nearly 400,000 people have died after overdosing on opioids between 1999 and 2017, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half the deaths resulted from prescription painkillers.

Purdue has denied so far it contributed to the U.S. opioid crisis, pointing to U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals of labels for the company's drugs that carried warnings about risk and abuse associated with treating pain. Purdue and its family owners argue that heroin and fentanyl are currently more significant culprits in the opioid epidemic.

However, health experts have said many people turn to those drugs after first getting hooked on prescription painkillers.

In March, Purdue and the Sackler family reached a US$270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma, which on Tuesday is set to take two other drugmakers to trial over claims they also helped fuel the opioid epidemic.

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