Did the Pharmaceutical Industry Influence WHO’s Pain Treatment Guidelines?

A Congressional report alleges that the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) treatment guidelines for pain were directly influenced by opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

The report, stemming from an investigation by Reps. Katherine M. Clark (D-MA) and Hal Rogers (R-KY), claims that two WHO guidelines (one for adults and one for children) drew directly from Purdue’s opioid-marketing strategy.

Before 1996, the agency advised a three-step system for pain relief, starting with a non-narcotic, moving to a narcotic such as codeine for mild pain, then to a potent opioid for severe pain. In a 2012 document on treating pain in children, the WHO guidelines recommended a two-step plan: the first a non-narcotic, and the second a narcotic. Budgeting documents from 1996 and 2001 obtained from Purdue, which manufactures the long-acting narcotic drug OxyContin, appear to illustrate how the pharmaceutical company pushed the WHO to endorse earlier use of drugs such as OxyContin.

“The web of influence we uncovered, combined with the WHO’s recommendations, paints a picture of a public health organization that has been manipulated by the opioid industry,” according to the report, which also charges Purdue and the WHO with playing down the risk of addition to opioids. Purdue strongly denies the claims in the report.

Rep. Clark is calling for the guidelines to be rescinded.

Source: The Washington Post, May 22, 2019.