Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles with protest messages on them outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Connecticut on Aug. 17, 2018.Jessica Hill / AP file
Two members of Congress accused the World Health Organization on Wednesday of helping Purdue Pharma use the same “propaganda campaign” that fueled the opioid epidemic in the United States to expand drug sales internationally.
In a 38-page report titled “Corrupting Influence, Purdue & the Who,”Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., charged that the WHO has published guidelines for opioid use that parrot Purdue’s claims “that dependence occurs in less than 1 percent of patients, despite no scientific evidence supporting this claim.”
“We believe the similarities between their propaganda campaign in the U.S. and the confusion and deception they have spread through international publications are not a coincidence,” the report states. “We are highly troubled that after igniting the opioid epidemic that cost the United States 50,000 lives in 2017 alone and tens of billions of dollars annually, Purdue is deliberately using the same playbook on an international scale.”
Clark and Rogers called on the WHO to “no longer allow the same companies and the same people who recklessly chose profits over human lives in the United States to inflict the opioid crisis on the rest of the world.”
WHO is an agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health and is based in Switzerland.
“We have received the most recent letter from Congress and are reviewing it point by point,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier wrote in an email after NBC News reached out for a response.
Purdue Pharma spokesman Bob Josephson responded in a statement when NBC News reached out for comment.
“Purdue strongly denies the claims in today’s congressional report, which seeks to vilify the company through baseless allegations,” the statement reads. “Purdue Pharma LP is solely based in the United States with no international operations. The company has never violated any applicable rules or guidelines and no formal complaint or enforcement activity has resulted from Purdue’s financial support or relationship with any third party.”
The report from Clark and Rogers appeared a year after they wrote to Margaret Chan, the WHO’s former director general, and urged her to keep an eye on Purdue Pharma, whose best known product is the powerful painkiller OxyContin, and its network of foreign affiliates, Mundipharma.
“The greed and recklessness of one company and its partners helped spark a public health crisis in the United States,” they wrote.
In particular, Clark and Rogers warned that Mundipharma was engaging in “deceptive and dangerous practices.”
Purdue, in a statement, said it is an “industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology.”
Mundipharma said in a statement that the company continues “to take active preventative measures.”
But Clark and Rogers say they never got a response from the WHO.
“When the WHO failed to respond to the letter, we began to question why they would remain silent about such a significant and devastating public health epidemic,” they wrote in the report. “The answers we found are deeply disturbing.”
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