The mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation

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The opioid holocaust continues to worsen in the U.S. as overdose rates have reached epidemic proportions. Half a million Americans have died from drug overdose over the past 15 years, the majority from opioids.

Every day, an estimated 78 more people die from opioid overdose. Many more are likely dying from other opioid-related causes, such as violence, suicide, disease and accidents. The costs to society and levels of human suffering caused by these drugs are immeasurable.

Opioid uses and abuses

Opium and chemically similar substances have predictable effects on humans. These substances have been used for centuries both as weapons of war and as medicine. The highly concentrated formulations used today are very powerful whether they’re used as weapons or as painkillers.

Opioids are safe and effective painkillers in medical crises to ease terminal pain or treat severe short-term pain, such as in the initial recovery period after major surgery or trauma. They are not useful to treat chronic pain because tolerance develops over time, although the amount of time it takes varies.

Tolerance is the gradual decrease in opioid efficacy despite progressively higher dosing. After prolonged usage, opioids stop controlling pain despite dangerously high dosing.

At this point, the drug cannot be discontinued without extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and overwhelming cravings for the drug. For this reason, the very nature of opioids puts those who take them for chronic pain vulnerable to addiction, no matter how they are prescribed, formulated, packaged or marketed.

The current opioid problem in the U.S. today is unique in the sense that much of it originated from using painkillers for indications other than terminal or short-term severe pain.

When tolerance develops, prescription drug costs become too high and the ability to obtain valid prescriptions becomes progressively more difficult.

Patients then try to stop taking the drugs and realize they have become physically addicted. The terrible symptoms caused by opioid withdrawal force patients to turn to heroin, which is apparently much cheaper and easier to obtain.

Investigating the source of the problem

An investigation was launched back in 2012 to determine the nature of the relationship between medical organizations setting guidelines for prescribing opioids and the manufacturers who sell them.

The members of the Senate Finance Committee initiating the investigation included Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who astutely pointed out the disturbing epidemic and wanted to understand who was behind it.

Congressional investigators spent many months collecting and analyzing material to determine whether non-profit medical organizations were receiving money from pharmaceutical companies to promote misleading information about the risks and benefits of opioids.

Inquiries were directed at the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Center for Practical Bioethics, the American Pain Foundation, the American Pain Society, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the Wisconsin Pain and Policy Study Group, and the Federation of State Medical Boards. The drug companies investigated included Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.

Hiding the outcome of the investigation

Sens. Baucus and Grassley left the Senate Finance Committee before the investigation report was released. They were replaced by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who still have not released the report despite pressure from public health advocacy groups. In September 2015, Sens. Hatch and Wyden were formally petitioned by Fed Up, a coalition aimed at ending the opioid epidemic. In the letter, the coalition emphasized the importance of releasing the report not only as a matter of record, but because of the following reasons:

  • The same companies and groups investigated continued to market opioids aggressively and irresponsibly.

  • The companies and groups continued to blocking federal and state interventions to reduce overprescribing.

  • Some of the individuals named in the investigation continued to work as advisors to federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

Sadly, the petition was denied and the report remains sealed. This mysterious behavior by the government is leading to even greater speculation about who is responsible for this holocaust and why no one is held accountable for all the deaths so far. Certainly, no one need ask why it is allowed to continue because that answer is obvious — money.

Endangering the future

In the meantime, the very future of America is literally in jeopardy, as families are decimated and children placed at risk. Even the unborn are in danger. In addition to opioid addiction and related deaths affecting their parents, children are also succumbing to opioids themselves through accidental poisoning. In addition, a dramatic increase in opioid use among pregnant women has resulted in a growing epidemic of babies born addicted, beginning their lives suffering through neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The Declaration of Independence details the inalienable rights — including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — endowed by their Creator to all human beings whom governments are created to protect.

When people are misled into taking dangerous medication by their equally misled prescribing health care providers under pressure from secretive sources, all inalienable rights are put in jeopardy.

When the government hides the truth from the people, it does not live up to the purpose for which it was created and leaves people to assume something nefarious is behind the cover-up. It’s time to release the report.

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, a Joint Commission-accredited behavioral health treatment provider with locations throughout the United States. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at, visit us at, Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow us on Twitter.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 
Tags Chuck Grassley Max Baucus Opioid Orrin Hatch painkillers Ron Wyden

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