By MATTHEW PERRONE and BEN WIEDER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY

For more than a decade, members of a little-known group called the Pain Care Forum have blanketed Washington with messages touting prescription painkillers’ vital role in the lives of millions of Americans, creating an echo chamber that has quietly derailed efforts to curb U.S. consumption of the drugs, which accounts for two-thirds of the world’s usage.

In 2012, drugmakers and their affiliates in the forum sent a letter to U.S. senators promoting a hearing about an influential report on a “crisis of epidemic proportions”: pain in America. Few knew the report stemmed from legislation drafted and pushed by forum members and that their experts had helped author it. The report estimated more than 100 million Americans — roughly 40 percent of adults — suffered from chronic pain, an eye-popping statistic that some researchers call deeply problematic.

The letter made no reference to another health issue that had been declared an epidemic by federal authorities: drug overdoses tied to prescription painkillers. Deaths linked to addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet had increased more than fourfold since 1999, accounting for more fatal overdoses in 2012 than heroin and cocaine combined.

An investigation by The Associated Press and The Center for Public Integrity reveals that similar feedback loops of information and influence play out regularly in the nation’s capital, fueled by money and talking points from the Pain Care Forum, a loose coalition of drugmakers, trade groups and dozens of nonprofits supported by industry funding that has flown under the radar until now.

Hundreds of internal documents shed new light on how drugmakers and their allies shaped the national response to the ongoing wave of prescription opioid abuse, which has claimed the lives of roughly 165,000 Americans since 2000, according to federal estimates.

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2016-09-20T09:51:51+00:00