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Major pain-advocacy group dissolves

The American Pain Foundation abruptly closes its doors on the heels of a government investigation into the epidemic of painkiller abuse.

Kai Ryssdal: The American Pain Foundation put something of a cryptic note on its website last night. Due to "irreparable economic circumstances," the foundation was shutting down. Like right away.

It had claimed to be the biggest advocacy group for pain patients in this country, which is itself a pretty big group. Prescriptions for painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin have quadrupled in the past decade. So, why the shutdown?

From the Marketplace Health Desk at WHYY, Gregory Warner reports a Senate investigation into painkiller abuse might be to blame.


Gregory Warner: Say I needed some strong painkillers but I was worried about getting addicted. I might have Googled the website of the American Pain Foundation, where I would have learned that:

Andrew Kolodny: Painkillers are not addictive, it’s just that there are some people who are meant to become addicts. And if you could just keep the pills from the people who are meant to become addicts you have nothing to worry about.

Andrew Kolodny is a psychiatrist and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. He says this advice on the Foundation’s website came straight from drug companies. So did 90 percent of its $5 million budget.

Kolodny: It’s always at the very end and in very small print. This material was made possible with a grant from.

Yesterday, the Senate launched a probe into those relationships between companies that make painkillers, the groups that advocate for pain patients, and the groups that lobby and set prescribing guidelines. I made several attempts to reach the American Pain Foundation. The senators accused it of feeding misleading information to the public, though at least the Pain Foundation revealed its funders.

David Rothman a professor of social medicine at Columbia University found in a study that only 25 percent of health advocacy groups -- from breast cancer to epilepsy and mental illness -- posted their ties to the drug industry.

David Rothman: And if the patient is believing that the source of the information is clean? You’ve got a problem.

Right now, a lot of pain patients feel like they’ve got the problem. The Pain Foundation’s Facebook page was crammed with comments from people who say they lost a community where they felt understood.

In Philadelphia, I’m Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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