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CDC and Opioids. Conflict? What Conflict?

2015-10-14 |

Much debate over the manner in which the CDC handled conflicts of interests with its opioid guideline development team.

And there’s going to be a lot more.

The Annals of Internal Medicine has just published its Principles for Disclosure of Interests and Management of Conflicts in Guidelines.

In the very first paragraph, the guidelines warn against …

 "Intellectual COIs, including attachment to ideas or academic activities that create the potential for an attachment to a specific point of view." Specific examples of this are listed as, “community standing,” “personal convictions or positions,” leadership or board committee memberships” and, “Leadership or board, or committee memberships.”

And who appears on the CDC’s Core Expert Group? Jane Ballantyne.

Ballantyne last year was named President of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), a controversial organization that has lobbied Congress and criticized the Food and Drug Administration for not doing more to limit opioid prescribing. And in her conflict disclosure (see page 39 of the CDC document), she discloses her services as a paid consultant to Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll – the same law firm referenced by the New York Times as shopping around opioid litigation – and having guidelines from the CDC that recommend restrictions in opioid prescribing could certainly be advantageous to such an endeavor.

As Pain News Network has reported, “The CDC and PROP appear to have a close working relationship — a link to PROP literature recommending “cautious, evidence-based opioid prescribing” can be found — unedited — on the CDC’s website.

According to Bob Twillman, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pain Management (one of the stakeholder groups that will be consulted by the CDC):

Clearly, this is PROP’s way of getting what FDA didn’t give them when they advocated for an ER/LA opioid label change. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this sets a 90 mg MED dose limit, when PROP advocated for a 100 mg MED dose limit in their Citizen Petition to the FDA. That PROP’s president and one vice-president are part of the core expert group; their executive director and a board member are part of the stakeholder review group; and another board member is one of the three who will help edit the guidelines after the stakeholders report, all is not a coincidence, and clearly puts their fingerprints all over this guideline. But, of course, no one is supposed to know that.

On every count the CDC fails the test of intellectual conflict of interest. According to the CDC, they agency “aimed to minimize conflict of interest, enhance objective assessment of the evidence, and reduce bias.” Well, they may have aimed – but they missed badly. The members of this group do not represent a broad spectrum of thought on opioids. To put it nicely, the issue of normative bias needs to discussed –loudly and openly.

The complete guidelines from the Annals of Internal Medicine can be found here. It should be mandatory reading at the CDC.