Chronic Pain Health — 08 May 2012

The American Pain Foundation, a non-profit organization that came under fire for its ties to the pharmaceutical industry, has abruptly ceased operations.

“With deep regret and heavy hearts, we sadly inform you that due to irreparable economic circumstances, APF must cease to exist, effective immediately,” the foundation said in a brief statement on its website. “The Board and staff have worked tirelessly over many months to address a significant gap between available financial resources and funds needed to remain operational. Unfortunately, the economic situation has not changed in any meaningful way, despite our best efforts.”

The statement said the foundation’s board of directors voted to dissolve the organization on May 3. The decision wasn’t disclosed publicly until May 8, the same day the foundation was sent a letter from the U.S. Senate Finance Committee inquiring about its ties to drug makers.

The committee is investigating financial ties between producers of prescription painkillers and pain experts, patient advocacy groups and organizations that set prescription guidelines for doctors.

“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become epidemic and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Charles Grassley said in a statement.

The American Pain Foundation was founded in 1997 as an independent national advocacy organization for people living in pain. But critics say the Baltimore based foundation was too often a front for the pharmaceutical industry, from which it obtained most of its funding. In 2010, the foundation collected nearly 90 percent of its $5 million funding from the drug and medical device industry.

In a highly critical series of stories last year, ProPublica called the APF “The Champion of Painkillers” and detailed how the organization’s lobbying and education campaigns closely mirrored those of the industry. Some of the foundation’s board members also had extensive ties to drug makers.

“Although the foundation maintains it is sticking up for the needs of millions of suffering patients, records and interviews show that it favors those who want to preserve access to the drugs over those who worry about their risks,” ProPublica reported. “The foundation’s guides for patients, journalists and policymakers play down the risks associated with opioids and exaggerate their benefits.”

The APF’s patient guide, which is no longer posted on its website, was paid for by four companies, according to ProPublica. The guide discussed several treatment options for pain, warning of the risks of over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, while stating that the side effects of opioids are minor and go away “after a few days.” The underuse of opioids, the guide said, “has been responsible for much unnecessary suffering.”

In the statement announcing the end of organization, the APF said it would transfer its educational material and support programs to other organizations “so that you may continue to benefit from the value these programs have provided to thousands of individuals and families across the country.”

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Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

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