Opponents of cannabis legalization are turning to academics with impressive resumes and titles to push the line that cannabis — the drug with not a single known case of deadly overdose — is unsafe and dangerous. Vice has dug into the open secret of conflict of interest and financial disclosures and found that many of these critics have strong ties to Big Pharma.
Starting in the late 80s and into the 1990s, industry-funded nonprofits and advocacy groups pushed the message that opioid painkillers were safe and relatively free of side effects. This incestous relationship between researchers and Big Pharma is no secret. A 2011 Journal Sentinel investigation found the University of Wisconsin Pain & Policy Group took millions in funds from companies like Purdue and Cephalon.
Purdue, the makers of Oxycontin (oxycodone), paid out $634 million for misrepresenting Oxycontin as a “safe” opioid — hard to abuse and with no withdrawals, both lies. They engaged in an organized campaign to make doctors more comfortable prescribing powerful painkillers.
Cephalon, makers of the Actiq (fentanyl) a powerful opioid lollipop, pushed physicians to prescribe Actiq off label for anything from migraines to mild injuries, including for non-opioid tolerant people who would have been put at severe risk from taking such strong drugs. Cephalon settled for $425 million.
Today, opioid painkillers kill more than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the CDC. Nearly 12 million Americans are using them recreationally and it costs $72 billion each year in direct healthcare costs. Police and family are asked to carry around lifesaving drugs in case of opioid overdoses. Meanwhile, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that legalizing cannabis led to a 25% reduction in opioid overdoses.
We have a problem in our public dialogue today that these “experts” are often paid consultants or employees of companies with big stakes in the debate. However, when they appear in op-eds, or as talking heads on the news, there’s no big “OH BTW, THIS GUY IS IN BED WITH PFIZER” disclaimer despite the fact that the information is easily found.
Full disclosure: I have not received a dime from Big Pharma nor own or manage any shares in the companies involved, the selfish bastards.