Van Jones, Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy opioid advocacy paid by drug maker

money-pillsYou may recall that Van Jones, Patrick Kennedy and Newt Gingrich have started engaging in advocacy around the opioid epidemic.

Here’s what I said at the time:

You may have heard that the unlikely crew of Newt Gingrich, Patrick Kennedy & Van Jones have taken interest in addressing the opioid crisis. More allies is a great thing.

I then observed that:

  • they strongly advocated medication assisted treatment (buprenorphine in particular) as the standard of care,
  • they conflated recovery with access to MAT,
  • it was great that they provided sources, so we could look at their evidence.

I examined the evidence and found it didn’t speak to the goals of most families and people with addiction.

Turns out, I was being pretty naive to think of them as altruistic allies.

I thought these influential men had a common concern about a national crisis and decided to come together to use their power and influence to advocate for solutions. I disagreed with the emphasis of there solutions, but chalked that up to reasonable people disagreeing.

I looks like I assumed too much.

A new article in STAT describes them as paid advisers to the group and adds the following:

But the nonprofit group refuses to answer a simple question: Who is funding the campaign?

Gingrich told STAT he had no idea who was supporting Advocates for Opioid Recovery, which was founded last year. Kennedy declined to be interviewed, as did Van Jones, the CNN commentator and former Obama aide who is another paid adviser. Jones has coauthored opinion pieces with the other two men and promoted the advocacy group on social media.

Gingrich described Kennedy as the driving force and the article reports the following:

Kennedy has close ties to treatment centers that could benefit from wider use of the medications in opioid treatment and broader payment for the treatment by insurers. Several treatment centers that make use of medication-assisted treatment are sponsors of the Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit he founded to increase access to treatment for people suffering from mental illness and addiction and promoting research in the area.

One of those organizations is CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers, where Kennedy has also been a board member since 2015. The organization paid $750,000 last year to settle government allegations that it was improperly prescribing Suboxone, one of the class of medications advocated by Kennedy and the other paid advisers to Advocates for Opioid Recovery.

This begs all sorts of questions, right?

A spokesman for Advocates for Opioid Recovery declined to say how much the men are paid. He said the organization would not disclose information on who is funding it other than it is “a variety of organizations and people” that want to be anonymous. The spokesman, Peter Collins, declined to answer whether or not any of the funding is coming from manufacturers or suppliers of the medications, or facilities that base their treatment model on use of the drugs.

And, no one is willing to talk about it.

However, they’ve been all over TV and print media:

The three men, in opinion pieces and interviews, have called for increasing the number of patients a doctor can treat with the medicines as well as boosting government funding and insurance coverage for medication-assisted treatment.

STAT reports that the directors all have ties to Kennedy and the executive director is a former Gingrich staffer. And, the group is operated from a public relations firm.

Will we ever know who funds their group?

disclosure by Raul P

disclosure by Raul P

The STAT story looked like it was going to leave us with unanswered questions, but they came through in another story.

The answer, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is Braeburn Pharmaceuticals Inc. The private company, based in Princeton, N.J., won approval last year to market an implant that continuously dispenses the opioid addiction medicine buprenorphine.

Braeburn is the maker of Probuphine.

As my previous post on Probuphine indicated, STAT reports:

. . . some addiction experts have expressed skepticism that the Braeburn implant will be an effective treatment option. There are alternative opioid-addiction treatments that do not rely on medication, including abstinence-based and behavioral therapy programs.

Judge for yourself

Earlier this week, I posted an article from the Joint Commission that reviewed their role in the opioid crisis and attempted to identify lessons to be learned.

One of the lessons was “carefully review the primary literature on issues of critical importance and do not simply repeat the claims of experts in previous articles“.

 Well, I reviewed the evidence for Gingrich’s, Jones’ and Kennedy’s claims. You can see that, with links to sources, here.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Van Jones, Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy opioid advocacy paid by drug maker

  1. Oh, oh. Conflict of interests seemingly not declared. Not good.

    Now, when you also add in the issues of what people and their families want from treatment, how good MAT is at helping them achieve those goals and the pretty ropey retention rates with buprenorphine, it’s all beginning to look like fake news, if I can use a topical term from your side of the pond.

  2. Thanks for your tireless dedication, Jason. I always appreciate your work.

  3. NAN REYNOLDS

    Thank heaven for your tireless reporting on this issue. Press on.