January 09, 2018

During HELP Committee Hearing, Senator Hassan Questions Award-Winning Author and Reporter Sam Quinones on Pharmaceutical Industry’s Role Contributing to the Opioid Crisis

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Click here for footage of the Senator’s question. 

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan questioned Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic,” about the role that the pharmaceutical industry has played in contributing to the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid crisis during a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing today.

In questioning Mr. Quinones, Senator Hassan said, “In your book, you chronicle the so-called ‘Porter and Jick’ letter – which was a 1980 letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine that was completely misinterpreted and used by prescription opioid makers to claim that their products are ‘virtually non-addictive.’ Doctors also wrongly relied on the letter as scientific evidence that addiction is rare when using opioids. It’s astounding that one paragraph jotted down in 1980 helped fuel the horrible epidemic that we are seeing today.”  

“Your book outlines how drug companies have played a big role here, and how some of them have misled patients, providers and public officials about the addictive nature of their products.” Senator Hassan asked “Can you give us a brief overview of the role of the pharmaceutical industry in creating the misconceptions about the Porter and Jick letter?”

“I think evidence shows it was pivotal in all this,” Mr. Quinones answered. He added, “I don’t believe that they would have had the megaphone that they came to have were it not for a lot of the money and the funding and the use of their – the selective use of – their information by pharmaceutical companies. I think their money and influence was what really changed the tide.”

As part of her efforts to combat the opioid crisis, hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable, and help strengthen law enforcement’s ability to go after reckless opioid distributors, Senator Hassan spoke with 60 Minutes and The Washington Post for their joint investigation into the opioid epidemic. The stories were a follow-up to an earlier report examining the opioid epidemic and the 2016 law that Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel said has restricted the ability of the DEA to crack down on opioid distributors suspected of wrongdoing. The Senator helped introduce legislation to repeal the 2016 law and to slow the revolving door between the pharmaceutical industry and federal agencies.

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