CDC’s Secrecy, Non-Disclosure, and Bias

The ‘Cone of Silence’ Returns to CDC — Pain News Network – August 04, 2016 – By Pat Anson, Editor

This article shows how the CDC’s reprehensible behavior has been conducted in secrecy, was initiated by PROP, and is unforgivably biased.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew a lot of criticism last year for its secrecy and lack of transparency while drafting its controversial opioid prescribing guidelines.

But it was only when the agency was accused of bias, blatant violations of federal law, and a Congressional investigation was launched that CDC appointed a new expert panel to review the guidelines — which were released in March essentially unchanged from the draft version.

The CDC apparently didn’t learn much from the experience.  

This summer the agency has been holding a series of training webinars to educate healthcare providers about the guidelines — and it invited as speakers some of the very same people who were removed from the first expert panel because they were perceived as being too biased.  

For example, this week’s webinar on the benefits and harms of opioid therapy was led by Jane Ballantyne, MD, who is president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), and Mark Sullivan, MD, who is a PROP board member.  

PROP has lobbied the federal government for years to reduce opioid prescribing.

Last year Sullivan and Ballantyne co-authored a controversial article in the New England Journal of Medicine that claimed reducing pain intensity should not be the primary goal of doctors when treating chronic pain. They believe that other quality of life issues, such as better sleep, mood and physical function, are more important.

“A successful taper makes a patient much better able to function. And generally their experience is the pain level either doesn’t change or is actually improved,” she said.

I would certainly like to speak to the people she claims had less pain after giving up opioids. I and other pain patients have just the opposite experience.

Perhaps the individuals she is referring to aren’t legitimate pain, but are truly just scammers and drug abusers.

Both Sullivan and Ballantyne are employed as professors at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which according to a webinar disclaimer “received a contract payment” from the CDC.

Ballantyne, Sullivan and Tauben’s involvement with PROP are not disclosed in the disclaimer and some of their conflict of interest statements also appear incomplete.

The CDC disclaimer also fails to mention that the University of Washington Medical Center received over $17.2 million last year for research, consulting, and grants from dozens of drug and medical device companies, many of which are involved in the field of pain management and are directly impacted by the CDC guidelines

Ballantyne, Sullivan and other professors at the university played key roles in the development of opioid regulations in the state of Washington, which has some of the toughest prescribing laws in the nation.

Still, the CDC maintains that its planners reviewed the webinar content “to ensure there is no bias.”

This agency is clearly operating on the assumption that whatever it says must be taken as true because it is coming from the federal government. Sadly, this gives these absurd statements much more weight than they warrant.

Unanswered Questions

How much is the CDC paying the University of Washington and PROP activists to participate in its opioid webinars?

Why is only one side of the opioid debate being offered by a federal health agency? We posed those questions to the CDC and have yet to get an answer.

We’ve also been unable to learn from CDC how much the agency is paying a Seattle-based marketing firm called PRR, which is conducting a research and communications analysis about the impact of the prescribing guidelines. PRR handles marketing, research and public relations for dozens of government agencies.

A source at PRR told Pain News Network that what the CDC really wants to know is why its opioid guidelines were so poorly received by the pain community and to find out “where they’ve gone wrong.”

There are so many comments on so many websites from pain patients who explain exactly where the CDC has gone wrong – and the CDC can read those for free, without spending more taxpayer money.

“They’ve heard a lot of outrage about this, specifically from Pain News Network’s survey asking people with chronic pain how they felt about this.

That survey by PNN and the International Pain Foundation was conducted last fall, months before the CDC guidelines were finalized and released. Even then, many pain patients realized how disastrous the guidelines would be for them.

Nearly 90% of the 2,200 respondents worried

  • that they would be unable to obtain opioid pain medication
  • that doctors would prescribe fewer opioids or none at all
  • predicted the guidelines would have a chilling effect on physicians
  • that use of heroin and other illegal drugs would increase;
  • that there would be more suicides in the pain community.

Virtually all of those predictions have come true, with many patients complaining they are being weaned or taken off opioids, despite years of taking the medications safely.

Most disturbing of all are anecdotal reports of patients committing suicide because they are unable to obtain pain medication.

All of this is happening in plain sight, as the CDC conducts biased webinars and pays for marketing studies to figure out “where they’ve gone wrong” — and while the agency refuses to acknowledge publicly that its guidelines have been harmful to patients and are being implemented far too widely.   

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