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Did Researchers Who Seek to Relieve Pain Contribute to the Opioid Epidemic?

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Lawsuits allege that pain research associations like the American Pain Society contributed to the opioid crisis.

It’s been front-page news lately that the manufacturers of opioid painkillers—companies such as Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals—are facing lawsuits across the nation. States, cities, and tribes are suing companies for their alleged role in igniting America’s opioid addiction epidemic. What folks may not know, however, is that it’s not just drug companies: Pain research associations are also being sued. That’s led to upheaval in the field that some say is deserved—while others worry the lawsuits will slow the very research that many hope will help curb addiction.

“I think there’ll be less advocacy for patients, less advocacy for research, less advocacy for this specialty in general,” says Edward Michna, a pain specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a former board member of the American Pain Society, a professional group for pain researchers and clinicians. Michna, like other American Pain Society members I spoke to, noted that pain researchers are searching for non-addictive painkillers that could replace opioids and ways of treating pain that rely less on drugs. The society helps them share their ideas and improve their research.

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