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Under Pressure From Opioid Lawsuits, One Pain Research Society Considers Bankruptcy

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Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display.

After being named in lawsuits blaming the pharmaceutical industry for the United States’ opioid addiction epidemic, the American Pain Society is considering bankruptcy.

The American Pain Society isn’t a pharma company. It’s a professional group for scientists who study, and clinicians who treat, chronic pain. But research societies are among the lesser-known targets of opioid litigation across the country; in one filing I found, the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the American Geriatrics Society are also named as defendants, alongside opioid manufacturers, such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson. All these societies have taken grants from opioid manufacturers, and lawyers for the plaintiffs say that, in return, they “deceptively” encouraged doctors to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, thus acting as “front groups” for the manufacturers’ desired policies. The American Pain Society, in particular, invented the controversial idea of pain as the “fifth vital sign” of people’s health. The concept helped lead to rampant opioid over-prescribing, the lawsuit argues.

“We have always been at arms’-length from pharmaceutical companies with respect to our guidelines and our policies,” American Pain Society President Bill Maixner told me in April. “Never have we had the intention of interacting with manufacturers in this way.” The spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pain Medicine didn’t return my requests for comment, while a spokesman for the American Geriatrics Society referred me to existing court filings. The filings I found didn’t respond directly to the plaintiffs’ claims; instead, they were mostly motions to delay the suits until a judge could decide whether they should be combined with other opioid suits pending across the country.

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