WHO retracts opioid guidance following concerns of pharmaceutical industry influence

Opioid pills spilling out of pill bottle

The World Health Organization (WHO) has retracted guidance on opioid use, following concerns raised in the United States that the guidance had been influenced by opioid manufacturers.

The two pieces of guidance that have been retracted are: ‘Ensuring balance in national policies on controlled substances: guidance for availability and accessibility of controlled medicine’, first published in 2011, and ‘WHO guidelines on the pharmacological treatment of persisting pain in children with medical illnesses’, published in 2012. 

In May 2019, two US politicians, Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers, published a report in which they claimed there was evidence that the two sets of guidance had been influenced by “major players in the opioid industry”. Following this report, the WHO ordered a review into the guidance.

A statement confirming the guidance retraction was published in the January 2020 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, although the statement was originally published on the WHO’s website on 20 June 2019.

In the statement, the WHO said that it takes concerns raised in 2019 “very seriously”, but said that the guidance was being discontinued “in light of new scientific evidence that has emerged since the time of their publication”. However, it added that the discontinuation would also “address any issues of conflicts of interest of the experts that have been raised”.

The statement added that WHO remains concerned about “very low access to medication for moderate and severe pain, particularly in low- and middle income countries”, but that the need for access should be balanced with awareness of the harm that can arise from misuse of pain medication.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, January 2020;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207579