Washington (May 24, 2018) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today questioned the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and several independent accreditation agencies about their role in ensuring that opioid education courses taken by licensed health care professionals are not unduly influenced by opioid drug manufacturers and reflect current scientific and medical information. According to a recent investigation, many of the prescribers’ courses do not conform to the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opioid prescribing guidelines and do not reflect the most recent science on the treatment of chronic pain or the inherently addictive nature of these drugs.  


I am concerned that the industry’s profit motives may be improperly influencing the education that prescribers receive and endangering countless American lives,” writes Senator Markey. “Over-prescribing of opioids is a leading cause of the opioid abuse epidemic that the country is experiencing. I believe that unbiased and scientifically sound instruction will help encourage responsible prescribing practices.”


A copy of the letters can be found HERE. Letters were sent to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the Commission for Continuing Education Provider Recognition, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, the American Nurses Association, and the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.


Health professionals depend on continuing education courses for the most current information and professional education on a wide range of medical issues. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) risk management program, known as REMS, opioid manufacturers are required to provide funding for continuing education activities. Aside from the FDA loosely outlining these opioid-prescriber courses, there is little quality control over their content. The confluence of industry-funded education and minimal government oversight leaves these classes rife for abuse. A recent investigation by Mother Jones into these courses found that opioid manufacturers may be using these continuing education courses to promote their products, at the expense of the public’s health. 


In the letters to both the Secretary of HHS and the independent course accreditation groups, Senator Markey asks for information about the oversight of opioid related courses and about the role opioid manufacturers play in designing or promoting the education that prescribers receive. The questions include:

  • Have any agencies within HHS independently evaluated the content of pain management and substance abuse courses? If so, has any content raised concerns about its promotion of continued opioid use or conflict with current practice guidelines?  
  • Do you require that any courses on chronic pain management reflect information and recommendations provided in the CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain?
  • When you have evaluated the content of pain management and substance abuse courses for accreditation, or during your process of auditing, has any content raised concerns about its promotion of continued opioid use or conflict with current federal practice guidelines? 
  • Are there any penalties or actions you take when it’s found that a course provides misleading or incorrect information?