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Controversial Nonprofit Funded By Drug Companies Moves Into Kentucky


As addition experts push for more treatment providers to offer medication-assisted drugs like methadone to help people get off opiods, a controversial national non-proft funded by makers of those drugs is setting up shop in Kentucky.

The Addiction Policy Forum coming to Kentucky has raised concerns about conflict of interest.

“We know that there are millions of families that are struggling with addiction and a lot of times they don’t know where to turn for accurate and useful information.”

That’s Mark O’Brien, the Addiction Policy Forum’s vice president of state affairs. The group has come under fire this year because of who funds it’s lobbying and advocacy work in Washington – drug companies that make drugs for medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Though MAT is currently touted as the one of the best ways to help people with opioid addiction stop long-term, the makers of these drugs stand to make a lot of money from their use.

And just as the Addiction Policy Forum is moving into Kentucky, last week the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that in part would expand access to MAT and appropriate money to do so. Another part will increase money for states to fund more Medicaid providers offering addiction treatment and increase reimbursement rates.

University of Kentucky health policy professor Glen Mays says the timing of the Addiction Policy Forum’s expansion efforts is suspect.

“Clearly the increased attention and the policy proposals at the federal level, they are potentially bringing in a lot more resources to fund access to treatment, which does create a market opportunity for manufacturers of pharmaceutical treatments of addiction.”

One of the original founders of the Addiction Policy Forum is a company called Alkermes, the maker of the medication-assisted treatment drug Vivitrol. As reported last year by NPR and Side Effects Public Media, a mental health advocate in Indiana helped write a bill to make MAT drugs other than Vivitrol harder to obtain. That same mental health advocate turned out to be a lobbyist for Alkermes, which legislators did not know.

Jennifer Stepp, the Addiction Policy Forum’s new Kentucky chair, says she understands the concerns about the involvement of pharmaceutical companies. But she says these companies have the funding, and she’s starting her work as chair with an open mind.

“Nothing gets resolved when everyone is treating each other as the enemy.”

Stepp plans to lobby in Frankfort as part of the Kentucky APF chapter. She says the group’s issues include adding syringe disposal boxes in public restrooms and making more treatment providers accept insurance to help patients pay for suboxone and other MAT drugs.

The Addiction Policy Forum has also set up a hotline and website for information on where to get treatment in Kentucky…but Kentucky already offers a similar service. Findhelpnowky.org is run by the state and financed through government funding; it was launched early this year.

The service is operated by the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky. Terry Bunn is the center director.

“I would like to emphasize that ours was funded by the CDC, and there is no conflict of interest. It is in collaboration with a number of state and governmental partners.”

She says no one from APF reached out to the center before the group set up its Kentucky chapter and website.

And when it comes to best practices, UK professor Glen Mays says it’ll take a collaborative approach to combat the opioid epidemic: where government, private industry and other partners work together.

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