UN WHO changes opioid guidelines

The WHO was accused of downplaying the addiction risks and overstate the benefits of opioids.
The WHO was accused of downplaying the addiction risks and overstate the benefits of opioids.

The World Health Organisation has notified US lawmakers it will discontinue two publications on prescribing opioid painkillers in response to damning allegations that the pharmaceutical industry influenced the reports.

The pledge to remove the guidelines comes a month after US Massachusetts Democrat Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, accused the WHO of being influenced by Purdue Pharma, the American manufacturer of OxyContin.

The US lawmakers' bipartisan report claimed the guidelines were crafted by organisations with financial ties to the company, which worked to downplay the addiction risks and overstate the benefits of opioids.

It warned of a "significant risk of sparking a worldwide health crisis" because of what they characterised as the drug company's undue influence on WHO guidelines.

"We are highly troubled that, after igniting the opioid epidemic that cost the United States 50,000 lives in 2017 alone and tens of billions of dollars annually, Purdue is deliberately using the same playbook on an international scale," Clark and Rogers wrote.

"Moreover, we are disturbed that the WHO, a trusted international agency, appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility."

Purdue has denied the allegations.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, wrote to Clark and Rogers on Wednesday, saying that the guidelines would be removed in "light of new scientific evidence that has emerged".

Australian Associated Press