AFP is Scrutinized for Being Funded by Opioid Drug Makers
Jessica Hulsey Nickel, president and CEO of the Addiction Policy Forum (APF), spoke at a House hearing last month during which Randy Anderson, a well-known addiction treatment and recovery advocate in Minneapolis, abruptly interrupted her, shouting, “I would like to know how much money the Addiction Policy Forum has received from the pharmaceutical industry. We’ve asked the question, and no one will tell us. I figured I’d fly here today and ask.” He hit the nail on the head, addressing the public’s concerns that the AFP is being funded by drug makers.
Committee aides immediately summoned police to remove Anderson from the hearing, while Nickel, who has been the target of Anderson’s protests, ignored the happenings and continued with her testimony about legislation to revamp federal laws regulating addiction treatment. Anderson was the only attendee to speak up in that session.
The AFP, a non-profit Nickel is backing, has been scrutinized for its high-profile advocacy work and its business ties with drug makers. As Anderson rightfully, if not at the appropriate time, pointed out, a large portion of the group’s funding comes from pharmaceutical companies, some of whose executives actually sit on its advisory board. The collaboration between the AFP and the pharmaceutical companies pegged for contributing to the opioid crisis has raised eyebrows.
Before last year, too, Nickel was working as an Alkermes lobbyist while heading the Addiction Policy Forum. From 2014 to 2017, she is listed by name in $760,000 worth of lobbying disclosures for work on behalf of Alkermes through a third-party consulting firm. Nickel has continued to brush off questions and concerns that arise about her work with Alkermes and her group’s partnership with PhRMA, calling the mindset skeptics are approaching her with “an old way of thinking,” and adding, “We need to be collaborating with industry, companies that have R&D budgets. The folks that cure diseases need to be at the table with us, so I stand by this partnership. I stand by the decision.”
However, this ‘no big deal’ approach to addressing concerns just hasn’t sit well with those following the addiction crisis. “Transparency and accountability are paramount, and we have to hold our leaders to higher standards,” said Jesse Heffernan, a Wisconsin-based recovery advocate. “When we have leaders like those from many national organizations…being tied to any kind of pharmaceutical money we need them to step up and talk about it.”
Alkermes produces Vivitrol, which the Trump administration is backing as a viable drug for recovery although critics say the chances of ex-addicts discontinuing use of Vivitrol too early increases the risk of overdose. One of the leading drug makers, the company is among the original funders of the Addiction Policy Forum, while Indivior and Braeburn are also listed as sponsors. AFP’s partnership with PhRMA is worth “tens of millions” with each of the group’s industry partners stating the pharmaceutical company made contributions without restrictions.
Nickel knows first-handed the devastation of losing loved ones from opioid addiction. She lost her father to opioid use disorder at an early age and Nickel’s mother passed away after years in recovery. She continues to stand by the structure of the AFP, supporting its partnerships and saying her group’s relationships with drug companies have proven valuable in its efforts to fight back against the epidemic. She isn’t backing down.