WASHINGTON — The White House criticized a pharmaceutical industry ad airing during Sunday's Super Bowl, saying it could help fuel an opioid addiction crisis.
The advertisement was intended to raise awareness of opioid-induced constipation, and was paid for by two drugmakers marketing a drug to treat it. But in the midst of an administration proposal to spend $1 billion more on treatment for prescription drug and heroin abuse, a top White House official suggested that it went too far.
"Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment," said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in a tweet Monday.
For critics of the pharmaceutical industry, McDonough's statement was particularly noteworthy in that the White House has been slow to acknowledge that the over-prescribing of powerful painkillers like oxycodone is a root cause of the prescription drug abuse — which in turn has helped fuel the heroin epidemic.
"The Obama administration has not done a good job of taking on the pharmaceutical industry on this," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's as if they woke up overnight to realize how serious this problem is."
"Now you have these ads coming out normalizing long-term use of opioids for a chronic pain problem," said Kolodny, a senior scientist at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management. "There's no question that their ads make this very dangerous and questionable medical practice seem normal."
The Super Bowl ad was funded by AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo, two companies in a joint venture to market Movantik, a drug that treats opioid-induced constipation. The companies do not make opioids themselves.
The companies say opioid-induced constipation needs to be treated differently because the painkillers block receptors in the bowel.
"This condition, which affects millions of Americans, is something we needed to raise awareness and dialog about. I think that is separate and distinct from the topic around the appropriate use of opioids," said Dave Fredrickson, AstraZeneca's vice president of specialty care. But he said raising awareness about constipation could open the door for a broader conversation about the appropriate use of opioids and the possibility of addiction.
"We certainly believe that increased discussion about the appropriate use of opioids is a good thing, and in the interest of public health," he said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was not proposing any new regulations on the marketing of opioids, but the drugmakers need to be part of the solution.
"Obviously we’re aware of the terrible impact this has had on far too many communities across the country. And we want to make sure we can mobilize the resources to confront it," Earnest said. "That's also going to require working closely with medical experts, including the pharmaceutical industry, to try to get this problem under control."
By Gregory Korte - USA Today/Feb. 8, 2016