May 23 (UPI) -- Two members of Congress have issued a report that gives the United Nations' chief global health organization some responsibility for the opioid crisis in the United States.
House Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and and Hal Rogers of Kentucky say in the report that Purdue Pharma, the maker of the popular painkiller OxyContin, paid for research and influence to shape drug prescribing recommendations from the World Health Organization. The 43-page report is titled Corrupting Influence -- Purdue & the WHO.
The pair say WHO guidelines on opioid prescriptions in 2011 and 2012 contained "dangerously misleading" and in some cases "outright false claims" about the safety of the narcotic painkillers. The report says the guidelines mirror Purdue's claims that opioid dependence occurs in less than 1 percent of patients, "despite no scientific evidence supporting this claim."
"The WHO must rescind their 2011 and 2012 guidelines, provide a comprehensive explanation of why their internal controls failed to prevent this scheme, and issue a warning to the world that these documents are false, flawed and dangerous," Clark said.
"It's no secret that Purdue Pharma, fueled by greed, relentlessly and recklessly marketed OxyContin in the United States, even when it became clear the drug was fueling addiction and overdose deaths," Rogers added.
Purdue and its owners have been targeted by numerous lawsuits in recent months that accuse them of recklessly promoting OxyContin and the opioid crisis in pursuit of greater profits.
"While the findings in this report are tragic and alarming, they are unsurprising given this company's unscrupulous history. The WHO must take action now to right the ship and protect patients around the world, especially children, from the dangers associated with chronic opioid use," Rogers added.
Vermont and Indiana became the latest states this week to file suit against Purdue and the owning Sackler family.
Clark and Rogers said they started looking into the WHO's role in the crisis when the organization didn't respond to a letter that warned about Purdue's marketing practices.
"The web of influence we uncovered paints a picture of a public health organization that has been manipulated by the opioid industry," Clark said. "The WHO appears to be lending the opioid industry its voice and credibility, and as a result, a trusted public health organization is trafficking dangerous misinformation that could lead to a global opioid epidemic."
Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson denied the drug maker has at any time exerted influence with the U.N. health agency.
"Purdue strongly denies the claims in today's congressional report, which seeks to vilify the company through baseless allegations," Josephson told NBC News Wednesday. "The company has never violated any applicable rules or guidelines and no formal complaint or enforcement activity has resulted from Purdue's financial support or relationship with any third party."
The World Health Organization answered by saying it's reviewing the report "point by point."
Formed in 1948, the WHO is considered a foremost authority on public health. In addition to prescribing guidelines, the agency also issues the World Health Report and World Health Survey each year.