Lawmakers Reject McKinsey’s Opioid Crisis Apology as ‘Blank’

The senior executive at McKinsey & Company appeared before Congress on Wednesday to respond to the consulting firm’s role in fueling the opioid crisis, drawing harsh criticism from Democratic lawmakers. One likened the firm’s earnings from advising Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies to “blood money” from drug dealers.

McKinsey’s managing partner, Bob Sternfels, testified from afar to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, apologizing for McKinsey’s efforts to help increase sales at opioid manufacturers. He said the firm “fails to recognize the broader context of what is going on in the society around us.”

However, Mr. Sternfels did not address the main point of the hearing: whether it was a conflict of interest for McKinsey to simultaneously advise opioid manufacturers and their regulator, the Food and Drug Administration. On that front, he insisted that McKinsey was “transparent.”

Mr. Sternfels told the committee: “McKinsey has not – served – both the FDA and Purdue on opioid-related issues. “As both McKinsey and the FDA have made clear, our work for the FDA has resulted in improvements in organizational structure, business processes and technology. focused on administrative and operational issues, including

To some Democrat members, Mr. Sternfels’ words sounded hollow. “Your apologies sound empty and insincere,” said Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley.

McKinsey worked with Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, and other opioid manufacturers to identify doctors who prescribe heavy-duty pain relievers, helping to find highly addictive drugs their way to some of America’s most vulnerable people. Studies for Purdue began in 2004 and continued for 15 years as opioid-related deaths increased.

McKinsey stopped advising opioid manufacturers in 2019 and agreed to pay nearly $600 million to resolve investigations by state attorneys general into its “role in assisting.”turbochargeropioid sales. The firm, which pleaded not guilty, was barred from undertaking such work in the future.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, who chaired the committee, formed her own committee. investigation He told McKinsey in November that the company’s “conflicts and behavior are among the worst I’ve seen in my years in government.” He’s been in Congress for almost thirty years.

“We’re demanding answers from one of the world’s most evasive and secretive consulting firms,” ​​said Missouri Democrat Cori Bush.

In one exchange, Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib asked Mr. Sternfels why a McKinsey consultant placed a smiley face in an email questioning whether high-prescribing doctors would notice new FDA rules requiring tougher language for pain relief labels.

“I completely agree that a smiling face is completely inappropriate,” said Mr Sternfels, who took the top position at McKinsey last July after McKinsey said it had stopped working for opioid manufacturers.

The committee released a report this month finding that at least 22 McKinsey consultants have worked for both Purdue and the FDA since 2010. Even though McKinsey has served in FDA offices tasked with approving new drugs and monitoring their safety, she also provided advice on interactions with Purdue. Agency. Internal McKinsey documentation, first to report The New York Times shows the firm is showing ties to regulators as it seeks more jobs at pharmaceutical companies.

In an email to Purdue’s CEO in 2014, one consultant emphasized “who and what we know,” specifically highlighting the firm’s work for the FDA.

On April 5, a group of Senate Democrats sent a letter. letter He requested the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, to investigate possible conflicts of interest arising from McKinsey’s work.

Since 2008, McKinsey has received more than $140 million in fees from the FDA and has advised the agency on a wide range of issues, including overhauling the division responsible for overseeing approvals for drugs such as opioids.

On Tuesday, in a separate Senate hearing on the FDA, Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said she “expects” that the agency will not issue new contracts with McKinsey pending the results of any investigations.

In her testimony to the House committee on Wednesday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey contested Mr Sternfels’ refusal to have a conflict of interest in working with both Purdue and the FDA, quoting a McKinsey email. It worked with pharmaceutical companies in 2008 to circumvent recommended safety requirements for opioids, including Purdue’s OxyContin. He also cited internal documents showing McKinsey’s relationship with the FDA “will benefit Purdue and its bottom line.”

Ms Maloney asked Mr. Sternfels how much McKinsey earned from advising Purdue, which can be obtained from documents the firm submitted to Ms. Healey’s office.

“Congressman, I don’t have that number today; If that interests you, I’d be happy to dig this up and get back to the committee.” said. He then asked Miss Healey: $86 million.

Ms Maloney also said she would pass legislation that calls for stricter standards by the agency that oversees the rules governing conflicts of interest in federal contracts. A similar invoice introduced in the Senate this month.

As the trial drew to a close, Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, posed a question to Mr. Sternfels. slide from a presentation McKinsey prepared it for Purdue in 2013. It described an incentive system for salespeople that included “cash rewards” and “celebrity status” with images of Donald J. Trump and a man in a suit fanning a pile of money.

“Mr. Sternfels, 600,000 Americans died,” said Mr. Connolly. “Many people still struggle with addiction. Do you have any regrets that you want to share with the committee?”

Mr Sternfels said, “I’m sorry we didn’t act sooner, sir. If I could replay this, I would put client protocols a decade ago. I could have come to an agreement even faster and we would have come back from serving the manufacturers regardless of the goals, and for that I apologize in advance, actually to be part of the solution.”

Michigan Democrat Ms. Tlaib was dissatisfied by comparing McKinsey’s work to those of drug dealers.

“While McKinsey was celebrating blood money, communities were falling apart,” he said. “You can all wear suits and have these fancy offices, but you do the same thing.”

Republicans on the committee played little or no part in the questioning of Mr. Sternfels. They said the focus of the trial was misdirected and should focus on what they identified as a more pressing problem: fentanyl smuggling across the southern border.

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