House committee questions McKinsey executive over opioid, FDA consulting work

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Members of Congress questioned global consulting firm McKinsey & Company's top managing partner Wednesday about the company's work for U.S. health regulators as it advised opioid drugmakers on how to boost painkiller sales. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked Bob Sternfels about revelations that the company allowed consultants working for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to simultaneously advise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

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The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation into McKinsey's role in the opioid crisis. 

In 2021, McKinsey agreed to shell out nearly $600 million to settle lawsuits over its work advising opioid makers, though it admitted no wrongdoing. 

A preliminary report found that 22 McKinsey consultants worked for both the administration and an opioid manufacturer over the span of a decade. 

Bob Sterfels, global managing partner, McKinsey & Company, testifies via teleconference at a House Oversight and Reform committee hearing Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf / AP Newsroom)

McKinsey workers reportedly advised the FDA on overhauling its approach to drug safety, and a 2013 strategy presentation released Wednesday said consultants recommended "cash prizes" and "unrivaled recognition" for top OxyContin sales reps to increase Purdue's sales.

The report suggests McKinsey's work "appears potentially" to have violated federal contracting rules, but Sternfels said that McKinsey's FDA contracts focused primarily on "organizational support" and did not pertain to opioids or drug "safety standards." 

The top executive pointed to several examples where McKinsey disclosed its work for opioid drugmakers to the FDA.

OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy Feb. 19, 2013, in Montpelier, Vt.  (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File / AP Newsroom)

Congressional investigators pulled out examples of McKinsey touting its FDA connections when soliciting business from drugmakers. 

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Notably, the report said the company submitted advice on dealing with the opioid epidemic to members of the Trump administration, though it is unclear if that information had any effect on federal policy.

The Oversight Committee scrutinized McKinsey's work – from 2008 to 2021 – on three dozen FDA contracts worth more than $65 million.

The FDA's drug center director told lawmakers at a separate hearing Tuesday that the agency has no current contracts with McKinsey.

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According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. 

Drug overdoses have killed 106,854 people in the most recent 12-month period.

The FDA has attempted to discourage doctors from overprescribing the drugs by adding starker warnings to their labeling.

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Earlier this month, the Biden administration released its National Drug Control Strategy for the year. 

"The strategy delivers on the call to action in President Biden’s Unity Agenda through a whole-of-government approach to beat the overdose epidemic," the White House said, noting it focuses specifically on untreated addiction and drug trafficking.

"It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers’ profits and make better use of data to guide all these efforts," the administration added. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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