House Democrats on Wednesday questioned the consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its simultaneous work with both the Food and Drug Administration and Purdue Pharma along with the firm’s potential role in exacerbating the opioid epidemic.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said she was seeking to “promote accountability and seek justice for the millions of families whose lives have been ravaged by this epidemic,” in her opening remarks.
Earlier this month, the committee released a report alleging a years-long conflict of interest stemming from McKinsey’s consulting work with federal agencies, which occured at the same time it was working with pharmaceutical companies.
Purdue Pharma, one of the firm’s clients, allegedly “tasked McKinsey with providing advice on how to influence the regulatory decisions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” according to the committee’s report.
Maloney called the advice that was uncovered “shocking beyond belief.”
McKinsey’s global managing partner Bob Sternfels adamantly denied the accusation in the report while addressing the committee on Wednesday.
“McKinsey did not, did not serve both the FDA and Purdue on opioid-related matters. As both McKinsey and the FDA have made clear, our work for the FDA focused on administrative and operational topics, including improvements to organization structure, business processes and technology,” said Sternfels.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), whose office conducted an investigation into McKinsey in 2015, told the committee that the consulting firm worked alongside Purdue to “turbocharge” oxycontin sales and bragged about its connections, including with the FDA.
Sternfels acknowledged the “terrible consequences of the opioid epidemic” and his company’s role in working with opioid manufacturers, reiterating that McKinsey was apologetic for its involvement.
In November, McKinsey reached a $573 million multistate settlement agreement for its role in pushing opioid sales.
Speaking on McKinsey’s work with opioid companies, Sternfels said, “We fully recognize that it fell short of our standards, and it’s why we pivoted to settle with the states and and spend over $575 million on prevention and treatment. So we’re all in and being part of the solution going forward.”
While Democratic members of the committee focused their attention on McKinsey’s involvement with opioids, Republican members sought to shift the focus to the southern border and the Biden administration.
Uttam Dhillon, the former acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration under the Trump administration, characterized the current state of the opioid epidemic as being pushed by Mexican drug cartels and China’s willingness to sell fentanyl to these groups.
First-term Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) gave an explosive rebuke of the entire hearing, calling it a waste of time and arguing that the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry in fueling the opioid epidemic has long been over.
“We have a new opioid crisis, folks, and it is not from Big Pharma in the United States. It is from the drug cartels who operate pharmaceutical sites below the southern border in Mexico,” said Donalds.
Health authorities have long said that the opioid epidemic in the U.S. was fueled by the overprescription of opioids, misinformation on how addictive the drugs, and the proliferation of foreign drug cartels trafficking drugs such as synthetic opioids and heroin into the country.
Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) accused McKinsey itself of manufacturing a drug trafficking scheme during her questioning of Sternfels.
“You guys are trafficking. You’re making money off of poisoning people,” Tlaib said to Sternfels. “You know, Bob, 86 percent of overdoses in my district in the city of Detroit are due to overdoses from opiate. Did you know that?”
“If anyone could explain to me the difference between McKinsey, Big Pharma, opioid cartels and the organizations of people like Pablo Escobar, I’m all ears. I really am. Y’all may be wearing suits and maybe having these fancy offices, but you’re doing the same freakin’ thing,” said Tlaib.