WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey brought her campaign against the McKinsey consulting firm’s opioid dealings to Washington on Wednesday, blasting the company’s “schemes” to get more Americans hooked on the deadly painkillers in front of the House Oversight Committee.
Healey, a Democrat who is running for governor of Massachusetts, won a $13 million settlement for the state from McKinsey in 2021, after lawsuits revealed the firm meticulously designed strategies to help Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” the sale of OxyContin — even as overdoses skyrocketed.
The settlement forced the firm to shell out over $573 million in damages to 47 states — and helped prompt Congress to launch its own investigation into the firm’s role in propagating the opioid crisis.
The House Oversight Committee revealed in a new report that McKinsey consultants worked on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) projects while simultaneously helping Purdue Pharma — and did not disclose that conflict of interest to the government, a potential violation of the law.
“It’s absolutely infuriating,” Healey testified on Wednesday in a hearing on those findings. “We found that McKinsey time and time again worked directly with Purdue to oppose efforts directed at safety, knowing what was happening in terms of people becoming sick and overdosing.”
McKinsey staffed at least 22 consultants at both the FDA and opioid manufacturers on related topics, including at the same time, the report found.
“McKinsey was advising both the fox and the hen-house — and getting paid by both,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s chairwoman and a Democrat from New York, said in a statement.
Healey hit upon the most damning findings of her investigation in her testimony, saying in one instance, McKinsey encouraged Purdue to issue $6,000 to $8,000 rebates to insurers per overdose — to keep painkiller sales flowing, despite mounting evidence of their destructive effects on health.
She said McKinsey “bragged” about its connections with the FDA as a strategic asset, to peddle more contracts to Purdue.
And, she added, McKinsey pressed pharmaceutical companies to direct their efforts to regions of the United States that were hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic, where doctors tended to prescribe high amounts of OxyTocin for the longest possible duration.
“It’s appalling,” she said.
An FDA official said Tuesday that the agency would not enter into contracts with McKinsey until the investigations into whether it failed to disclose its conflicts of interest to the federal government have concluded.
McKinsey has agreed to comply with the audit and has apologized for its role advising opioid manufacturers, but maintains that no rules were broken.
“McKinsey did not serve both the FDA and Purdue on opioid-related issues,” said Bob Sternfels, the firm’s global managing partner, at the hearing. “As both McKinsey and the FDA have made clear, our work for the FDA focused on administrative and operational topics: McKinsey did not consult about any specific drug product or product class, and none of our contracts related to opioids.”
Ahead of her gubernatorial campaign, Healey has built a reputation as an aggressive progressive prosecutor – taking on the Trump administration, an e-cigarette manufacturer, and the National Rifle Association in court.
But her focus on the opioid crisis has been a cornerstone of her tenure as she took on both Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, who ran the business.
“McKinsey designed schemes to put more people on opioids,” Healey said on Wednesday. “The documents will help expose this dangerous misconduct.”
The hearing before the House committee is part of an ongoing probe into McKinsey’s role in the US opioid crisis that has been linked to over 500,000 overdose deaths from both prescription pain medications and illicit drugs like fentanyl.
Sternfels challenged some of the committee’s findings but said the company has overhauled how it does business and no longer works with opioid manufacturers, including OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma.
“I’ve apologized for our work for Purdue and other opioid manufacturers and we fully recognize it fell short of our standards,” Sternfels said. He said the company would continue cooperating with investigators.
Last year the consulting powerhouse agreed to pay $600 million to settle lawsuits over its work advising opioid makers, though it admitted no wrongdoing.
Lawmakers questioned Sternfels for three hours about revelations that his company allowed consultants working for Purdue Pharma to simultaneously advise the Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with overseeing drug safety.
McKinsey consultants recommended “cash prizes” and “unrivaled recognition” for top OxyContin sales reps to increase Purdue’s revenue, according to a 2013 strategy presentation released Wednesday.
McKinsey has agreed to comply with the audit but maintains that no rules were broken.
Sternfeld said McKinsey did not share FDA documents or intelligence with Purdue and said claims of information sharing were inaccurate.
He also testified that McKinsey was open with FDA about its pharmaceutical consulting work.
“We made very clear that we were working both with the industry and with opioids in particular,” Sternfeld said. FDA officials have previously stated they were aware of McKinsey’s pharmaceutical consulting.
Maloney and other Democrats repeatedly suggested McKinsey’s work may have violated federal contracting rules on disclosing potential conflicts of interest.
On Wednesday, Maloney introduced legislation that would tighten requirements for contractors to disclose potential conflicts. A bipartisan group of Senators previously introduced similar legislation in their chamber.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.