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Backer of opioid treatment group ID’d as drug maker

Collaborating: ex-congressman Patrick Kennedy (left) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

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Collaborating: ex-congressman Patrick Kennedy (left) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

A company that sells a new opioid-addiction medication is a secret funder of an advocacy group fronted by former congressmen Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy that is pushing for more government funding and insurance coverage of such treatments.

Gingrich, a former Republican House speaker and a Trump confidant, and Kennedy, a former representative from Rhode Island and the son of the late US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, are paid advisers to Advocates for Opioid Recovery. They have generated a flurry of media attention in those roles, including with joint interviews with outlets ranging from Fox News to the New Yorker magazine.

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Gingrich told STAT he didn’t know who was funding Advocates for Opioid Recovery, and the nonprofit’s officials refused to disclose its financial backers.

The answer, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is Braeburn Pharmaceuticals Inc. The Princeton, N.J., company won approval last year to market an implant that continuously dispenses the opioid addiction medicine buprenorphine.

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In a prospectus filed with the SEC in January as part of a now-postponed effort to take the company public, Braeburn disclosed it had an agreement to make a $900,000 charitable donation to Advocates for Opioid Recovery. The filing indicates the company had paid $675,000 to the nonprofit group as of Sept. 30. It did not specify when the remaining funds would be paid.

The filing indicates Braeburn entered into the deal to fund the nonprofit group through the private equity fund that owns the drug maker.

That fund, Apple Tree Partners, also invests in CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers.

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Kennedy has been a member of CleanSlate’s board since 2015. The treatment center is also a sponsor of the Kennedy Forum, a mental health advocacy outfit headed by Patrick Kennedy.

Anne Woodbury, a former Gingrich aide who is executive director of Advocates for Opioid Recovery, did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Braeburn.

Kennedy declined to be interviewed last week, as did Van Jones, a CNN commentator and former Barack Obama aide who is another paid adviser. In earlier interviews, Woodbury and a spokesman for the nonprofit refused to say who was funding it, adding that the donors wanted to remain anonymous.

While there is widespread support in the treatment community for use of the medicines being promoted by the three men, there is growing concern about misuse of the drugs.

And some addiction experts have expressed skepticism that the Braeburn implant will be effective. There are alternative opioid-addiction treatments that do not rely on medication, including abstinence-based and behavioral therapy programs.

Last month, Braeburn shelved a planned initial public offering of stock, citing poor market conditions. The company’s implant drug, branded as Probuphine, relies on four tiny rods implanted under the skin of the upper arm to dispense the addiction-treatment drug buprenorphine for six months at a time.

David Armstrong
can be reached at david.armstrong@statnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidarmstrongx. Follow Stat on Twitter @statnews.
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