National Institute on Drug Abuse has added former pharmaceutical lobbyist Jessica Hulsey Nickel to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, a federal panel that shapes the US’s drug policy as well as treatment for addiction.
While this seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest, it’s somehow been allowed to happen anyway.
“I am so deeply honored to be a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and join such an established group of scientific experts and leaders,” she said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News. “Having been an advocate in this field for over 25 years, I am inspired by my fellow advisory council members who are dedicated to helping the tens of millions of families who are impacted by addiction and erasing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.”
Nickel heads up the Brimley Group lobbying firm and the nonprofit Addiction Policy Forum, which has ignited fears from recovery advocates since the influence she may exert on the panel may not be in the best interest of Americans but instead, will prioritize lining big pharma’s pockets by pushing prescription drugs that are expensive, unnecessary, and encourage addiction in general.
Emily Walden of recovery advocate coalition Fed Up! were outraged that someone like Nickel could be put in such a powerful position, saying, “It’s disgusting. Why should the industry that created the problem have a seat on a drug abuse advisory panel. People’s children might be alive if it weren’t for the industry pushing these drugs in the first place.”
One of Nickel’s most questionable acts was her involvement in Minnesota’s decision to tax opioid drugs in the state. She stood by PhRMA reps who wanted to fight the tax and offered to accompany them to a meeting with state lawmakers, though that meeting was later canceled.
While Minnesota eventually did pass the tax and Nickel claimed she had no opinion on the matter either way, many believe her decision to get involved and stand by the industry rather than advocating for average Americans speaks to mixed motives.
Nickel insists that she’s fit for the job, especially she’s part of the board of directors for both DEA Educational Foundation and sits on the Recovery Ohio Advisory Council. However, she has been accepting a pretty high salary—$189,000 in 2017—from the Addiction Policy Forum despite the fact that the organization cut 20 jobs in the last year alone.
Institute chief of staff Jack Stein explained the decision to place Nickel on the NIDA panel in statement, saying, “The process for appointment to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse is extensive. We look for expertise in areas of science that are most relevant to the Institute’s mission—currently, there are several members with expertise related to the opioid crisis…because of the focus on this area of science.”
h/t BuzzFeed News