Lawmakers blast McKinsey for 'serious conflict of interest' in opioid consulting

Global consulting leader McKinsey & Company drew unwanted attention in 2020 when a bankruptcy proceeding revealed that it guided the marketing strategy for disgraced opioid seller Purdue Pharma.

Now McKinsey is under scrutiny from Congress after revelations that at least 22 employees who were consulting for Purdue and other opioid producers were also doing work for government agencies tasked with regulating opioid use.

The double-dipping represented (PDF) a “serious conflict of interest,” according to a congressional report.

Among the findings in the report are that Purdue tasked McKinsey with providing direction on how to influence decisions made by the FDA, which also used McKinsey’s services.

The report presents evidence that McKinsey used its government connections to drum up business in the private sector and tried to influence Trump administration Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar to help its private sector opioid clients.

The investigation uncovered 37 FDA contracts that were staffed by a least one McKinsey consultant who was either working simultaneously for Purdue or had done work for the drugmaker.

“At the same time the FDA was relying on McKinsey’s advice to ensure drug safety and protect American lives, the firm was also being paid by the very companies fueling the deadly opioid epidemic to help them avoid tougher regulation of these dangerous drugs,” wrote Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

In a statement posted on its website, McKinsey said its actions were “lawful.”

“McKinsey’s work for the FDA has focused on administrative and operational topics, including improvements to organizational structures, business process and technology," McKinsey wrote. "We have not advised the FDA on regulatory decisions or on specific pharmaceutical products."

McKinsey stopped advising companies with opioid-related business in 2019 and last year agreed to a $573 million settlement with 47 states for its role in helping spur opioid sales.

Between 2008 and 2022, McKinsey performed 76 contracts with the FDA worth more than $140 million, including more than $40 million in consulting for CDER, which oversees opioid-related programs.