‘Don’t Punish Pain’ movement calls for the termination of Brandeis professor

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October 16, 2020

A group of protesters called for Brandeis University to fire Dr. Andrew Kolodny (HS) as a part of the “Don’t Punish the Pain” movement on Wednesday outside of the entrance to campus, at the concrete “Brandeis University” sign. Kolodny was criticized for saying that there is “little evidence that opioids help chronic pain.”

Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, has been involved in opioids as a witness providing testimony for a high-profile trial about the opioid crisis last year. He is also the co-founder of the organization Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

“[Kolodny] calls for forced tapering of patients formerly prescribed opioids,” says the letter that the movement wrote to the administration. “Policy positions for which he advocates are leading to the deaths of hundreds of chronic pain patients by suicide or pain-related heart failure and medical collapse—also incontestable facts that Kolodny has publicly denied.”

The protesters held signs that said statements like, “Brandeis, fire Andrew Kolodny! He has damaged medical treatment for thousands!” Upon calling for his immediate dismissal from the university, advocates for the movement stated that Kolodny’s presence in Brandeis “damages both your reputation and your financial endowments.” 

The long-term administration of opioids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain is controversial. “The clinical trials that have been conducted do not provide adequate evidence of long-term effectiveness,” according to the US National Library of Medicine.

Last year, a judge cited a testimony from Kolodny in the decision to order Johnson and Johnson (J&J) to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million for their contribution to the opioid crisis in the state, the first time a pharmaceutical company has been deemed responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis, according to a previous Hoot article.

In his testimony, Dr. Kolodny says, “We do know that for the past 20 years, every year we’ve set a new record for deaths from drug overdose …. We know that for the first 15 years of the opioid addiction epidemic … it was prescription opioids that drove the increase.” 

Dr. Kolodny states in his testimony that the increase in street drug addiction—such as heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine—as well as the switching from prescription opioid drugs to street drugs is not due to the crackdown on the prescription opioid pills but rather the addictive nature that opioid pills have. Patients who do not have constant access to prescription opioids during and after their healing process will still be addicted to the prescription drug and therefore switch over to accessible, non-prescription street drugs instead. 

The “Don’t Punish the Pain” movement runs on the basis of “millions of Americans” who depend on opioids to manage their pain, according to a pamphlet distributed by the group. The movement writes, “Chronic pain patients are increasingly being denied access to these essential life supports” and that this denied access is due “in large measure” to Kolodny’s advocacy against the distribution of opioids. 

Heller School Dean David Weil has responded in a statement, “Dr. Kolodny has been one of the foremost researchers into opioid addiction since before he came to Brandeis.” He further clarifies that “Dr. Kolodny has unfortunately been the target of harassment, both online and in person, that frequently distorts his record and positions related to this ongoing public health crisis. And regardless of his positions, Brandeis is an institution that cherishes and protects academic freedom. As such we do not take actions against faculty members for their scholarly opinions or the direction of their research.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Brandeis University had not responded to the protest. While the University did not release a public statement, The Hoot did not ask for one directly. Heller School Dean David Weil did respond via email on Oct. 21 with a statement, which has been added to the article.

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