[Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel]

Federal health industry regulators and executives of companies that make pain drugs have held private meetings at expensive hotels at least once a year since 2002 through an organization funded by the drug companies, according to emails obtained through public records requests and provided to the Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today.

Each year a handful of drug companies have paid up to $35,000 each to send a representative to meetings of IMMPACT, where they could discuss clinical trial testing procedures with officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies. IMMPACT’s stated goal is to improve the design of clinical trials conducted to develop new pain treatments.

The emails raise concerns about a pay-for-play arrangement in which drug companies were able to buy access to invitation-only meetings where they could meet with FDA officials and affect FDA pain drug policy, said Michael Carome, director of health research for the watchdog group Public Citizen.

“The whole picture is a troubling one and it warrants an independent investigation,” said Carome, who has seen the emails.