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Pfizer agrees to Chicago's request to disclose risk of narcotic painkillers

Opioids
Andrew Brookes | Getty Images

Drug giant Pfizer agreed Wednesday to the City of Chicago's request for a written code of conduct on the marketing of opioids.

Like many parts of the country, Chicago has seen a rise of the misuse of opioids since 2009. Between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide, with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Pfizer said it will disclose in its promotional material that narcotic painkillers can carry serious risk of addiction and promised to not promote opiates for unapproved uses such as long-term back pain. The company will also acknowledge that there is no good research on the effectiveness of opioids past 12 weeks of use, the city said in a statement.

Pfizer markets only one prescription opioid, Embeda.

"The voluntary agreement between Pfizer and the City of Chicago arose in connection with the city's recent efforts to combat opioid abuse, a goal the company fully supports," said Pfizer spokeswoman Allyanna Anglim, in a written statement.

Officials said they hope Pfizer's agreement will set the bar for manufacture of narcotics and could help combat the rise in narcotic painkiller misuse in the U.S.

Chicago was the first city to file suit against leading opioid manufacturers. The lawsuit named Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis. None of the five companies were immediately available for CNBC's request for comment.

Pfizer was not named in this suit. However, the drug company has been aiding the city's investigation and lawsuit.

Nothing in Pfizer's agreement is meant to suggest that it has taken inappropriate action with regard to the sale or promotion of opioids in the city.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the agreement is a step in the right direction to help protect and educate the public about the risks of addictive painkillers.

"The use of these drugs has led to a dramatic rise in drug addiction, overdose and diversion in communities across the nation, including in Chicago," he said, in a statement. "Pfizer's cooperation is proof that companies can act responsibly. We will continue our fight to force other companies to end their irresponsible practices and be held accountable for their deceptive actions that cause serious damage to individuals, families and neighborhoods and has helped fuel the heroin epidemic in Chicago."

The city alleges companies "knowingly and aggressively marketed these drugs as rarely addictive, while touting benefits that lacked scientific support in order to boost profits."

A 2008 investigation by the city reported that 87 percent of all opioids dispensed were to patients using them to treat chronic pain on a long-term basis, even though there is no scientific evidence supporting the long-term use of these drugs for non-cancer chronic pain, according to the report.

In 2009, the City of Chicago had 1,080 trips emergency room visits were from opioid misuse, according to a report. The city also paid $12.3 million in insurance claims for painkiller prescriptions between 2008 and 2015.

"The city is not seeking to ban these drugs. Instead, the lawsuit seeks to end deceptive marketing so that patients and physicians are able to make informed decisions about when and how to use these highly addictive drugs," the city said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Emanuel's office wasn't immediately available for CNBC's request for comment.