Opioid Industry Spends Big on Political Campaigns
NASHVILLE — As opioid overdose deaths climbed steadily during the past decade, a loose network of pharmaceutical companies and allied groups spent more than $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying at the state and federal government levels. From 2006 through 2015, members of the little-known Pain Care Forum dwarfed even the powerful gun lobby in similar political spending. The forum's members contributed to more than 8,500 candidates across the nation, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity. Some of those public officials supported or killed key opioid legislation affecting patient prescriptions and the pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines. In 2012, for instance, New Mexico state legislators considered limiting initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven days, a measure aimed at reducing addiction. But opioid makers and their allies hired 15 lobbyists in Santa Fe that year — up from nine the year before. "The lobbyists behind the scenes were killing it," said Bernadette Sanchez, the Democratic state senator who sponsored the measure. That bill died in New Mexico’s House Judiciary Committee, most of whose members received drug industry contributions in 2012. To be sure, pharmaceutical companies donate to political campaigns and employ lobbyists for a range of legislative issues, including opioids. The same applies to other members of the Pain Care Forum — trade groups and dozens of nonprofits supported by industry funding. Drugmakers say they are now combating the opioid epidemic. "We and our members stand with patients, providers, law enforcement, policymakers and others in calling for and supporting national policies and action to address opioid abuse," the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said. Sales of opioids, the chemical cousins to heroin, quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. Overdose deaths also climbed at about the same rate. Today, some states have more prescriptions written annually than their total population.