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Pharma lobbying held deep influence over opioid policies

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A two-part series by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity investigated the influence of pharmaceutical companies on state and federal policies regarding opioids, the powerful painkillers that have claimed the lives of 165,000 people in the U.S. since 2000. Reporters tracked proposed laws on the subject and analyzed data on how the companies and their allies deployed lobbyists and contributed to political campaigns.

Among the findings:

  • Drug companies and allied advocates spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions at the state and federal level over the past decade; by comparison, a handful of groups advocating for opioid limits spent $4 million. The money covered a range of political activities important to the drug industry, including legislation and regulations related to opioids.
  • The opioid industry and its allies contributed to roughly 7,100 candidates for state-level offices.
  • The drug companies and allied groups have an army of lobbyists averaging 1,350 per year, covering all 50 state capitals.
  • The opioid lobby’s political spending adds up to more than eight times what the formidable gun lobby recorded for political activities during the same period.

The first article in the series documents how drug makers follow a delay and defend strategy that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, the narcotic linked to Prince’s death. The second explores how a loose coalition of drug makers and industry-backed nonprofits shaped the federal response to the opioid crisis.