Big Pharma Spends Millions Lobbying, While America Struggles With Opioid Epidemic

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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The pharmaceutical drug industry has spent exorbitant amounts of money lobbying against state laws aimed to restrict the amount of prescription opioids.

The makers of prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, spent $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying initiatives from 2006 through 2015, according to the Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity. The amount is approximately 200 times more than what advocates for limiting medical narcotics and implementing stricter state policies have spent in the same time period.

But it’s not just the drug manufacturers. Advocacy groups, like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, teamed up with the drugmakers to employ an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists to coax state lawmakers, the AP reports.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a champion of prescription opioid reform, told the AP. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.”

Opioids, simply put, is a highly similar form of heroin that is often prescribed as a pain reliever for many different ailments.

As of 2012, there are “an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers and an estimated 467,00 addicted to heroin,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

A survey conducted in 2013 and 2014 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that 50.5 percent of people who abused prescription painkillers received them from a relative or friend free of charge and 22.1 percent got them from a doctor.

Opioids are often provided for people with pain “that typically lasts >3 [greater than] months or past the time of normal tissue healing,” according to the Center for Disease Control.

Dr. Charles E. Argoff, writing for Medscape, asserts that there are multiple studies that show that “opioid analgesics can be useful in patients with neuropathic pain.”

Argoff, who is a professor of neurology at Albany Medical College and director of the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Albany Medical Center, says in general “there is no shortage of evidence that these medications can be helpful, either alone or in combination.”

Insurance companies are apparently already imposing limits on quantity and duration of opioid treatment. Argoff told Inside Sources that he believes this is a misstep since it takes away discretion from the medical professionals. Argoff also named medical groups that have curbed tendencies of prescribing opioids because they fear legal liability in the future.

The pharmaceutical industry claims that it cares a great deal about prescription addiction.

“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 organization Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told the AP.

Purdue Pharma, the primary company that developed and created the narcotic painkiller OxyContin, and several of its executives pled guilty in 2007 to criminal charges of purposefully misleading doctors, patients, regulators about the drug’s inherent addictive and abuse risks.

New Mexico’s state legislature was deliberating over a bill in 2012 that would limit prescriptions of opioids to seven days, but the bill eventually died.

There were reportedly 15 registered lobbyists in New Mexico that year, 6 more than the previous year. Bernadette Sanchez, the Democratic state senator who sponsored the legislation, tells AP that “the lobbyists behind the scenes were killing it” both figuratively and literally.

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