While it has been known for years that the pharmaceutical industry has a legion of lobbyists in Washington D.C. looking out for its bottom line, a new report finds that these heavy hitters are a key part of the opioid epidemic currently sweeping the United States as well.
The groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy protection on Capitol Hill.
A recent investigation by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity finds that drug companies responsible for the production of dangerous prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet have thrown $880 million at state representatives and senators in all 50 states to prevent the passing of bills aimed at restricting opioids — eight times more than what is spent by gun lobbyists, according to the report.
Opponents are vastly outgunned. Groups working to put a leash on the opioid crisis spent only around $4 million pushing for policy changes.
At the core of the investigation is an influential organization called Pain Care Forum, which consists of hundreds of drug manufactures. They each chip in millions to influence legislation regarding prescription painkillers at both the state and federal level.
The report finds this organization, which was cofounded by Purdue Pharma lobbyist Burt Rosen, has paid off around 7,100 politicians in state office, sinking the majority of its cash resources into buying off governors and leading legislative gatekeepers (house speakers, senate presidents) in charge of determining which issues get brought to the floor for debate.
A couple of studies published this year shows that medical marijuana may be causing fewer people to use painkillers in states where it is legal—giving some indication that at least a portion of the millions being spent to protect these pill maker’s profits are being used to prevent marijuana legalization measures from seeing the light of day.
Although the report from the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity did not specifically broach the subject of prescription drug makers spending money to convince state and federal lawmakers to oppose marijuana reforms, the recent $500,000 donation from Insys Therapeutics to an anti-marijuana campaign in Arizona suggests that marijuana legalization is a threat to its bottom line as well.
Meanwhile, drug overdose deaths linked to prescription painkillers have continued to increase like a violent plague over the course of the past several years. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says that, between 1999 and 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the United States from overdoses on prescription painkillers. In 2014, the nation saw 14,000 deaths alone directly associated with these commonly prescribed medications, with an estimated 2 million savagely addicted Americans currently at risk of having their ticket punched by the same demon.
Yet, while marijuana has been made for medicinal purposes in over half the nation, the federal government still refuses to admit that the herb has any kind of therapeutic benefit. Uncle Sam’s excuse against legalizing the leaf at the national level is that it would not be in the interest of health and public safety – which apparently translates to: The cannabis industry hasn’t paid off enough elected officials to get it done.