According to a recent investigative report, the producers of prescription painkillers have spent millions of dollars and hired hundreds of lobbyists just to prevent or cripple measures designed to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Official reports show the opioid epidemic so far killed 165,000 Americans and turned a lot more into full-fledged addicts.
Experts noted drug makers play by a double standard. In public, they promise to help stem the tide of opioid prescriptions. But behind curtains, they pour heaps of cash in advocacy groups to discourage lawmakers from placing restrictions on their drugs. These drugs include Vicodin, OxyContin, and fentanyl, which played a critical part in singer Prince’s death.
Drug Makers Spending More than Gun Makers on Lobby
Associated Press found the industry spent $880 million between 2006 and 2015 to prevent legislation that would affect its profits. This is 200 times larger than what the industry’s rivals have spent to make their point, and eight times larger than what the gun lobby has spent to stymie restrictive legislation.
AP investigators, which collaborated with researchers at the Center for Public Integrity on this project, found other interesting facts. For instance, drug companies and their allies hired about 1,350 lobbyists a year in states where authorities thought about restriction as the opioid epidemic has gone rampant.
These lobbyists have a steady presence in states’ decisional forums, so they can quickly intervene when a piece of legislation affects their interests.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who seeks an opioid reform, explained these companies make huge profits through “aggressive prescribing.” So, they spent fortunes on stopping any attempts of destroying the status-quo.
Experts explained opioid-based painkillers are closely related to heroin. This makes them highly addictive. Between 1999 and 2010, sales of such drugs rose four times in the U.S. In the meantime, overdose deaths have also skyrocketed.
Doctors Overprescribing Painkillers
In just one year, U.S. doctors prescribed 227 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Experts pointed out this number is enough to give a bottle of pills to 90 percent of adult Americans.
The industry reportedly has put some money in efforts to limit reckless prescription. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents the industry, said it has partnerships with doctors, policy makers, and law enforcement to prevent opioid abuse.
But despite these efforts, health care providers continue to prescribe opioids for ailments studies have shown do not benefit from this class of drugs. And they do it regardless of the risk of addiction.
Nine years ago, OxyContin’s maker admitted to misleading the public on the pills’ addiction risk. Back then, the company paid about $600 million in fines. Ever since state and federal regulators sought to limit overprescribing of these drugs.
Lobbying Efforts in New Mexico
For instance, in 2012, a New Mexico proposal planned to force doctors to limit painkiller prescription for acute pain to a week. Experts had cautioned patients can use leftover pills and become addicted. The measure hasn’t made it past the House Judiciary Committee.
“The lobbyists behind the scenes were killing it,”
said one of the bill’s sponsors.
At that time, the industry declined to comment. In 2012, drug companies had 15 lobbyists in the state’s capital city.
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