Politics of Pain

Published — September 18, 2016

Pharma lobbying held deep influence over opioid policies

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Key findings from Center for Public Integrity/Associated Press investigation


The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity teamed up to investigate 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.

The news agencies tracked proposed laws on the subject and analyzed data on how the companies and their allies deployed lobbyists and contributed to political campaigns.

Key findings from the reporting:

  • 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.
  • For over a decade, a group called the Pain Care Forum has met with some of the highest-ranking health officials in the federal government, while quietly working to influence proposed regulations on opioids and promote legislation and reports on the problem of untreated pain. The group is coordinated by the chief lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
  • Two of the drug industry’s most active allies, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, have contacted legislators and other officials about opioid measures in at least 18 states, even in some cases when cancer patients were specifically exempted from drug restrictions. State lawmakers often don’t know that these groups receive part of their funding from drugmakers.
  • Five states have passed laws related to abuse-deterrent opioids and scores of bills have been introduced, with at least 21 using nearly identical language that some legislators said was supplied by pharmaceutical lobbyists. Pharmaceutical companies lobby for such laws, which typically require insurers and pharmacists to give preferential treatment to the patent-protected drugs, even though some experts say the deterrents are easily circumvented.

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