Cleveland, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) – As pharmacy companies face lawsuits in 35 states, many are allegedly using campaign donations as a way to influence attorneys general and ultimately, the outcome of those cases, according to a report from CBS News.
Accused of fueling the opioid crisis in America, drug makers and distributors face federal court, as they try to negotiate settlements in the hundreds of lawsuits they face, and others they may face from states in the future.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 91 Americans each day die from opioid overdoses. And the cost to governments is huge.
“It’s devastated county and municipal budgets. There’s been a significant cost for law enforcement, first responders, for drug treatment, for lost productivity of government workers and for services like autopsies,” said Mark Chalos, a Nashville-based partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP a law firm counseling some of the counties in Tennessee exploring lawsuits, in Governing Magazine.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who grew tired of waiting for action, sued Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson and Johnson in May of last year. Once his suit was filed, 11 other states also filed suits against the companies. Purdue has tried to persuade DeWine to drop his lawsuit and negotiate a settlement.
“There’s a lot at stake for them, so they have been very aggressive,” DeWine said. “They’ve lawyered up. They’ve hired lobbyists.”
In all, more than 100 states, cities and counties have filed suits against drug manufacturers and distributors.
Some 41 states have banded together to subpoena drug makers Endo, Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen Unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergen. Additionally, they have requested information from Purdue Pharma, and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
The lawsuits, proponents say, will not only make an impact on the drug companies, but also help states and municipalities recoup their losses due to the opioid epidemic.
“The lawsuit will ultimately do both,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, campaign spokesman for Mike DeWine, in an email interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “In the immediate term, these drug companies need to clean up the mess they made and that means being responsible for the huge sums of money paid by Ohio to deal with the opioid epidemic. The human and economic costs of this epidemic are so great that the drug companies will have to change their behavior and culture to address the obvious problems that exist.”
In response, pharmaceutical companies have made nearly $2.4 million in contributions to political associations for state attorneys general over the past three years, according to CBS News. While legal, the contributions allow companies to allegedly get access to the attorneys general which provides them with the opportunity to urge the attorneys general not to sue.
“It’s important to keep in mind that over the past year and half as DAGA (Democratic Attorneys General Association) has grown from a part-time committee to a full-time professional team, we have seen an uptick in contributions across the board including unions, advocacy groups, industry and business. Our fundraising has doubled in that time,” the organization told WorkersCompensation.com in a statement.
“The powers of state AGs vary not only by state, but also in breadth, depth, and scope — and the challenges Democratic AGs face are complex, especially under this current administration. That is one of the many reasons DAGA 2.0 is facilitating panels and conversations with not only just members, but also with policy experts, advocacy groups, and key constituencies to make sure different opinions and perspectives are shared-and that our AGs are hearing from a wide variety of voices on the intricate issues facing their states.”
The Republican Attorneys General Association also released a statement to CBS News.
“Elected leaders have an obligation to the people they serve to hear from all sides. This means meeting with key stakeholders in industry, grassroots organizations, law enforcement, advocacy groups and of course — their bosses — voters. Republican attorneys general follow all required legal guidelines to have these conversations, and they will continue to have them because they are committed to advancing solutions that make our communities and states safer and stronger.”
Stubenrauch said drug companies’ lobbying efforts won’t change anything.
“No amount of lobbying or access is going to change the facts that they played a huge role in creating the opioid crisis that is killing 15 Ohioans per day,” he said. “Months ago, Mike DeWine asked the drug companies to come into his office and negotiate a settlement to the lawsuit he filed against them for their actions. Some have come forward, others have not.”