Sunday, September 18, 2016

Drug makers lobby to protect opioid sales

Posted By on Sun, Sep 18, 2016 at 8:52 AM

  • Center for Public Integrity
  • ARKANSAS A LEADER: In opioid use.

The epidemic of opioid overuse is nowhere more evident than in Arkansas. Now comes compelling evidence that the pharmaceutical industry, which makes untold sums selling the drugs, is doing all it can to keep the supply flowing.

The Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press have now combined on a major reporting project that illustrates the 50-state effort by the pharmaceutical industry to fight legislative efforts to curb prescription abuses.

In 10 years, Big Pharma spent $880 million lobbying legislators in Congress and all 50 states. They hired, on average, dozens of lobbyists in every state to press their cause. One handy conduit was the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society, the American Cancer Action Network.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and an outspoken advocate for opioid reform. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.”
As yet, the project's reporting doesn't include a searchable database for registered lobbyists and contributions by state that contributed to the cumulative data. Rest assured that Arkansas has been involved.

All this is bad enough. But a relevant current question is how much influence the pharmaceutical industry is exerting in the current effort to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas.  There's a growing body of indications that there's less reliance on addictive opioids for pain relief in states that have legal marijuana. Pharmaceutical lobbyists have worked persistently and expensively against medical marijuana laws.

Why, do you wonder?

In Arkansas, big business opposition — the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce — has led the fight against medical marijuana, with assistance from many who enjoy pharmaceutical industry support. Why, I bet if the Chamber passes its corporate welfare amendment (which provides state tax pledges to support private bond issues and taxpayer subsidies of chamber of commerce lobbyists) they might could find a drug company happy to build a facility here in return for some taxpayer handouts. It's the least they could do for fighting medical marijuana.

If the evidence compiled so far is correct — marijuana is a cheaper and better substitute for opioids — it could save government millions.

Committees formed to fight medical marijuana in Arkansas so far have revealed little about the sources of the  money they plan to spend. It will be worth watching.

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