POLITICS OF PAIN: Northwest Ohio politicians given $151K by pain care lobby


Campaign contributions came as opioid-related deaths soared in Ohio

By John Bush - [email protected]



ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, SEPT. 19, 2016 AND THEREAFTER-FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. For more than a decade, members of a little-known group called the Pain Care Forum have blanketed Washington with messages touting prescription painkillers' vital role in the lives of millions of Americans, creating an echo chamber that has quietly derailed efforts to curb U.S. consumption of the drugs, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's usage. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)


LIMA — A joint investigation by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that drugmakers that produce opioid painkillers and allied advocacy groups spent more than $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying over the past decade as they worked to influence state and federal policies.

The groups have an array of political interests that include opioid advocacy, and their spending was eight times that of the gun lobby during the same period. By comparison, groups advocating for limits on opioid prescribing spent about $4 million.

These pharmaceutical companies and allied organizations are part of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition of companies and advocacy groups that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues. They hired an average of more than 1,350 state lobbyists and more than 115 federal lobbying organizations each year during that 10-year period, the investigation found.

In Ohio, the Pain Care Forum spent $3.5 million on federal and state candidates from 2006 to 2015, though last year’s data is not complete. The average number of registered lobbyists employed by PCF was 37 per year. Compared to the rest of the country, Ohio ranked 32nd in the nation for PCF contributions, and 43 for average number of lobbyists per year.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman received one of the highest amounts of PCF contributions — 75 over the last seven years — with a total of $211,865 in campaign contributions by the organization. His opponent in the 2016 Senate race, Ted Strickland, received 17 PCF contributions in the last 10 years, totaling $31,785.

In northwest Ohio, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta received $57,250 from PCF, followed by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan ($41,125), state Sen. Keith Faber ($20,475), state Rep. Bob Cupp ($9,250), Senate candidate Matt Huffman ($7,600), state Rep. Robert Sprague ($7,050), state Sen. Cliff Hite ($6,550), state Rep. Jim Buchy ($1,850) and state Rep. Tony Burkley ($250). These numbers total $151,400 in campaign contributions by PCF groups.

Of all Ohio’s politicians, only three received campaign funding from groups that advocate for stricter opioid laws and regulations. These legislators include U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown ($2,100), former Rep. Betty Sue Sutton ($400) and former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy ($200).

However, all three of these politicians also received funding from PCF and its allied groups. Most notably, of the $69,450 Brown was given over 10 years, $67,350 came from PCF and its allies.

In an email to The Lima News, Portman’s campaign denied the assertion that pharmaceutical companies influenced opioid legislation he championed, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 that was almost unanimously approved by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Also known as CARA, the legislation would “provide a series of incentives and resources designed to encourage states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies to combat addiction,” according to a statement from Portman’s office.

As part of the bill, lawmakers would strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion, and help at-risk individuals access services.

“CARA creates a task force that will look at pain management to develop model prescriber guidelines, and produce recommendations that would reduce the amount of opioids that are prescribed by physicians,” an official from Portman’s office said.

Portman’s campaign also said the number of people who become addicted to opioids can be lessened “if we do a better job educating people about the risks of opioids and looking for alternatives to treat pain.”

Strickland’s campaign also provided a statement: “Ted believes we need to address the problem of opioid addiction and abuse at every level — including making sure the doctors and other medical professionals are prescribing these powerful narcotics in a responsible, limited way.”

An official with Strickland’s office said Portman voted against the funding for CARA.

“Sen. Portman is trying to distract from his own hypocritical record by touting a drug-abuse prevention bill he voted against funding,” Strickland’s campaign stated in an email to The Lima News. “Sen. Portman has refused to support real resources that Ohio’s communities desperately need.”

This legislation, as well as the investigation by the AP and Center for Public Integrity, comes as the number of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers has soared, claiming the lives of 165,000 people in the U.S. since 2000.

Ohio’s drug-related deaths have increased 81 percent, going from 1,515 in 2006 to 2,744 in 2014. This data is not limited to opioids, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that prescription opioids and heroin account for the majority of drug deaths.

While drug-related deaths are up in Ohio, the amount of opioid prescriptions given by physicians are down over the last three years.

In 2013, 11.26 million opioid prescriptions were issued in Ohio. In 2015, that number was down to 9.96 million. Still, Ohio ranks 16 in the nation for number of opioid prescriptions issued per capita.

The pharmaceutical and allied organizations included in this analysis also are involved in a number of issues beyond opioids, and it’s impossible to say how much of their spending was directly related to influencing opioid policies.

Drug companies say they are committed to solving the problems linked to their painkillers. Purdue Pharma, one of the largest opioid producers by sales, said it does not oppose policies “that improve the way opioids are prescribed” even if they result in lower sales.

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, SEPT. 19, 2016 AND THEREAFTER-FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. For more than a decade, members of a little-known group called the Pain Care Forum have blanketed Washington with messages touting prescription painkillers' vital role in the lives of millions of Americans, creating an echo chamber that has quietly derailed efforts to curb U.S. consumption of the drugs, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's usage. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
http://limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_FOR-WEB-ONLY_3.jpgADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, SEPT. 19, 2016 AND THEREAFTER-FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. For more than a decade, members of a little-known group called the Pain Care Forum have blanketed Washington with messages touting prescription painkillers' vital role in the lives of millions of Americans, creating an echo chamber that has quietly derailed efforts to curb U.S. consumption of the drugs, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's usage. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
Campaign contributions came as opioid-related deaths soared in Ohio

By John Bush

[email protected]

Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.

Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.

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