Posts tagged: Post-Gazette

Pharma buys influence


(285) Sunday, September 25, 2016 – Gotta hand it to our state legislators.

Ten people a day dying from overdosing of anti-pain drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and fentanyl in Pennsylvania.

Maybe you can tweak the laws a bit to slow the epidemic.  Changes like limiting scripts to ten-day supply.  No “emergency” refills for doses that are lost or stolen.  More active use of a patient database to prevent “doctor shopping.”

Overdoses from these drugs led to about 2,700 deaths in 2014 and around 3,500 last year in this state.  Projections call for an even higher total this year.  There is hardly a person who is not related to, or knows of an individual no longer with us as a result of O.D. from these drugs.  Drug deaths are not particular to any race, sex, region or economic setting.

Did Big Pharma need the summer to spread campaign donations around to the incumbents?

Big Pharma makes big money from the sales of these drugs and will not tolerate limiting sales or tightening controls.  Too many doctors also resent more government intervention, but as usual offer no other solutions.

According to an investigation by Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, Big Pharma is in the midst of a 50-state strategy that includes at least 1,350 paid lobbyists and more than $800 million in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts.

Overdosing of anti-pain drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and fentanyl have been the cause of deaths in the United States since 2000 totaling a staggering 165,000 people.

This is an epidemic of the greatest proportions that continues due, in part, to lack of action by state and federal lawmakers.   To some extent, governors and President Obama share some blame.

Big Pharma has been a major contributor to every study group or association researching or offering solutions to the problem.  Few, if any, promote solutions that would harm the drug companies.

Groups spearheaded by parents of children who overdosed, by comparison, have been able to raise and spend about $4 million.  They represent no threat to Big Pharma.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh found that fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14-fold between 1979 and 2014, according to the Post-Gazette.  700 people died from such overdoses last year in Philadelphia alone.

This summer, PA lawmakers campaigned for re-election, showing up at fairs and parades or hosting duplicative health fairs.   Meanwhile, another 500 people died of overdose.

Big Pharma supports greater education as to the adverse effects of prescription pain killers or more government money spent on treatment.

Speculation is that Big Pharma agreed to increase discounts for Medicare and Medicaid drugs to benefit Obamacare.  In exchange, Washington turned a blind eye on limiting the availability of drugs and, of course, regulatory pricing.

In Harrisburg, the Wolf administration remains an easy mark for the unscrupulous.  Gov. Wolf has asked Republican legislative leaders for a special session that would only deal with the opioid epidemic.

Republicans have not agreed yet, but Gov. Wolf has the power to call them into session himself.  But the next time Gov. Wolf shows he has grown a pair, will be the first.

Bottom Line: The Harrisburg, a pattern of corruption, or — at a minimum — undue influence is ingrained.  Big businesses pay Republicans to not dip into their pockets.  Checks go to Democrats to look the other way or, at least, keep their mouths shut.

Witness the well-orchestrated, generous opposition to an extraction tax by the oil and gas industry.  While public education in Pennsylvania has gone to hell, PA remains the largest mineral-rich state without an extraction tax.  By comparison, levies on oil and gas by Texas allows that state to have no personal income tax.

The tight control exhibited on all aspects of the drug industry by Big Pharma bodes well for them in Pennsylvania.  People die, but drug execs and shareholders are enriched.

The Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity released their articles in advance to allow mainstream media time to localize their stories.  That is not happening everywhere.  Big Pharma is also “Big Advertiser” in mainstream media, especially television.

Full disclosure:  The writer is a member of the Center for Public Integrity and was a contributor to Wolf’s campaign for Governor in 2014.