Map of the United States with West Coast written in the center

STATE OF AFFAIRS: Opioid Lobby Throws Out Cash at West Coast Lawmakers

An Update on the Money Spent in Your State


(October 20, 2016) – Over a year ago, Vertava Health took to the streets to bring you the most up-to-the-minute, detailed accounts of our nation’s drug epidemic state by state. We spoke with the nation’s top leaders in addiction, recovery, law enforcement and state government to keep readers informed on each state’s progress in battling an epidemic that is killing over 129 people a day in the United States.


A recent report by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity  found opioid proponents to be a big part of American politics, with a scathing amount of donations from the Pain Control Forum. This week we checked in with 4 states on the West Coast to give you a report on money spent in your state.


The investigation 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. Reports analyzed campaign finance and lobbying data from 2006-2015, reviewed hundreds of documents and conducted more than 150 interviews. The AP and Center for Public Integrity found that drugmakers and allied groups employed an annual average of 1350 lobbyists in state capitals around the country and contributed a total of 7,100 candidates for state-level office.


Drugmakers and their allies spent more than $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying over the last decade nationwide 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 8 times that of the gun lobby during the same period. By comparison, groups advocating for limits on Opioid prescribing spent about $4 million.



After Washington state leaders drafted the nation’s first set of medical guidelines urging doctors not to prescribe high doses of opioids in 2007, the Pain Care Forum hired a public relations firm to convince the state medical board that the guidelines would hurt patients with chronic pain.


A decade ago, when Washington state made one of the first major moves to place limits on opioid painkiller prescriptions, drugmakers fought back. The Washington State Legislature, pictured here in 2016, approved the policy anyway. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
A decade ago, when Washington state made one of the first major moves to place limits on opioid painkiller prescriptions, drugmakers fought back. The Washington State Legislature, pictured here in 2016, approved the policy anyway.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

Worried the guidelines would create a “domino effect” of other states adopting restrictive policies, the forum agreed to pay a public relations consultant $85,000 to prep speakers, draft patient testimonials and coordinate an educational initiative focused on elected officials and the state medical board, documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press reveal.


The core message of that campaign was that patients should have access to painkillers.


Drugmakers paid $825,000 to distribute a book in dozens of states, according to information the FSMB provided as part of a U.S. Senate investigation. FSMB guidelines, which some doctors said were too lax, were enshrined by medical boards in at least 35 states as of 2013.


Purdue Pharmaceuticals laid out more than $62,500 that year on lobbying. It also gave $800 each to five state senators; four of them voted against the dosing limits.


This year a new federal grant awarded to Washington state will help put a possible life-saving drug overdose medication into the hands of first responders and possibly at local pharmacies.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will give Washington state $1 million per year, for up to five years to help the state prevent and treat opioid overdoses and deaths.


Washington was one of 12 states in the country to receive the funding, according to a news release from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.


Over the five years of the project, overdose prevention resources will reach over 17,000 first responders, medical professionals, pharmacies and community partners.


In Washington, about 600 people per year die due to opioid overdose according to the state department of Social and Health Services.



In Oregon, where 3.14 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications were issued in 2015, the Pain Care Forum spent $1.15 million from 2006 to 2015. During that same period, opioid overdose deaths in the state rose 8 percent.


Oregon lawmakers passed a bill this year that allows pharmacists to dispense Narcan, which counteracts the effects of opioid overdose. The new law also gives emergency room physicians direct access to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database.


There have been about 19 lobbyists hired each year for the past decade to represent members of the Pain Care Forum in Oregon.


Prescriptions for opioid painkillers are common in Oregon, with more than 3.14 million prescriptions issued in 2015. That’s the equivalent of 0.78 prescriptions per person.


The number of Oregonians dying from drug overdoses is on the rise. The state’s drug deaths increased about 8 percent between 2006 and 2014, with a total of 4,442 during that period. Though the drug death data isn’t limited to opioids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated prescription opioids and heroin account for the majority of drug deaths.



A California state judge threw out a lawsuit against opioid makers last year on the grounds that it would have usurped the FDA. On Sept. 29, however, plaintiffs got a boost when a federal judge in Chicago rejected the “primary jurisdiction” argument and allowed that city to go ahead with a similar case.


The conflicting rulings in California and Chicago could make a new Mississippi case a tie-breaker, which could spawn many new lawsuits if it goes against the opioid makers. A state judge there will decide whether Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood can proceed with a suit against opioid manufacturers in which the companies stand accused of promoting the drugs by allegedly systematically understating their health risks and exaggerating their benefits, violating state law.


California has the most opioid-related deaths in the nation. More than 91 percent of Californians in need of treatment were unable to access services in the past year. And the state has the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the country, with 4,521 opioid-related deaths in 2014.


If Congress were to approve the Obama Administration’s full $920 million request for CARA (the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act), California could receive up to $78 million for treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), California has some of the most severe capacity shortfalls in treatment facilities in the nation.


The SAMHSA data shows that 102 percent of the inpatient hospital beds were used for substance abuse in 2013, meaning that hospitals are using beds not intended for substance abuse treatment to keep up with demands.



Nevada, doctors prescribed painkillers at a rate of almost one per person last year, and 11 people were charged with running a $1.2 million Oxycodone conspiracy. On average, at least one Nevadan dies every day from an opiate overdose. Gov. Brian Sandoval hosted a two-day summit to address opioid abuse back in August.


Sandoval announced a new pilot program was which would help opioid addicts find housing in rural parts of the state. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $53 million in funding, which includes roughly $9 million to expand treatment programs in Nevada.


Nevada ranked first in money spent from the opioid lobby per state.


A new study puts the state as the fourth highest for overdose deaths. The same report says on average there are 21.6 deaths for every 100,000 people making drug abuse the leading cause of fatal injuries. The biggest issue in the state right now is heroin. Overdoses associated with this drug have more than doubled in the last 10 years.


Despite the increase in heroin use, overall, deadly drug overdoses have seen a slight dip in the last three years. However, they’re up more than 25 percent from just 10 years ago.

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