Politics

Over 7,000 Candidates Took Money from Opioid Companies During the Epidemic

Opioid prescriptions — and overdoses — have been on the rise for years.

Now, a new investigation reveals that the opioid industry and its allies spent huge amounts of money — $880 million — on lobbying efforts, political strategy, and contributions at the state and federal level over the past decade, with the goal of influencing laws and regulations related to opioids.

A joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press found that the money spent by drug companies and their advocates over the last decade was more than eight times the money the gun lobby spent in the same time period.

"The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing," Andrew Kolodny, an advocate for drug reform and a founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press. "They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called opioid abuse an epidemic in 2011, but Congress only passed legislation to fight the epidemic earlier this year.

More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any year on record, and the majority of those overdoses involved opioids.

From 1999 to 2014, the number of overdoses from opioids — such as prescription pain killers and heroin — have quadrupled, and prescription pain killers are a "driving factor" in the number of overdose deaths, the CDC reported. The number of opioid prescriptions Americans were getting quadrupled at the same time as deadly opioid overdoses.

The CDC said that Americans were receiving more opioid prescriptions, but not reporting more pain.

While the number of prescriptions and deaths shot up, so did the money opioid pharmaceutical companies gave politicians.

The opioid industry gave money to 7,100 candidates at the state level, where the fight against the opioid epidemic first started.

The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that industry groups and lobbyists such as the Pain Care Forum, a group run by the chief lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, had a "state playbook of delay and defend" to fight regulations against opioids.

States have done more to combat opioid addiction in the last 10 years than the federal government.

Half of the states in the U.S. have passed legislation to increase access to Naloxone, an emergency drug that can save someone's life during an opioid overdose.

Prescription opioids are linked to heroin addiction.

Heroin use was 19 times higher among people who abused prescription opioids between 2002 and 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

One in four Americans from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health who are prescribed opioids go on to abuse them, but prescription pain killers are expensive. The longer someone abuses a drug, the more they need to use to feed their dependency. Heroin is a cheaper and more potent alternative.

In their defense, opioid pharmaceutical companies said that they support better regulation of opioids. "We and our members stand with patients, providers, law enforcement, policymakers, and others in calling for and supporting national policies and action to address opioid abuse," said the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.

For its part, Purdue Pharma said that it does not oppose new opioid prescription policies. "Purdue does not oppose — either directly or indirectly — policies that improve the way opioids are prescribed, including when those policies may result in decreased opioid use,” the company told the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.

RELATED: Congress Is Doing Something About the Opioid Epidemic