When the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press launched a two-part series about the politics behind the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic last week, reactions came swiftly from around the country.
More than two dozen editorials and columns were written in response to the “Politics of Pain” project. News outlets from across the nation demanded reforms, calling for congressional and local hearings, changes to campaign finance rules and tighter regulations. One columnist suggested dissolution of the Pain Care Forum, a national coalition of drug companies and their allies that was the focus of the investigation.
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., also cited the reporting from the Senate floor Thursday as he called for action. “The Money Mile and its army of Big Pharma lobbyists are the reason mandatory prescriber education is not the law. It is the reason the Food and Drug Administration has been complicit in many instances in the worsening of this epidemic,” he said. “Our cities are fighting a war, and we need to help them.”
Here’s a sampling of the editorial commentary in response to the series:
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Ariz.)
“There’s a troubling disconnect between the pharmaceutical industry and the people who need its products.…Americans need Congress to be a full-time, independent champion for their best interests.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisc.)
“The solution is for legislators and physicians to show courage in the face of these pressures. Legislators and Congress should take appropriate action to ensure that the drugs are available to those who need them but aren’t overprescribed. And physicians, knowing the risk, should be more reticent in prescribing these drugs.”
The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah)
“As long as there is pain, there will be a market for painkillers. But we have the power to ease the addictive, often deadly, side-effects of one kind of drug if we will stand up to the legal drug pushers at least as forcefully as we fight the illegal ones.”
The Vindicator (Youngstown, Ohio)
“An exhaustive, revealing two-part investigative series by the Associated Press and The Center for Public Integrity must not go unnoticed by federal and state lawmakers…A full-fledged congressional inquiry based on the AP/CPI investigative series is warranted.”
The Greenwood Commonwealth (Greenwood, Miss.)
“It is improbable — given as much money is at stake — that the pharmaceutical industry will police itself. And while medical groups are aware of the problem, they have their own issues trying to rein in doctors who overprescribe painkillers. That’s why outside regulation is needed. Getting that done is difficult, though, when those who are fueling the problem have the resources to kill proposed reforms.”
Elko Daily Free Press (Elko, Nev.)
“There was a big fight in Congress this summer over additional funding to address the problem, but we think more progress would be made simply by following the money and drying up the flow that has allowed this manufactured epidemic to thrive as vigorously as the illegal heroin trade.”
Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)
“This sort of influence-peddling would not be so effective in a better regulated, more transparent political system. Yet talk of reforms – like lower limits on political spending and greater disclosure of who is really behind efforts to influence legislation and government policy – inevitably devolves into partisan gainsaying and ideological posturing. Too many well-heeled special interests don’t want to lose access to legislators and other decision makers; too many politicians don’t want to stop the gravy train. All this is not so abstract in the context of something like the opioid crisis, in which one of the nation’s most profitable industries has used the power of money to the detriment of tens of thousands of patients and tens of thousands more of their parents, brothers, sisters, children and friends who have watched them descend into addiction and, often, die.”
The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.)
“If the pharmaceutical companies are sincere with their promise to be part of the solution, then they should put some of their money into successful programs, not just into the pockets of politicians. The real measure of success will be when the body count drops.”
Chris Tomlinson, Houston Chronicle business columnist (Houston, Texas)
“Spending $140 million to keep lawmakers from addressing a public health crisis is not acceptable behavior, even if the forum is playing by the rules. This what infuriates Americans about big business, a complete disregard for common decency. The Pain Care Forum needs to disband, and companies that make painkillers need to join the effort to stop the opioid epidemic that is killing more than 18,000 people a year. That means selling less opioids, not more.”
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