SALEM, Ore. -- Oregon ranks third in the nation for the amount of money given to legislative campaigns by a group of pharmaceutical companies when compared to total campaign contributions, according to the Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity.
The group is called the Pain Care Forum, a coalition of pharmaceutical companies and advocacy groups that meet monthly to discuss use of opiates. Its members have given at least $1.1 million to Oregon legislators since 2006. Despite the heavy spending, the group seems to have had little effect on legislation in Oregon.
The statewide rate of opioid prescription has held steady in recent years, according to Oregon Health Authority data. The number of opioid overdoses and deaths steadily increased in Oregon until beginning a decline in 2011 — though the number of deaths has gone up since 2013 to several hundred per year.
Pain pill makers donating to legislative leaders
Among the politicians receiving the most cash from Pain Care Forum members are Oregon's legislative administrators and those lawmakers that sit on state health care committees.
The top recipients are:
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, $39,750
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, $37,750
Gov. Kate Brown (D), $28,500
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, $28,500
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Portland, $24,200 (chair of Senate health care committee)
House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, $15,550
Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, chair of the House health care committee, appears not to have received campaign contributions from Pain Care Forum members.
Legislative administrators such as the House Speaker, Senate President and committee leaders are often courted by lobbyists because those lawmakers control what proposals are scheduled for hearings.
Pain Care Forum members that have given the most to the legislative leaders listed above are:
Eli Lilly and Company, $48,100
Allergan Inc., $28,552
Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America, $19,198
Bristol-Myers Squibb, $16,350
Merck & Company, $12,000
Johnson & Johnson, $7,500
National Association of Chain Drug Stores, $7,250
An Eli Lilly spokesman disputed the company's membership in the Pain Care Forum, saying a company representative attended early meetings of the group but quickly stopped. In addition, the company doesn't sell opiates. However, a list of Pain Care Forum members assembled by the AP and Center for Public Integrity lists Eli Lilly among its ranks.
Pfizer issued a written statement for this story. In it, company officials said Pfizer is combating prescription drug abuse and supports programs that monitor how potentially addictive pain medications are used. A company spokeswoman said Pfizer was a member of the Pain Care Forum but hasn't participated in the group's meetings in years.
Donations appear to have little effect
Despite the infusion of more than $1 million in campaign contributions, it appears that no legislation has been proposed or enacted in Oregon in the past 10 years that made it easier to prescribe pain medications. On the contrary, Oregon lawmakers have passed bills to combat opiate overdoses — with the support of the pharmaceutical industry, according to lobbyists and legislative staff familiar with the negotiations.
Other legislation that would have required patients have access to non-addictive pain medications was introduced but died without a vote. It's unclear whether Pain Care Forum members or other pharmaceutical companies met with lawmakers to discuss that legislation.
Most recently, the Legislature passed a bill to prevent so-called "doctor shopping," a situation where patients visit multiple doctors to obtain as many pain pill prescriptions as possible.
Despite recent legislation designed to curb opioid abuse, or perhaps because of it, Pain Care Forum members aren't giving up on Oregon. The number of lobbyists for companies belonging to the group grew in Oregon from 17 in 2010 to 25 in 2015.
Statesman Journal reporter Caitlyn May contributed to this report.
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