A Missouri senator recently opened an investigation into the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the nation’s burgeoning opioid addiction epidemic, but notably omitted one of the biggest opioid manufacturers from the probe. The company happens to be based in her home state.
WASHINGTON, D.C.– With an estimated 46 people dying every single day in the United States due to overdoses of legally-acquired opiates, the nation’s painkiller abuse epidemic is becoming impossible to ignore – even for the U.S. government. In an attempt to investigate the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the explosive growth of drug abuse involving the products they manufacture, a top Senate Democrat has opened a probe into the activities of five leading opiate manufacturers based within the U.S.
On Tuesday, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) demanded internal documents from drug manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Insys, Mylan and Depomed in order to investigate the marketing practices of these corporations and determine if they knew of the dangers their products present. The documents requested include internal sales and marketing materials, addiction studies and contributions made to “independent” third-party advocacy groups that work to prevent tighter federal regulations for opiate painkillers.
“This epidemic is the direct result of a calculated sales and marketing strategy major opioid manufacturers have allegedly pursued over the past 20 years to expand their market share and increase dependency on powerful – and often deadly – painkillers,” McCaskill wrote in her formal request to the companies. “To achieve this goal, manufacturers have reportedly sought, among other techniques, to downplay the risk of addiction to their products and encourage physicians to prescribe opioids for all cases of pain and in high doses,” she added.
However, these five opiate manufacturers represent only 13.4 million of the more than 236 million prescriptions – less than 6 percent of the total market share – of opiates that were filled last year. Noticeably absent from McCaskill’s list is the largest opiate manufacturer in the U.S., Mallinckrodt, which had more than 43.8 million prescriptions for its opiate painkillers filled last year – a whopping 18.6 percent of the total market share.
Upon further investigation, Mallinckrodt’s omission from the investigation seems quite dubious. Based within McCaskill’s home state of Missouri, Mallinckrodt donated 2,500 dollars to McCaskill’s campaign committee in 2015, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.
While this may not seem like enough money to sway an influential U.S. senator, McCaskill’s connections to the Missouri-based Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit management organization, makes this seemingly small conflict of interest much more glaring.
Express Scripts is the third-largest contributor to McCaskill’s PAC and campaign committee, contributing a total of 108,558 dollars over the last six years. Scripts’ interest in Mallinckrodt’s omission is clear, given that they distribute the pharmaceutical company’s products. McCaskill, who will be up for re-election next year, is likely unwilling to negatively impact the finances of some of her largest donors, despite her stated commitment to investing the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the nation’s epidemic of painkiller abuse. It seems that this probe, like so many other congressional investigations, will largely serve to placate public concern regarding the predatory marketing of opiates without actually attempting to ameliorate or meaningfully investigate the issue.