Moneyed Interest Groups Lobby Congress to Tailor New Opioid Bills to Their Liking

Moneyed Interest Groups Lobby Congress to Tailor New Opioid Bills to Their Liking

Lobbyists for interest groups including insurers and drug makers are "engaging in a concerted drive" to alter to their own liking new legislation aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, says a story in the medical industry newsletter Statnews.

In some cases, lawmakers are entirely backing off or softening from some of the most far-reaching proposals.

As we reported recently, no fewer than 57 proposed bills targeting the opioid epidemic were sent to the House of Representatives after passing through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This remarkable bipartisan effort addressed every aspect of an epidemic that claimed over 40,000 American lives in 2016 and continues out of control.

The legislation contains,

"commonsense steps to address the public health crisis," Statnews said, "that would speed approvals for non-opioid painkillers, strengthen drug enforcement programs, improve care for children impacted by addiction, strive to reduce prescription levels, and improve prescription monitoring programs."

Now it appears that some of the bills will be weakened, others seriously compromised, and still others summarily dropped.

This is disappointing, but perhaps not so surprising. Historically, legislation is too often passed to satisfy the financial and political interests of business, industry and lawmakers themselves, rather than the real needs of the American people.

A review of lobbying disclosures and interviews with Capitol Hill lobbyists, lawmakers, and aides by Statnews reveals that a handful of players, such as PhRMA (the pharmaceutical industry's lobby group), major drugmakers and distributors, and even the American Medical Association, are maneuvering to "shape" the legislation for their own profit interests.

Maneuvering has been ongoing

The varying factions are involved in expanding or reducing availability of addiction treatment goods and services that affect their bottom lines.

Complicating this is the fact that Congress could be seen as "playing favorites" if it passes one or another piece of legislation.

For example, a conflict among makers and suppliers of opioid addiction treatment drugs, such as buprenorphine, Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) and Vivitrol (naltrexone), has been going on for years and continues to create problems today.

While the vast majority of addiction experts have been calling for years for expanded access to buprenorphine, which can be abused, yet the White House recently issued a statement calling for expanded access to naltrexone, which isn't an opioid and can't be abused.

At the same time, the DEA has advised against expanding the availability of buprenorphine because wider access was seen as a route to more illicit drug use. However, the DEA has just indicated it is rescinding its opposition.

Another example concerns campaign contributions from Alkermes, the drug company that makes naltrexone (trade name Vivitrol). The firm has made substantial contributions to several lawmakers directly concerned with approving or denying a bill expanding the availability of buprenorphine, which competes directly with naltrexone.

Another concerns expanding the DEA's authority to investigate and interdict suspiciously large prescription drug shipments, which can indicate diversion.

But drug distributor AmerisourceBergen has actively lobbied against expanding the DEA's power, even though suspiciously large shipments have been front and center in recent news.

20.8 million pills for a tiny town

For example, two small pharmacies in a West Virginia town of 2,900 received 20.8 million painkiller tablets in the span of a decade. That region was devastated by opioid addictions and overdoses. It's been so bad that West Virginia's attorney general filed a lawsuit in December that allows states to have greater input in drug shipment quotas.

Insurance companies have also entered the fray, aggressively opposing fines for not complying with the federal "mental health parity" laws that cover people needing treatment for mental health and addiction. According to Statnews, senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) have prepared legislation calling for the Labor Department to fine non-compliant insurers. The proposal was supported by Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and endorsed by the White House opioids commission.

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