Too Big To Fail – Big Pharma Edition

By: Duncan Burns – July, 2017

There is probably not a single resident of the Merrimack Valley, fhe Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or this entire country that either has not been directly affected or knows someone who has been affected by the opioid crisis. It is a plague upon this nation, which has surpassed car crashes as the number one cause of unintended deaths for the 25-64 years of age demographic per The Center for Disease Control (CDC). The latest 2015 CDC available data shows that Massachusetts leads the nation with a 35.3 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015. Even worse, the CDC acknowledges that some of these estimates may be underrepresented and worse than official statistics presented.

Some State Attorney Generals across the nation have fought back. How? By filing civil suits and going after the opioid manufacturers themselves. These opioid manufacturers include names like: Purdue Pharma, Endo International Plc., Johnson & Johnson’s (J & J) Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan to name a few. Should states prevail, it would bring in hundreds-of-millions to state coffers to hopefully put towards funding in treatment and battling the epidemic. Massachusetts already budgeted over one-hundred million for substance abuse treatment, but is it enough? Will money being thrown at supply and demand issue, and unfettered opioid prescriptions help solve the crisis, a crisis that is specifically claiming middle-aged white males in larger numbers than all others? Probably not, especially if the cost of doing business is a few billion in fines.

Pharmaceutical companies, also known as “Big Pharma”, have now surpassed Wall Street’s “Too Big To Fail” Banks in political campaign contributions. In 2016 the industry spent nearly $250 million in political campaign contributions, their 2017 filings show they are keeping pace with almost $80 million in coffer stuffing contributions. The Big Pharma industries top lobbyist, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) leads the way with just over $8 million so far in 2017. Much like their Wall Street brethren, who over the past decade committed, and continue to commit, massive fraud & crime upon Americans, no one goes to jail. The fines levied? Simply the cost of doing business.

Will our own State Legislature and/or Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey lead where others have not? Probably not. Much like Foreclosure Crisis in Massachusetts, then Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley simply settled for pennies-on-the-dollar with Wall Street, even though she had Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Landmark Decisions favoring consumers. Coakley simply caved to Wall Street, much like her Congressional political brethren who voted to bailout Wall Street for massive fraud upon the people. Campaign cash and lobbying influence being put above our interest in favor of those who have done irreparable harm.

Big Pharma’s foot print in Massachusetts is vast, as is their campaign contributions and lobbying activity. PhRMA’s lobbying totals at the Massachusetts State House for 2016 totaled $208,461.54, most which was spread amongst state lobbyist Bay State Strategies Group LLC and the law firm of Nutter, McClennen & Fish. Bay State Strategies have sent over $12K to Beacon Hill since 2016 and $800.00 directly to MA Attorney General Maura Healey. Nutter, McClennen & Fish attorneys have sent over $38K to Beacon Hill since 2016, with $6150.00 going directly into AG Healey’s campaign coffers. Perdue Pharma spent just over $50K in lobbying on Beacon Hill using Charles Stefanini Consulting LLC (Mr. Stefanini is also “of-counsel” with lobbying firm Dewey Square Group). Charles Stefanini Consulting sent just over $7K to Beacon Hill since 2016 with $250.00 directly to MA State Speaker DeLeo.

Massachusetts Congress Members are not exempt from the allure of Big Pharma’s millions in campaign monies either. In 2016 Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Rep. Seth Moulton took $1300 and $1K respectively from PhRMA, J & J donated over $13K to MA Congress Members, once again, Kennedy leading the way with over $9K. Sen. Elizabeth Warren took $500 from opiate manufacturer Allergan, and once again, Kennedy taking $2K from Teva Pharmaceuticals in 2016. Unlike their friends on Beacon Hill, at least Members of Congress from Massachusetts are not as piggish when it comes to the Big Pharma opiate manufacturers campaign donation trough.

Not all Big Pharma drugs are bad, but many clearly come with labeled side effects, some tragically so. These manufacturers donate in-kind to politicians as well. However, opioid prescriptions have surpassed other medications which would lead to speculation as to why there is such an increase for a drug that is killing our citizenry. Profit margins would be a leading culprit, especially now as government ostensibly subsidizes the industry. Big Pharma executives of course have cashed in, since 2015, Allergan executives sold back shares worth just under twenty-million dollars, and J & J executives have cashed in just under ninety-million dollars per Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) Form-4 filings. Not quite public health insurer pay days, but not bad either, other opioid manufacturers are privately held and that data is not available.

Much like Wall Street, no matter how much crime is committed, Big Pharma opioid manufacturers have the added benefit of a death-for-profit business model. In both cases, Wall Street and Big Pharma political affiliation does not matter, both are equal opportunists when it comes to campaign and lobbying spending. Being a Democrat or Republican does not immunize from the allure of money, as both Party’s enjoy money from ill-gotten gains, filled with not only destruction of American families economic well-being, but also their deaths. Maybe someday a real Democrat from Massachusetts will stand out from the crowd and start putting executives and others responsible for such carnage in prison where they belong instead of the status quo of fining their “death-for-profit” business models.