Three Southern Illinois congressmen, all seeking re-election in November, have each received $10,000 during this election from a pharmaceutical company that was spun off of a company named in several opioid lawsuits.
U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, were among the more than 600 recipients nationwide on both sides of the aisle that received money from AbbVie, which has contributed about $1.3 million to politicians during the 2017-18 election cycle.
They’re being criticized for taking money from AbbVie amid the ongoing opioid crisis.
“The only thing that affects my vote is my district,” Bost said when asked whether it was right to take the contributions from the pharmaceutical PAC.
AbbVie, based in North Chicago, was started in 2013 as a spinoff of Abbott Laboratories. AbbVie includes employees who previously worked for Abbott.
Abbott has been named in lawsuits for its role in the opioid epidemic. However, the company has not sold pharmaceuticals in the U.S. since 2012 and has been indemnified in legal actions by Purdue Pharma.
AbbVie does not produce opioids, but the bio-pharmaceutical company still is taking an interest in the political process on both federal and state levels of government.
“As a regulated health-care company, the political process has a real impact on the work we do and our ability to help the patients we serve,” said Mary Kathryn Steel, director of corporate communications for AbbVie. “Actively participating in the process is crucial to improving patient access to new medical advances.”
$174,000 donated to multiple candidates
During the 2017-18 election cycle, AbbVie has donated $174,000 to Illinois candidates for both state and federal office, FEC records say.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville received $500 from the AbbVie PAC, according to records.
She defended taking the pharmaceutical company money and said AbbVie has products other than opioids. Stuart recently introduced legislation aimed at fighting opioids abuse.
Stuart added opioids do have an appropriate role, as long as they are prescribed by a doctor and used correctly.
“We do have folks that live with chronic pain that under the correct supervision of a doctor, there are appropriate uses for opioid type drugs. What we’re dealing with is over-prescription, doctor shopping,” Stuart said. “That’s why one of our bills gets those opioid prescriptions reported even faster to the prescription monitoring program to fight that.”
She’s says she’s not worried about what strings could be attached to the contribution.
“I’m not going to get pushed around,” Stuart said. “No matter what sum of money, I’m not going to get pushed around by a group that just wants to flood our streets with more opioids.”
GOP congressmen receive contributions
Among the federal officeholders to receive contributions are Bost and fellow GOP Congressmen Rodney Davis and John Shimkus.
Bost received about $13,000 from AbbVie over the years, including $10,000 during this cycle.
Bost the second-term congressman, who is seeking a third term, defended Congress’ work on dealing with the opioid epidemic pointing to increasing education on the use of opioids, getting Naxolone to first responders to administer, and having stricter regulations on opioids.
“I’ve made over 40 votes to try to straighten out the opioid problem,” Bost said. “The opioid problem existed well before I got into the U.S. Congress. In the state legislature, I was one of the lead ones out there fighting, not only on opioids, but I was one of the first ones to draft language to deal with meth.”
Bost turned the tables on his Democratic opponent, Brendan Kelly, and said the St. Clair County State’s attorney has received money from his fellow attorneys.
“Some of the worst people we deal with in this (issue) are where the trial lawyers are at on this,” Bost said. “But yet, he keeps taking (money) from trial lawyers.”
Kelly has sued Abbott Laboratories and others for their role in the opioid epidemic. He recently filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers. The attorneys working with St. Clair County on those cases would receive about 25 percent of whatever award is ultimately determined. Kelly was the first in the state to sue, and expects the lawsuits around the country will eventually be merged.
“AbbVie is simply a shadowy reflection of a company that many people, not just my office, are suing for their role in the opioid crisis,” Kelly said. “That political influence, that pharmaceutical companies including AbbVie, has had over state and federal policy is what is part the cause of the opioid crisis and that has led to the deaths of thousands of people, (and) the cycle of addiction and suffering that we’re still not ahead of.”
While on the campaign trail, Kelly has said he wants a constitutional amendment to reign in power of money in political system and has called for public financing in elections.
“The flood of money affects both sides,” Kelly said.
Kelly has not taken any money from AbbVie, election reporting records show and has said he would not take money from pharmaceutical companies. Abbvie did not give to Davis’ Democratic opponent, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield, or Shimkus’ opponent, Kevin Gaither. Green Party candidate in the 12th District Randy Auxier, also has not received any contributions from AbbVie.
Davis was called upon by the Champaign-Urbana chapter of Indivisible, a left-leaning group, to give back contributions from AbbVie and other pharmaceutical companies, saying the companies were responsible for the epidemic.
“Keep in mind this is a politically partisan group that obviously didn’t call out any Democrats who have taken PAC contributions from the same industry. What we’re trying to do is actually fix the problem,” Davis said. “(The Department of Justice) is enforcing new rules … to make sure we crack down on opioid abuse.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration has also proposed decreasing quotas for the manufacturing opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl, Davis’ office said.
“Nobody in my entire five and a half years in Congress has ever come to me and said ‘I want to expand the production of opioids,’” Davis added. “American companies want to help us stop this scourge and if they don’t they’re going to be held accountable.”
Davis said he has been vocal about addressing opioid issues.
There has been legislation to stop the flow of fentanyl through international mail, and allowing facilities that treat mental diseases to also use Medicaid dollars to treat opioid disorders.
The federal government also has awarded the second year of funding to fight opioid abuse through the 21st Century Cures Act to each state including $16 million for Illinois to help prevent misuse of opioids, expand access to effective treatment options, and help people recover from opioid abuse.
The House Energy and Commerce committee has launched an investigation into opioid manufacturers, Davis’ office said.
“I’ve seen it effect my home area drastically, young kids dying,” Davis said. “We’re going to continue, follow up on the energy commerce committee hearings to beat this scourge. It’s unfortunate political opponents want and try to play politics when there are plenty of people on their side of the aisle that should be asked to do same thing they’re asking me to do.”
Shimkus’ spokesman Jordan Haverly said the congressman has worked to solve the opioid epidemic.
“Campaign contributions have not influenced his support for solutions to the opioid epidemic,” Haverly said. “In fact, in this Congress alone, he introduced bipartisan legislation to incentivize non-opioid pain treatments and supported passage of more than 50 individual bills to address the crisis.”
This year, the U.S. House considered and passed opioid a package of bills dealing with opioid abuse.
The House proposal includes a requirement that addiction treatment funded by federal government be evidence-based, calls for a move away from opioids for pain treatment, and changes in medical privacy laws that allows for disclosure of a patient’s substance abuse history.
The House proposals did not include provisions allowing for needle exchanges, an expansion of methadone treatment by Medicaid and Medicare, or mandatory prescriber education, and limits on a patients first opioid prescription.
The U.S. Senate is now working on its own package of bills, and is expected to vote on a package of bills this week.
“This is one of the issues where there is strong bipartisan feeling. Democrats and Republicans, no matter where you are from the state, small towns, big cities, suburbs, rich towns, poor towns. Same problem,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. “Opioids, heroin, fentanyl, it’s all there and we’re losing lots of good people who are becoming addicted.”