In October, Beaver County officials filed a lawsuit against a dozen pharmaceutical companies, alleging they blatantly overprescribed painkillers and worsened the region’s opioid crisis. According to the complaint, opioid prescriptions quadrupled, starting in the early 2000s, and as a result, pharmaceutical companies made billions in profits. Beaver County officials say the opioid epidemic is costing them millions in emergency services, while also taking hundreds of lives. In 2016, Beaver County lost 102 people to overdoses and Allegheny County had a record 650 overdose deaths.
The lawsuit came on the heels of an investigation from The Washington Post and 60 Minutes outlining the influence “Big Pharma” has had on the federal government. Robert Peirce, the attorney representing Beaver County, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in October, “They can buy the feds, maybe, but they can’t buy the local communities.”
City Paper sought to determine just how much in campaign contributions these pharmaceutical companies have donated to area politicians. It turns out that Western Pennsylvania politicians have received hundreds of thousands in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies.
Using the National Institute on Money in State Politics campaign-finance-tracking website, followthemoney.org, CP counted all post-2000 donations from the following companies named in the Beaver County lawsuit: Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Actavis, Watson Pharmaceuticals, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. It should also be noted that former U.S. representatives Jason Altmire (D-McCandless) and Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) received tens of thousands of dollars in donations, but weren’t included since they no longer hold elected office.
1. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) — $55,500
Toomey received the most campaign donations from the companies of any politician representing Western Pennsylvania. Toomey’s commitment to tackling the opioid crisis was called into question in June, when he worked on the Senate Republicans’ attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Toomey’s proposal only allocated $2 billion a year to combat the opioid epidemic, even as experts said the crisis would likely cost $19 billion a year.
2. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) — $52,000
Casey came in second on the list, but it should be noted that he has served four years longer than Toomey. And, he has authored several bills to increase funding and provide additional structures to combat the opioid epidemic. But Casey doesn’t support a single-payer health-care system, which would likely give the government more control of health care and could disrupt the influence pharmaceutical companies have on the industry.
3. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler) — $22,250
The 3rd District congressman has been a staunch opponent of the ACA since he came into office in 2011. Kelly voted for the U.S. House ACA repeal in May, which proposed kicking 14 million people off Medicaid. Harvard University health-care policy experts say 1.84 million people currently receive substance-abuse treatment through Medicaid or the ACA marketplace.
4. State Sen. Joe Scarnati III (R-Brockway) — $19,100Scarnati may reside on the edges of Western Pennsylvania in Jefferson County, but the large donations made to him were notable. Scarnati received the most cash of any Pennsylvania state representative, and he is the state senate’s highest ranking Republican member.
5. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) — $15,500
Pittsburgh’s U.S. rep received less than other Western Pennsylvania reps like Murphy and Kelly, but more than others in the state. Doyle has been an outspoken critic of Republicans’ attempts to repeal the ACA, and has supported a single-payer health-care bill since 2005.
6. State Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Marshall) — $11,650
The most powerful Republican in state government has been building a campaign war chest for years, while taking significant cash from companies accused of worsening the state’s opioid epidemic. This month, Turzai announced he is running for governor. He has repeatedly said that the opioid crisis is a priority, but has indicated that solutions should not include an increase in state spending.
7. State Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga) — $5,950
Baker’s district is outside of Western Pennsylvania, but his role in the state house warranted an inclusion. Baker chairs the house’s health committee, which is often where opioid-related bills are first introduced and discussed. He also received the most individual donations (12) of any politician on the list.