Pain, opioids and political cash in Oregon

Between 2006 and 2015, members of the Pain Care Forum contributed more than $1.15 million in Oregon

Packs of prescription pills (Public Domain Photos, Vera Kratochvil)
Packs of prescription pills (Public Domain Photos, Vera Kratochvil)

(AP) — Heavy-duty prescription painkillers like hydrocodone and OxyContin are a big part of medicine in Oregon, with doctors prescribing them at a rate that nearly reached one per person last year.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the state get a huge chunk of their campaign cash from donors with ties to the prescription painkiller business.

But Oregon isn’t alone: a joint investigation by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that drugmakers that produce opioid painkillers and allied advocacy groups spent more than $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying nationwide over the past decade. The money comes from members of the Pain Control Forum — a group that touts prescription opioids as having a vital role in improving the quality of life for millions of Americans.

By comparison, groups advocating for limits on opioid prescribing spent about $4 million nationwide.

Things to know about political spending by the painkiller industry and opioid use in Oregon:

DRUG SPENDING: Between 2006 and 2015, members of the Pain Care Forum contributed more than $1.15 million in Oregon. In fact, Oregon ranks second only to Nevada for having the largest portion of its total contributions come from Pain Care Forum members. Washington state came in third.

DRUG LOBBYISTS: There have been about 19 lobbyists hired each year for the past decade to represent members of the Pain Care Forum in Oregon.

PRESCRIPTIONS: Prescriptions for opioid painkillers are common in Oregon, with more than 3.14 million prescriptions issued in 2015. That’s the equivalent of .78 prescriptions per person.

DRUG DEATHS: The number of Oregonians dying from drug overdoses is on the rise. The state’s drug deaths increased about 8 percent between 2006 and 2014, with a total of 4,442 during that period. Though the drug death data isn’t limited to opioids, the CDC has indicated that prescription opioids and heroin account for the majority of drug deaths.

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