Rejected Sac Bee Opinion Essay 3
Submitted Aug. 27, 2019
Why are Sacramento Members of Congress
so addicted to opioid donations?
By Jeff Burdick
On Monday, a federal judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay more than a half billion dollars to the State of Oklahoma for knowingly contributing to the runaway opioid tragedy. This made national headlines not just for judgement’s amount, but because two thousand other such lawsuits are working through the judicial system.
This includes a lawsuit filed last year by the counties of Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado against two dozen opioid makers and distributors. The case remains active, and among the defendants are AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., Teva Pharmaceutical, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Mallinckrodt, CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens. (Note these names. I’ll return to them soon.)
Of course, the Oklahoma ruling against Johnson & Johnson ruling was not true justice. A well-insured $80 billion corporation was only fined for knowingly contributing to a deadly health epidemic. That corporation continues operation, and not one executive faces any jail time despite 6,000 dead Oklahomans and thousands more addicted adults and babies.
As frustrating as that is, we can’t stop there. Where such vast long-lasting addiction exists, one often finds many knowing and unknowing enablers. This unfortunately includes the vast majority of our elected officials in Congress — including, sadly, our two main elected representatives from Sacramento County: Reps. Ami Bera and Doris Matsui.
Every election cycle, Big Pharma spends about a half billion dollars on lobbying of federal officials, and much of this comes in the form of political donations. From 2014 to 2016, this included more than $100 million from the opioids industry alone, and a sizable amount of this made its way into the campaign coffers of Matsui and Bera, a former medical doctor.
According to their campaign fundraising filings with the Federal Election Commission, the two have combined this decade to take more than $130,000 from just nine opioid-related companies. And who are those companies? None other than the companies I listed above as defendants in Sacramento County’s federal lawsuit.
Of this total, Dr. Bera netted nearly $50,000, and Matsui enjoyed $85,000 in contributions.
Plus before Dr. Bera beat Republican Rep. Dan Lungren in 2012, Lungren accepted in his final 2011-2012 term $17,500 from Johnson & Johnson and McKesson. This means over the past decade, the opioid industry has invested nearly $150,000 into holders of Sacramento County’s two main Congressional seats.
One doesn’t have to wonder hard what the opioid industry wanted: regulatory and investigative relief. And in 2016, they got just that. That’s when the deceptively named “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act” passed both houses of Congress by unanimous voice vote and no debate.
As a 2017 60 Minutes and Washington Post exposé reported, this bill resulted in the kneecapping of the Drug Enforcement Administration by stripping away its most potent enforcement tool: suspending the licenses of reckless drug makers and distributors.
When confronted by the result of this bill, most members of Congress expressed shock, and some admitted having never read the bill. But despite protestations of feeling duped, no fix of any part of the legislation has progressed in Congress.
Now were Dr. Bera and Matsui knowing or unknowing enablers? Unfortunately, our out-of-control pay-to-play system makes that impossible to ascertain, but in the case of both the have continued taking donations from opioid players.
But this much is clear. Now that the full extent of the opioid tragedy is known (with more than a half million dead from 2000-2015), the only decent thing for both Bera and Matsui to do are:
Cease fundraising from the opioid industry, and
Donate to local addiction recovery programs amounts equal to their past funds raised from opioid-related companies.
Arden-Arcade resident Jeff Burdick is a Progressive Democrat running for the U.S. House. See BurdickForCongress.com. Contact jeff@BurdickForCongress.com.