U.S. Rep. Richard Neal: Drug companies' donations haven't swayed his attention to opioid abuse
NORTH ADAMS — While touring Pittsfield's addiction treatment facilities in July, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal told the story of a police officer who became addicted to prescription pain medication before eventually turning to heroin.
But since 2006, Neal has accepted more than $220,000 in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies and their allies — by far more than any other representative in Massachusetts.
The companies that manufacture prescription painkillers, and the doctors who prescribe them, have come under increased scrutiny throughout the country as the number of overdose deaths attributed to prescription opioids more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2012.
The group of companies and advocacy groups selected for this analysis by the Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity are known as the Pain Care Forum. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to gain influence at the state and federal level, the analysis found.
Neal has accepted campaign donations from 18 of these companies and groups, ranging from Pfizer Inc. to Boston Scientific Corp.
Neal's acceptance of $220,500 in campaign donations from Pain Care Forum members from 2006 to 2015 is well beyond what his peers in Massachusetts took in. In that same span, Pain Care Forum member donations to Massachusetts congressmen, both current and those no longer serving, totaled $234,950.
By comparison, Rep. Jim McGovern, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat who has served since 1997, accepted $29,000 in donations from Pain Care Forum members during that time frame.
In an emailed statement to The Eagle, Neal noted that he is the top Democrat on the House's Ways and Means Committee — which has jurisdiction on health care policy — and said that he has "consistently supported legislation that gives millions of Americans better access to quality and affordable health care." Neal, who is currently running for a 15th term in office, also stated that only 3 percent of the campaign donations throughout his career have come from pharmaceutical companies.
"Campaign contributions have no bearing on my legislative agenda or my work on any issue before the Congress. This political support simply reflects the business interests in my district, state and region," Neal said.
Massachusetts became one of only four states to pass a law in an effort to limit the flow of opioid painkillers — which have been linked to a rise in heroin addiction — from prescription pad to patient earlier this year. The others are its neighbors, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
But federally, a bill aimed at combatting the addiction epidemic did not include similar limitations on opioid prescriptions. As part of a compromise between the House and Senate, a piece of the original Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was removed that would have mandated states utilize prescription monitoring databases in order to qualify for grant funding.
A spokesman for Neal said he "already does support restrictions and limits" on opioid prescriptions, and noted that he signed onto a letter sent by more than 30 lawmakers to the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2015 requesting it permit partial filling of opioid prescriptions in an effort to "limit the number of unused pills, reduce the diversion of these drugs, and stem the tide of fatal overdose."
The congressman noted his work with local, state, and federal leaders to address addiction, and that he is a member of the House's Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic. Last year, Neal touted and sponsored the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act of 2015, a bill largely aimed at shielding first responders from potential civil liability when administering overdose-reversal drugs to patients. The bill has not made it out of committee.
The pharmaceutical industry and its allies have spent more than $600 million lobbying at the federal level and given more than $75 million in campaign donations to federal candidates between 2006 and 2015, according to the Associated Press. Overdose deaths, most of which were due to prescription opioid or heroin use, increased 37 percent nationally between 2006 and 2014.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376