CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Pharmaceutical companies and associated organizations largely have overlooked Wyoming as they have spent millions nationwide over the last decade lobbying to make it easier for patients to get pain medication.
An analysis by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity finds that pharmaceutical interests have contributed only $33,000 to Wyoming politicians and political parties at the state level between 2006 and 2015. Contributions to Wyoming candidates for national office over that same period totaled nearly $440,000 — the bulk of that to the state’s three members of Congress.
Nationwide, drugmakers and allied groups spent more than $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying over the past decade. The groups have an array of political interests that include opioid advocacy, and their spending was eight times that of the gun lobby during the same period. By comparison, groups advocating for limits on opioid prescriptions spent about $4 million.
The investigation comes as the number of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers has soared, claiming the lives of 165,000 people in the U.S. since 2000. Reporters analyzed campaign finance and lobbying data from 2006 through 2015, reviewed hundreds of documents and conducted more than 150 interviews. The AP and Center for Public Integrity found that drugmakers and allied groups employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in state capitals around the country and contributed to a total of 7,100 candidates for state-level office.
Pharmaceutical interests employed four lobbyists at the Wyoming Legislature last year, down from a high of eight employed each year from 2006 to 2010.
Wyoming has not been immune to the national increase in drug-related deaths in recent years. The number doubled from 55 in 2006 to 109 in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.
The drug deaths reported in Wyoming aren’t limited to prescription painkillers but include illegal drugs such as heroin. The federal Centers for Disease Control has indicated that prescription opioids and heroin account for the majority of overdoses.
Addressing the increase in drug deaths is emerging as a legislative priority.
The state’s Joint Judiciary Committee has set a meeting for next week to consider two bills to address the rising number of deadly overdoses. If the committee endorses the bills, the full Legislature would consider them in next year’s session.
One of the measures would provide limited immunity from criminal prosecution to people who seek medical assistance for a drug overdose. The other bill would allow pharmacists to distribute antidote medications to people experiencing an overdose.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead this summer joined other governors in signing a compact spelling out joint efforts to prevent opioid abuse.
Mark Kay Hill, Mead’s policy director, said the governor is concerned about rising opioid abuse in the state. She said he has directed the Wyoming Department of Health to look into ways to prevent overdoses and understand the root causes of addiction.
Hill said this week that Mead looks forward to getting updates on the health department’s work, “and to being able to report back with favorable progress on the elements of the anti-opioid compact.”