Tom Marino might have withdrawn from consideration as Trumps drug czar, but drug money is coursing through the veins of Congress contributing directly to an epidemic that kills thousands of Americans each year
Donald Trump was not wrong. Hours before his nominee for drug czar withdrew from consideration over his part in a law limiting the Drug Enforcement Administrations ability to crack down on pharmaceutical distributors feeding the USs opioid epidemic, the president took a shot at the influence of drug companies over Congress.
They contribute massive amounts of money to political people, he said, standing next to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.
I dont know, Mitch, maybe even to you, he added.
Trump was right on both counts. Pharmaceutical companies spend far more than any other industry to influence politicians. Drugmakers have poured close to $2.5bn into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to McConnell although he is hardly alone. Nine out of 10 members of the House of Representatives and all but three of the USs 100 senators have taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies seeking to affect legislation on everything from the cost of drugs to how new medicines are approved.
Trumps nominee for drug czar, the US congressman Tom Marino, was forced to withdraw after a report by the Washington Post and CBSs 60 Minutes highlighted his role in forging legislation that hinders the DEAs ability to move against drug distributors or pharmacies recklessly dispensing the opioid painkillers at the heart of the epidemic, which claims more than 100 lives a day.
Marinos acceptance of substantial donations from those same companies compromised his nomination to head the federal agency charged with tackling the opioid crisis.
But for Congress, the process was nothing unusual. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to lobbyists and politicians on Capitol Hill each year to shape laws and policies that keep drug company profits growing. The pharmaceutical industry, which has about two lobbyists for every member of Congress, spent $152m on influencing legislation in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies also contributed more than $20m directly to political campaigns last year. About 60% went to Republicans. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.
The impact of so much drug company money coursing through the veins of Congress is often incremental or largely unseen by the American public, such as the industrys efforts to block competitors in India from making generic versions of HIV/Aids medicines that are more affordable to developing countries.
But on occasion it has a hugely visible impact.
In his comments alongside McConnell, Trump was vocal in his criticism of what he said were pharmaceutical manufacturers getting away with murder by charging much higher prices in the US than other countries. That is the result of a 2003 law, in effect written by the industry, preventing the federal government from seeking bids for the manufacture of drugs and medical devices a process used in other areas, such as defence spending.
Instead, the pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever price they want for drugs bought for the publicly run Medicare and Medicaid programmes and the federal government has no choice but to pay up.
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