Opioid makers gave $1 million to Florida politicians over last 20 years

The makers of opioids have given Florida politicians more than $1 million over the last 20 years.
The makers of opioids have given Florida politicians more than $1 million over the last 20 years. AP file

When she announced her lawsuit against some of the largest makers of opioids this week, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi vowed the companies would "pay" for what they'd done.

But for the last 20 years, they have been paying — to Florida politicians.

The nine companies and their subsidiaries she's suing have given more than $1 million to state lawmakers during the opioid crisis, nearly all of it — 89 percent — going to Republican candidates or Republican committees, a Herald/Times analysis shows.

The amounts to candidates have been relatively meager — the most that anyone has received was $15,250.

But the money went far and wide, and went overwhelmingly to the Republican Party of Florida ($429,550) and the Republican State Leadership Committee ($225,000).

Bondi, like cities, counties and attorneys general across the country, has accused some of the biggest opioid makers and distributors of deceiving doctors and the public about the dangers of the pills, causing the deaths of thousands of Floridians. Republican Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco called them "drug dealers" at Tuesday’s news conference announcing the suit.

Bondi accuses them of violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the Florida RICO Act and common law public nuisance.

But even she’s been given money by the defendants. In 2010, when she was running for attorney general, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma wrote her a check for $500. When she ran for re-election four years later, opioid distributor McKesson cut a check for $1,000.

Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, has taken $6,000, records show, although his ties to one of the companies run deeper.

None of the nine companies has given more than Johnson & Johnson, a mega-corporation whose subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, sold the opioids Nucynta and Tapentadol and routinely downplayed or ignored their risks of addiction, according to Bondi’s complaint.

“The false statements and omissions by Janssen were made to Florida doctors, other prescribers, and consumers and led them to prescribe and consume Janssen’s opioid products,” the complaint states.

Johnson & Johnson and its employees have given $477,000.

Purdue Pharma, which also makes Dilaudid, targeted veterans for opioids, according to the complaint, publishing an article featuring a veteran without mentioning the dangers of taking benzodiazepines, a sedative often used to treat PTSD, with opioids. The combination can lead to fatal overdoses.

The article "also encouraged veterans that they 'may need to push' doctors 'hard' to get their preferred pain treatment," the complaint states.

Purdue Pharma, which has denied wrongdoing, gave $116,500 to Florida politicians.

The biggest individual recipient of all of the companies' donations was state Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, the chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. The companies gave him $15,250.

“I wasn’t aware any had donated,” he said. “But as a health chairman, I’m not surprised if a health company donates, and to be most contributed to only makes sense.”

He said he doesn’t believe Bondi’s lawsuit has merit, saying that it could drive drug companies out of business and discourage them from investing in research.

“These drug companies go through an arduous review process with the FDA, produce journal after journal of clinical trials to support their claims, advertise to the most educated consumer base in the world, and for all that they could get sued out of business?” he said in a text.