As Minnesota lawmakers prepared to push a proposed tax on opioid sales in November, the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists who opposed the bill set up a meeting with its sponsors, and they brought an unusual guest: Jessica Hulsey Nickel, a prominent anti-addiction advocate in Washington.
Ms. Nickel told the lawmakers that she took no position on the tax and was simply offering her group’s resources to help fight the state’s drug epidemic. But her presence along with five representatives from the industry’s trade group raised eyebrows among the Minnesota lawmakers, who believed that drug companies needed to be held accountable for the prescription opioid crisis — not embraced as an ally.
“She was insisting that she was totally independent and they hadn’t put any strings on her,” said State Senator Chris Eaton, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I wasn’t buying it.”
Two weeks later, Ms. Nickel’s ties to the industry grew even deeper when her advocacy group, the Addiction Policy Forum, announced in mid-December that it had accepted funding from the trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA.