Big Pharma Co-Opts Anti-Addiction Advocate

Summary and Analysis…

Jessica Nickel, savvy and influential on the Hill as a prominent anti-addiction advocate, was a surprise guest brought by the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists to a Minnesota lawmakers meeting where they intended to propose a tax on opioid sales.

Nickel’s advocacy group, Addiction Policy Forum, later admitted it accepted funding from the trade group, PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) though she declined to disclose the size of the donation. However, PhRMA’s chief executive said that it was in the “tens of millions” over multiple years.

The article characterizes the drug industry as a “formidable force in state and federal politics” that invests “hundreds of millions” annually in “lobbyists, campaign donations and public relations campaigns.”  PhRMA alone has hired 169 federal lobbyists.

This case highlights the need for caution by policy makers when receiving information that slants towards a pharmaceutical “solution” to addiction.

Excerpted from New York Times

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.