The lawsuit recently filed by the attorney general of Ohio against five manufacturers of prescription opioids raises new questions about our own state Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Unlike his colleague Mike DeWine in Ohio, himself a 37-year Republican elected official, Wisconsin’s top cop has resisted taking action to hold the manufacturers of these highly addictive drugs accountable, despite alarming levels of opioid addiction.
While proclaiming in his 2014 campaign that combating opioid addiction would be a top priority if elected, since he's been in office Schimel has taken no legal action to crack down on the tactics of the producers of prescription opioids. In fact, in a 2016 newspaper story in which the issue of legal action against opioid manufacturers was raised, Schimel demurred, claiming pharmaceutical manufacturers’ unsavory marketing practices were too far in the past, that the questionable behavior on the part of potential defendants occurred "15, 20 years ago."
But Schimel’s defense of his inaction seems to be significantly undermined by the Ohio lawsuit’s allegation that opioid manufacturers' unsavory conduct is ongoing.
According to the court filing by the Ohio Attorney General:
“(B)y the late 1990s, and continuing today, each Defendant began a marketing scheme designed to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain, a far broader group of patients much more likely to become addicted and suffer other adverse effects from the long-term use of opioids. In connection with this scheme, Defendant spent, and continues to spend, millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
That Kentucky recently settled a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and Mississippi has ongoing litigation suggests the conduct at issue is not restricted to Ohio. News reporting on unsealed court documents from West Virginia show a major opioid manufacturer fought efforts to limit the distribution of its drugs and the resulting explosion of addiction in that state.
Let’s face it folks: It’s not like Brad Schimel has been shy about using public funds to sue. In fact he has a $1 million Office of Solicitor General whose job, it seems, was to file political stunt lawsuits against President Obama’s administration.
You have to wonder what’s going on.
In 2014 it was brought to light that, as Waukesha County district attorney, Schimel refused a request from One Wisconsin Now to investigate a fellow Republican who authored legislation to slash the child support payments of a wealthy Republican campaign contributor. In an email response Schimel wrote, “Why can’t a legislator press for legislation that benefits a person who has contributed to their campaign? Isn’t that the essence of representative government?” He continued, “Once the individual is convinced that the particular official will act a certain way, why can’t that citizen make otherwise legal campaign contributions?”
Is it a coincidence that, according to online campaign finance records maintained by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Schimel is the recipient of the only contribution ever given by Purdue Pharmaceutical’s Political Action Committee to a state candidate or state office holder?
Most assuredly a lawsuit is not a silver bullet, but it certainly is a tool in the toolbox. And one that other state attorneys general seem willing to use.
But here in Wisconsin, holding the manufacturers of the drugs that are fueling unprecedented levels of opioid addiction accountable in a court of law looks like an addition to the list of things that are not a priority for Brad Schimel.
Scot Ross is executive director of One Wisconsin Now.
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