John Cornyn blames everyone except his drug company donors for the opioid crisis

by | Oct 2, 2019 | Health Care, Policy

Last month, a court ruling in Oklahoma ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for helping create the state’s opioid crisis. The landmark ruling was the first of its kind to take on drug companies for manufacturing the opioid crisis through, according to the judge, “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids.”

In emotional testimony during the trial, an Oklahoma woman who cared for infants with opioid withdrawal syndrome described the epidemic as hell on Earth. “It is terrifying holding them shaking in your arms,” she testified. “Their shaking is uncontrollable. They scream uncontrollably.”

The successful lawsuit is just one of more than 2,000 similar cases around the nation that have drawn a connection between how pharmaceuticals market their drugs and America’s opioid crisis, including Texas, where 1,458 died from opioid overdose in 2017.

But if you ask Sen. John Cornyn who is responsible for the opioid crisis, the answer is anything but drug companies. Asked by The Todd & Don Show last month what he thought of the Oklahoma ruling and the crackdown on “Big Pharma,” Cornyn kept his distance. “Well, it is a lot of money, and to be honest I’m going to leave that to the courts to sort out,” he said.

In public statements and legislation, Cornyn has done little hold drug companies accountable for their role in creating the opioid crisis. As a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees health policy, Cornyn has taken a punitive War-On-Drugs approach to the crisis, preferring to focus attention on where opioids are produced rather than ask why so many Americans are addicted to them in the first place. 

“Our drug problem, and ultimately the associated violence and criminality, is Mexico’s and Mexico’s is ours,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor last year– just one recent public statement where the senator has diverted attention away from drug companies to heroin producers in Mexico or China.

The reason behind Cornyn’s skittishness when it comes to holding pharmaceuticals accountable may have to do with the fact that he received a $6,000 contribution from Johnson & Johnson while the Oklahoma trial against the company was happening — a small slice of the $881,615 he’s received from pharmaceutical industries throughout his career. 

Additionally, Cornyn’s long-time chief of staff, Beth Jafari, previously worked as a lobbyist for Purdue Pharma while the company and its painkiller, OxyContin, were being investigated in the early 2000s by the Government Accountability Office and Congress for how the drug was marketed and abused (coincidentally, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy last month as it faces thousands of lawsuits across the country for its role in the opioid epidemic).

Most telling, Cornyn raised legitimate concerns around pharmaceutical companies using patents to keep competition out of the market earlier this year. His proposed legislation that would have allowed the Federal Trade Commission to sue brand drug manufacturers who tried to keep generic alternatives — those at a much lower cost to consumers — from entering the market. 

But under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, Cornyn threw in the towel, leading Bloomberg Government to declare: “The drug industry scored a major victory.”

A month later, Cornyn voted for an amendment to gut a bi-partisan bill that sought to cap rising drug prices. The attempt to strip the bill of its teeth eventually failed and the bill made its way out committee unharmed, but Cornyn’s sudden vote left an impression for how willing the senator was to torpedo popular legislation unfavorable to drug companies.

hoto: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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