Pharma company linked to Ohio senator benefits from opioid addiction and treatment

Posted at 8:20 PM, Mar 21, 2017

We've seen the videos of countless Northeast Ohioans revived with Naloxone. The drug fighting an epidemic fueled in part by the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

But our News 5 investigation found at least one those big pharmaceutical companies is making money off the overdoses too.

Call after call throughout Northeast Ohio, reports of addicts on the brink of death given a second chance to live.

"Oh yes. It's a black hole you can't conceive of - unless you've been there," Alison Allen recalled.

But where did this nightmare begin? "The way we got here frankly is prescription drugs and people getting addicted to opioids," said Ohio Senator Rob Portman in a phone interview with News 5. To combat this epidemic, emergency crews have their own drug of choice, Naloxone. It's what crews used to bring Alison Allen back to life after a near-fatal overdose. "My son found me, started CPR, called paramedics. I was dead for 5 minutes, they brought me around with Narcan," said Allen.

A drug so effective, Senator Portman ensured every first responder in the U.S. Carried it, expanding access through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) he co-authored. "Because they are saving lives every day," said Portman.

An antidote to a deadly epidemic experts say was fueled by pharmaceutical companies, the same companies, that have donated heavily to Ohio lawmakers, including Senator Portman.

"I never vote or act based on contributions received and in this business you get contributions from lots of different groups," said Portman. According to the Associated Press, Portman was a top recipient collecting over $200,000 in six years. One of those companies Pfizer Inc. Also contributed to his most recent campaign. "I don't even know what drugs Pfizer makes I assume they make a lot of drugs including drugs that are very helpful for disease in Ohio."

That is true because besides the opioid painkillers Pfizer is most notable for, it has also recently begun producing Naloxone by acquiring the leading seller of the reversal drug.

Portman tells News 5 he was not aware of that. "You are telling me new information, I am not aware of it, and again I make my decisions, including the CARA legislation, on what is best for my constituents," said Portman.

Portman isn't the only Ohio politician accepting pharmaceutical contributions. From 2006 to 2015 the Pain Care Forum, a coalition of pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists, poured $3.5 million dollars into Ohio political coffers. According to the Associated Press,  a huge chunk,  $875,000 went to then House Speaker John Boehner, below him Representative Pat Tiberi received $300,000, while Congresswoman Marcia Fudge collected $78,000.