The West Virginia Attorney General placed some of the blame for the opioid epidemic on the federal government Thursday, not mentioning his lobbying ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
Speaking at an event hosted by the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Cardinal Institute, Patrick Morrisey spoke about ongoing efforts from his office focusing on drug enforcement, treatment and preventative education.
He said he and his staff are working with physicians, pharmacies and drug manufacturers to change the culture of how pills are prescribed, dispensed and supplied in the state.
“If you go back over the last 15 years, you’re going to see an ever-increasing number of pills that were approved for manufacturing and distribution here in the United States,” he said. “That was actually a decision made by the federal government, the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency]. Many people don’t realize that. When you look at all the root causes of substance abuse, you actually have to include the government as part of the problem as well, because it has unintentionally put policies in place to drive too many pills into the market place.”
Denise Morrisey, who is married to the attorney general, has lobbied for Cardinal Health, a major drug wholesaler, in the past, according to a lobbying disclosure filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. Patrick Morrisey also has lobbied for a national trade group, Healthcare Distribution Management Association, that represents Cardinal Health and other drug wholesalers, as has been reported by Gazette-Mail.
An investigation by a Lawyer’s Disciplinary Board also concluded Morrisey played a limited — though not “substantive” — role in the state’s lawsuit against Cardinal Health, despite repeated public statements to the contrary, as has also been reported by this newspaper.
When asked about he and his wife’s lobbying work in light of his comments made in his speech, Morrisey repeated assertions he made in his speech.
“The federal government is a significant part of the problem and we need to solve the problem,” he said in a follow-up interview. “This is a very complex issue, and I’ve been very clear that blame resides in many, many different issues. But why shouldn’t we call out the federal government when they screw up? The federal government approved an ever-increasing number of pills, for a long long period of time. That needs to be a part of the discussion.”
A 2016 Gazette-Mail investigation found drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the state over six years.
During his speech, Morrisey also pointed to some of his office’s efforts to curb the worsening opioid epidemic. He said he is working on changing broken incentive systems, like requirements that patients fill out satisfaction surveys after seeing doctors, which could lead to damaging reviews of physicians who decline to prescribe painkillers to patients who request them. Those results tie in to how much reimbursement money they receive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“These plans are working because they’re getting to the root cause of the problem,” he said. “We know that the opiate epidemic continues, but if we know that the financial incentives are not untoward, then we’re not going to have to come back to this problem 15 years from now.”
He also touted his faith-based initiative to help those with substance abuse issues seek and find treatment. He said thus far, he has 100 ministers interested in partaking in a hot-line addicts can call to find help and to host community events centered on addiction.
The ACUF has its ties to the pharmaceutical industry as well. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America gave $100,000 to the foundation in December 2012.
Speaking after Morrisey, Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. spoke about addiction in the Mountain State as well.
“We also need three things that were discussed earlier,” Mooney said. “Early prevention, enforcement, and then the treatment afterward.
“That’s the three-step approach. And government can’t do it all. Federal government isn’t the solution to everybody’s problems. The community has to step up here.”
Mooney also railed against patient satisfaction surveys, and cited a bill he sponsored to end the patient satisfaction survey system. He said while the bill didn’t go anywhere, it acquired 44 co-sponsors and the Department of Health and Human Services adopted provisions of his legislation.
“You actually have a financial disincentive, a financial punishment to a doctor for doing the right thing and not giving prescription drugs to someone who needs it,” he said.
According to a CBS report on the matter, Medicare and Medicaid will stop paying hospitals based on their pain scores beginning Oct. 1.
Mooney said while his plan solves only a small piece of the problem, it will take a few hundred more just like it to really make progress.
“I think if every member of Congress finds one small way to help, it’s going to make a big difference,” he said.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.