Good morning, California.

If you’re in Sacramento, please come hear Mark Arax in conversation with me about his new book: “The Dreamt Land, Chasing Water and Dust Across California.” Details are here.

California takes aim at opioid maker

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a suit against Purdue Pharma.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday sued Purdue Pharma, accusing it of violating California’s consumer protection law by deceptively marketing the drug OxyContin and sparking the national opioid crisis.

  • Also targeted: Dr. Richard Sackler, a Texas resident and former president of the privately held Connecticut-based drug company. The Sackler family “pocketed more than $4 billion from the opioid crisis,” the suit says.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, relies on a state consumer protection statute that is among the nation’s strongest, and the state’s public nuisance law.

The suit: “Purdue’s deceptive marketing of its blockbuster drug, OxyContin, sparked the beginning of the national crisis we face today.”

Between 2008 and 2017, the suit says:

  • 14,500 Californians died because of prescription opioid drug overdoses.
  • 80,000 Californians were treated at hospital emergency rooms for opioid overdoses.

Purdue “vigorously denies the allegations,” contends state attorneys general “invented stunningly overbroad legal theories,” and says OxyContin represents less than 2 percent of opioid prescriptions.

  • With California’s filing, at least 47 states plus the District of Columbia have sued Purdue. The states’ action are reminiscent of suits against the tobacco industry in the 1990s. Those cases led to a $200 billion-plus settlement.

Money matters: Purdue has not been a major California campaign donor, with one exception. In 2016, it contributed $1.6 million, much of it to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which led a successful campaign to kill an initiative to restrict drug prices.


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Drug addiction treatment tax

A tax on opioid sales to pay for drug treatment awaits a vote.

Purdue Pharma, producer of the opioid OxyContin, is lobbying on only one bill in California: legislation that would impose a tax on opioid sales to pay for drug treatment, Purdue’s latest lobbying disclosure shows.

  • Drug companies would pay the tax based on their share of sales. The bill is intended to generate $50 million annually.
  • The measure is a rare tax hike backed by a Republican. Its authors are Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat, and Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican who represents Butte County.

Gallagher explained his support earlier this year:

  • Right now, everyone who pays taxes is paying for opioid addiction treatment.
  • He believes those who are responsible for it—drug makers—should pay.

A vote is pending on the Assembly floor. Under California law, tax increases require a two-thirds vote for passage in each house. Whether a two-thirds margin exists in either house remains to be determined.

Money matters:

  • Purdue is among the individual companies weighing in on the bill, reporting spending $14,000 to lobbying the measure in the first quarter of 2019.
  • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group of drug companies, leads the opposition, having spent $204,000 on lobbying on that measure and others in the first quarter of 2019.
  • PhRMA is capable of spending huge sums on California campaigns, as it proved in 2016 when it shelled out $110 million to defeat an initiative to regulate drug prices.

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An opioid history lesson

Sales of OxyContin went from $48 million in 1996 to $3 billion in 2010.

Purdue Pharma began marketing its pain killer, OxyContin, in 1996, having won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the year before.

Doctors weren’t paying enough attention to patients’ pain at the time and hesitated to prescribe pain killers, as I wrote a few years ago.

That began changing in part because of legislation approved in California  in 1999. A Senate analysis said Assembly Bill 791 was intended to “change the medical community’s approach toward pain management and end-of-life care.”

  • The bill required that doctors receive pain training. Pain management would become “a part of the standard practice of medicine.” Patients would be asked to rate their pain, on a scale of 1 to 10
  • The California Medical Association supported the bill, as did hospices. The Legislature approved the bill without a dissenting vote. Several states followed California’s lead.

No legislator could have anticipated the aggressive marketing that would take place to sell opioids. I have found no record that Purdue lobbied on that bill. OxyContin sales went from $48 million nationally in 1996 to more than $1 billion in 2000 to $3 billion in 2010. 


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Newsom's stand on vaccines

Legislation would require review of medical vaccine exemptions by public health officials.

Gov. Gavin Newsom sought Monday to clarify his stand on legislation that would restrict the ability of physicians to grant bogus medical exemptions for parents who don’t want to have their children vaccinated.

  • In 2015, the Legislature cracked down on parents who rejected getting vaccinations for their kids based on personal beliefs.
  • Since then, the number of exemptions based on medical grounds has soared, as CALmatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera has written.
  • Senate Bill 276 by Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and a pediatrician, would require review of medical exemptions by public health officials.

The Sacramento Bee, quoting Newsom over the weekend: “I believe in immunizations … However, I do legitimately have concerns about a bureaucrat making a decision that is very personal. That’s just something we need to pause and think about.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a leader in the anti-vax movement, praised Newsom Monday, posting on Instagram a photo of himself next to Newsom, and citing the governor’s “wise and sober opposition” to what he called a “draconian bill.” The photo was taken at the governor’s office in January, before Pan introduced his bill.

On Monday, the governor reacted by making clear that he hadn’t decided whether to sign or veto the bill, if it reaches him.

Newsom: “I vaccinated my children, strongly encourage people to do so. This is not a vaccination bill. Quite the contrary. This is about addressing the issue of abuses. This is more a process bill and a bureaucratic bill.”

Pan: “I am working with the governor’s office.”

Meanwhile, other Kennedy family members published a commentary in Politico last month criticizing RFK, Jr.’s anti-vax views.

What next for housing bills

CALmatters' "Gimme Shelter" podcast explores housing issues.

Several California housing bills failed a key legislative deadline, and some of the survivors were barely recognizable by the time lawmakers were done with them.

In the latest episode of the “Gimme Shelter” podcast, CALmatters’ Matt Levin and the L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon sift through the wreckage and ask whether any of it is salvageable.

  • To help explain the situation, they interview Dan Dunmoyer, head of the California Building Industry Association, and Cesar Diaz, of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.
  • To listen, please click here.

An appointment

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Dr. Asif Mahmood to the Medical Board of California, which decides disciplinary matters involving physicians.

Commentary at CALmatters

Glenn Sacks, Los Angeles Unified School District history teacher: During the Cold War, Americans were rightly dismayed by 1970s Soviet history textbooks’ portrayal of D-Day and America’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Current Russian textbooks and statements by some Russian leaders are similarly problematic. But they’re not the only ones distorting the truth. I know because I am a high school history teacher in the largest public school district in California.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Big San Joaquin farmers and environmentalists formed an odd-bedfellows alliance to defeat the peripheral canal via a 1982 referendum. The project was revived as twin tunnels during Jerry Brown’s second governorship, dubbed as California’s “Water Fix,” but never gained traction. Brown’s successor, Gavin Newsom, now wants to start over with a single tunnel, but its viability is uncertain.

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected], 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you tomorrow.