Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem

Attorney General has been reluctant to pursue opioid manufacturers. Why?

By - Nov 14th, 2017 11:20 am
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Brad Schimel. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Brad Schimel. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

When Brad Schimel was running for Wisconsin Attorney General in 2014, he was outspoken about the most important issue facing the state’s law enforcement community: “Right now, the biggest public safety issue we face is the heroin and prescription opioid problem,” he declared.

Schimel accused his Democratic opponent, Susan Happ, of having a spotty record on issue, calling it “Susan Happ’s Heroin Problem.”

By contrast, as his bio noted in 2016, Schimel had a long record of dealing with the issue: “More than a decade ago, while serving in the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, Mr. Schimel saw the oncoming heroin and Rx opioid abuse crisis and worked with county law enforcement and EMS to make sure his county conducted thorough, effective investigations that hold people accountable for delivering drugs that kill.”

In short, Schimel had a profound awareness of just how huge a problem this was. Last January, he called the problem of opioid addiction and abuse “the worst public safety and public health crisis we’ve seen in this state in many, many decades. Possibly ever.”

So why then wasn’t Schimel leading the way in prosecuting big drug manufacturers involved in selling the drugs that caused the crisis? Other states like Kentucky, Oregon, Mississippi and Ohio sued big pharmaceutical companies as early as 2014, with Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Mike Dewine charging last May that “These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids.”

By contrast, Schimel told the Cap Times in December 2016 that he didn’t think drug manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, which produces OxyContin, could be sued. “We’re looking at behaviors that largely occurred 15, 20 years ago. It gets tough to make the statute of limitations stretch that long,” Schimel said. “State officials are focused more on how to solve the problem than on assigning blame, he added, ‘because when you think about who’s to blame, the net spreads pretty wide.’”

As the liberal group One Wisconsin Now charged, Schimel made those comments a month after receiving a $250 contribution from Purdue Pharma PAC, “its only PAC contribution made in Wisconsin.” The group added that Purdue Pharma also donated more than $290,000 to Republican Attorney Generals Association, which according to WisPolitics.com, ran attack ads in June against Schimel’s announced Democratic opponent, Madison attorney Josh Kaul.

That same month, Democratic state legislators “tried to pass legislation that that would have required Schimel to consider suing the drug makers and report his conclusions to the Legislature,” the Associated Press reported. “Republicans shot the measure down after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he was sure a large-scale class action lawsuit against drug makers is coming soon and Schimel would probably be part of it.”

Sure enough, Schimel announced within 24 hours that he was part of a group of bipartisan attorneys general who were investigating a possible suit against drug companies. Schimel conceded it was “highly unusual” for DOJ “to discuss any open investigation.” Law enforcement officials typically “won’t confirm or deny investigations exist,” as the AP story noted. Schimel’s announcement “could indicate a more aggressive stance toward the companies as he heads into an election year in 2018,” reporter Todd Richmond added.

Kaul, a former federal prosecutor and the son of former Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, said its good news that Schimel has joined this investigation, but faults him for waiting so long. “I think he has been dragging his feet. I think Wisconsin should have been out in the lead on this, not a follower.”

Schimel spokesman Johnny Koremenos tells Urban Milwaukee that “AG Schimel has joined a multi-state (41 states) investigation of the opioid manufacturers,” including Purdue Pharma, and “We feel confident being part of multi-state investigations results in better outcomes for the State of Wisconsin than we would receive if we pursued action on our own.” He adds that Schimel “is also currently leading a 43-state lawsuit against Indivior, the manufacturer of Suboxone, which is believed to be the largest ever litigated multistate antitrust case.”

But Democrats say they are tired of waiting for Schimel’s investigation to turn into a suit. “County after county across Wisconsin is facing budget-busting costs related to the state’s opioid crisis,” wrote state senators Janet Bewley (D-Delta) and Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) in a recent Op Ed for Urban Milwaukee. As a result, they noted, “more than two dozen Wisconsin counties have taken matters into their own hands, joining a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies.”

“We will be calling on the Attorney General to consider specifically what steps the state can take to alleviate the budget crisis at the county level brought on by the opioid epidemic. We will be pushing for action from the Attorney General to hold Big Pharma accountable.”

As Schimel has noted, the opioid epidemic is the biggest public health crisis Wisconsin has faced in decades. If the multi-state investigation he is part of still hasn’t launched a suit by the November 2018 election, four years after Schimel was elected on a platform declaring he would aggressively address the opioid problem, he may face a credibility issue with the voters.

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20 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem”

  1. Terry says:

    Fire Walker. Legalize cannabis.

  2. Bill Sweeney says:

    The October 30 issue of The New Yorker has a critical article about how one family’s pharmaceutical company made a ton of money promoting opioid prescriptions. It is entitled The Family That Built An Empire of Pain. Here is the link: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain. Anyone who has been harmed or who knows someone who has been harmed by addiction to opioids should read this article. This crisis just didn’t fall from the sky. It is not the unfortunate side effect of well meaning people. It was and is a vehicle for some corporations to make a lot of money from other people’s suffering.

  3. Timothy J Haering says:

    The opioid crisis is a spiritual crisis. Folks are abusing opioids to relieve chronic mental and physical pain that has brought them to despair. I just don’t see how you blame the drugs and the drugmakers for that despair. IT feels like blaming guns and gunmakers for folks shooting each other. I don’t hear this line of argument in Schimel’s demurral, so I conclude that the county lawsuits are being brought almost exclusively by Democrats and Schimel doesn’t want to feather their caps. But he doesn’t want to say that either, so he talks about the feeble foundations of the legal case. The spiritual vortex that drags folks to drugs is eternal, only pharmaceutical fashions change. Opioids are simply today’s LSD/mescaline/cocaine/MD20-20. Captain Jack will get you high tonight, and take you to your special island. Just a little push and you’ll be smiling. There is no pain you are receding, distant ships smoke on the horizon. You are only coming through in waves. Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re sayin. I-I-I-I-I-I have become comfortably numb.

  4. old baldy says:

    tim:

    Your conclusion, “that the county lawsuits are being brought almost exclusively by Democrats”, is in error. Our county, which has reliably voted R for decades, recently passed a resolution joining 28 (at the time) other counties in the lawsuit.

  5. Kat Koe says:

    Who says the are 200,000 people addicted to opioids? Have they evaluated all 200,000 patients taking opioids? I am dependent on opioids, but not addicted. I weaned off an opioid last Dec and had no problem. There is a difference between addicted and dependent. Statistics show 97% of people taking opioids are in compliance and are not running out meds every month or taking heroin or fentanyl to supplement. Why are they targeting and punishing the other 97% who are suffering and in compliance.

    In 2004 an excruciating and painful condition entered my life and hasn’t left, Trigeminal Neuralgia Type 2, aka The Suicide Decease. After years of trying many other failed treatments including two surgeries I was finally prescribed opioids. Finally something to ease the pain; I could do light errands again!

    If you continue to have excruciating pain that requires opioid pain medication after the first five days, you’ll be required to return to your Drs office to be evaluated for opioid dependence and further pain relief medication. Is that what you or a loved one want to deal with after surgery and/or an excruciating injury? That’s what the opioid crisis has done to us.

  6. David Nelson says:

    Good point o.b. Tim also conflates the problem of drug abuse in general with situations that encourage more and easier drug abuse. Heck, some folks are not particularly addictive in personality, yet fell into the opioid vortex, while drug companies denied that risk was significant. The Billy Joel and Pink Floyd quotes are cute, but quoting inspired tunes is no substitute for well supported statements.

  7. Robert Blondis says:

    I believe Tim may have been drinking too much red Kool-Aid. Schimel may already have missed the train, as a number of class action lawsuits against the huge pharma companies have already been filed by states and counties throughout our country. One of the theories of liability is that the drug companies lied to the AMA and its doctors, pushing these habit forming drugs , saying that the drugs were developed to be non-habit forming, which was a lie. This was a huge, dishonest PR campaign, used aggressively by the drug companies to convince the doctors to prescribe these drugs, like OxyContin, without worry. The PR campaign worked. The lawsuits against the drug companies have been brought by state and county attorneys who are willing to fight for their residents, counties and states.

  8. will says:

    Schimel.has been bought many years ago. Just follow the money trail.

  9. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Don’t forget about the rape kit crisis as well, lincoln hills two more law and order issues that has failed on because he’s a rightwing hack.

  10. Terry says:

    Why do all the far right wing red states like Wisconsin have far more deaths from opioids and struggling economies compared to the much more egalitarian blue states which have legal cannabis and thriving, booming economies? Maybe there is, yiu know, a connection!? Schimel said years ago that cannabis should be decriminalized state wide so Wississippi, er, Wisconsin could catch up to where Minnesota was in the 1970’s. It has not been yet…it’s still a felony. Good hard working loving caring people/taxpayers who contribute much to society are still having their lives destroyed, not by cannabis, but by the failed GOP prohibition of it. So disgusting. Wisconsinites are done with it though, every poll is overwhelmingly supporive of ending prohibition. The republicans are going down in Wisconsin in 2018 on this one issue, mark my words, from career politician Big Government moocher Scott Walker to the heartless right wing Medusa Vukmir, GOP is gonna get “lit up” literally in 2018 on the cannabis issue. Freedom from the draconian tyranny of these drooling half wits is just around the corner! Dump Walker, legalize cannabis 2018!

  11. David Nelson says:

    Terry: We get it. You advocate for Cannabis. Cool. Cannabis is a good and useful medicine for many folks. However, your posts don’t seem to do much else. Can you contribute to discussions in a way that doesn’t always focus on that? After all, there are many elements to the opioid crisis subject matter (even more so for the non-drug related topics on this site). To be honest, you almost seem like a made up profile which is designed to irritate the Right into reacting against the Left under the guise of advocating for Cannabis, and that’s not helpful at all.

  12. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    I think Schimel’s weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago to hang out with GOP mega-donors answers that question.

    But what do you expect from a guy who became the GOP’s AG candidate because he made a deal with Scott Jensen to keep Jensen out of prison, allowing Jensen to become a major GOP money-funneler for the school voucher lobby?

    FIRE THESE CROOKED BUMS

  13. Terry says:

    @David Nelson. I am simply wondering about the obvious disparity between blue states with legal cannabis having much lower opioid deaths and red states like Wisconsin without such alternatives with much higher rates. What don’t you understand? Freedom of speech holmes, feel free to skip over my comments. No conspiracy here, just a concerned Wisconsinite tired of seeing good people’s lives ruined by prohibition. Save your ire for the GOP.

  14. Wardinski says:

    My life is surrounded by opioids. When I hear people say things like; “I am dependent, but not addicted”, i think to myself “that’s exactly what the doctors tell you”.

    We (the USA) have spent BILLIONS , with a B, protecting poppy fields in Afghanistan with our military. In 2015, the Sackler Family of the Purdue Cartel made the Forbes list, another of the 1% that has more collectively than the 99%. They are no different than that of the people who sell it on the streets. They killed my wife, left 3 kids without a Mom, put my nephew in jail (to make money for the prison industrial complex of Wisconsin), killed my sister , widowed my brother in law and left 3 other kids without a Mom.

    This alll in the span of a couple of years, oh, the abuse lasted for years, but they were taken in 2016. Purdue probably made record profits , hurray! There is a problem and all I hear are platitudes from politicians that take money from pharma.

    Pain clinics are drug dens, they need to be shut down OR completely legalize the drugs, level the playing field and let the the chips fall where they may, that is REAL capitalism.. seriously though, if it really mattered, it doesn’t take a “rocket scientist ” to do what really needs to be done. This is a really emotional topic for me, however, I lived through 17 years of it, seen the whole thing take off,watched it and hated every moment of it.

    Oh yea, you don’t end addiction by keeping people on methodone all their lives, that’s just residual income for the machine that started this whole thing. The answer is not more laws, more laws just created more lawbreakers and put people in prison. The answer is not task forces or grants, programs or more think tank garbage.

    That family, remember the one I mentioned earlier? That family needs to be held responsible for their actions. The people who ordered those soldiers to protect the poppy fields , they need to be courtmartialed. The problem gets fixed by getting serious with the suppliers and holding them accountable, throwing them in jail: doctors who give this stuff out, pain clinics, pharmaceutical companies.. etc

    I knew I would be all over the place here, but I know the answer. It won’t happen Though , all this is just distraction

    It comes down to this: talk is cheap.

  15. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Opioids are the biggest problem in Wisconsin but as usual uneducated, lack of knowledge people like Murphy miss the real problem and in fact are no even knowledgeable of it. Suing is fun but will not stop this train of kids,mostly young women going to the morgue.
    Rx Opioids are big problem but they have leveled off and actually gone down with much tougher controls, since 2010.
    Drug manufactures, a few them were greedy and crooked, but that is part of the problem. the problem centers on the increase in tolerance of Pot and other recreational drugs the has developed, the legalization in some areas.
    The drug dealers are the real problem. Without them there would not be 71,000 over dose deaths this year and exploding. This is not counting the explosion in drugs DUI’s the worst in Colroado and every where, plus the longterm deaths in Rehab that I watched for 50 years.
    Bob Dohnal, RPh
    Clinical Pharmacist in Rehab.
    Joint founder of Methadone clinic with Fred Tabak in the 60’s
    iDugs addiction is a multiple pronged problem and RXs,I do not own any stock,am retried are only part fit. year

  16. David Nelson says:

    What kind of drug leads to incoherence and a swelled sense of one’s place in the Universe?

  17. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    POT

  18. David Nelson says:

    Well spelled.

  19. old baldy says:

    wcd:

    Your opinions on the subject don’t seem to coincide with DOJ’s data.

    My father was also a RPh (UW ’52). Were he still around he would surely admonish you for your constant excuse making and poor grasp of the English language.

  20. David Nelson says:

    WCD: You really need to get your facts straight.

    The CDC backs up the DOJ on this. From the CDC website (https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html):

    Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

    We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.

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