Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem
Attorney General has been reluctant to pursue opioid manufacturers. Why?
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.
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.”
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.
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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