ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a state with one of the highest drug overdose rates in the nation, there has been no shortage of campaign donations in New Mexico by the prescription drug industry and allied advocacy groups.
An investigation by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found drugmakers that produce opioid painkillers and their allies spent more than $880 million nationally on campaign contributions and lobbying over the past decade.
In New Mexico in 2012 alone, opioid makers spent $32,000 lobbying — more than double the year before.
Up for consideration that year was a bill that called for limiting initial prescriptions of opioid painkillers for acute pain to seven days. The measure was ultimately defeated.
Overall, drug companies and their employees contributed nearly $40,000 to New Mexico campaigns in 2012 — roughly 70 percent more than in previous years with no governor’s race on the ballot.
Here are some things to know about political spending and opioid use in New Mexico:
State and federal candidates in New Mexico received more than $337,000 in contributions between 2006 and 2015 from members of the Pain Care Forum, a loose coalition of drugmakers and nonprofit groups supported by industry funding.
Democrats and Republicans have benefited. At the top of the list are two Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation: Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. They received more than $74,000 each from numerous companies associated with the forum.
Organizations included in the analysis also are involved in issues beyond opioids, making it impossible to say how much of their spending was directly related to influencing opioid policies.
Lujan’s office says he hasn’t been lobbied regarding opioids and that the congressman has supported numerous efforts to develop safe prescribing and dispensing programs. Lujan’s district includes a swatch of northern New Mexico that’s home to pervasive heroin use.
Heinrich also has supported legislation aimed at addressing the epidemic. Earlier this year, he convened a discussion in the Espanola area on how to better address opioid abuse.
Pain Care Forum participants had 15 lobbyists registered in New Mexico in 2012, up from nine the previous year. One was reported to be working out of the office of a high-ranking lawmaker; another was a former lawmaker himself.
Pfizer said its two lobbyists in Santa Fe — up from one — reflected a change in firms, not an addition, and that the company did not lobby on opioid restrictions.
Since 2006, New Mexico has had an average of 14 registered lobbyists each year employed by members of the forum.
The most recent federal data available shows New Mexico is second only to West Virginia in per-capita deaths primarily due to prescription and illegal opioid drugs. There were 4,340 deaths from overdoses in the state from 2006 through 2014.
While the numbers aren’t limited to opioids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that prescription opioids and heroin account for the majority of drug deaths.
New Mexico has been working for years to curb what has now been identified by the highest levels of government as a national epidemic. The state was among the first to require all licensed clinicians to undergo extra training for prescribing painkillers.
One of New Mexico’s strategies calls for expanding access to naloxone, an overdose antidote. Legislation aimed at doing that was signed earlier this year.
State and federal officials are teaming up this week to host a series of education events to increase awareness and discuss possible solutions. On Monday, they will be launching the Naloxone Initiative by urging more law enforcement agencies to carry the medication and implement protocols for its use.