Shutterstock Ongoing lawsuits seek to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for the epidemic of overdoses.

There were more than 70,200 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, and nearly 68% of those involved opioids.

Twenty years after it first began, the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities across the United States, causing an average of 130 Americans deaths each day. As lawmakers continue to grapple with how to best address the crisis, two congressmen are taking action to limit the political influence of the companies behind the drugs.

New York Democratic Reps. Antonio Delgado and Max Rose introduced the Save Lives Act on Nov. 20 that bans federal campaign donations from opioid manufacturers’ political action committees (PACs). 

Several ongoing lawsuits seek to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for the epidemic, but Delgado and Rose — both members of the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction — believe that limiting Big Pharma’s influence over the political process is a critical way to hold opioid makers accountable for what has been called the worst drug epidemic in American history. 

In 2017, there were more than 70,200 overdose deaths in the United States, and nearly 68% of those involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Addressing the opioid crisis must also include rooting out the corrupting influences that perpetuate it. The opioid crisis is deeply prevalent in New York, especially in our rural communities, and yet pharmaceutical companies and special interests continue to have free rein to advance their agenda by lining the pockets of lawmakers in Washington,” Delgado said in a statement. “The Save Lives Act will take important steps to limit the influence of opioid manufacturers and make sure our Representatives work for the people they serve — not special interests.”

Delgado and Rose refused all corporate PAC donations during their 2018 campaigns, but opioid manufacturers have long poured money into elections. 

In the 2018 cycle alone, PACs run by opioid manufacturers or their parent companies donated more than $1.5 million to Republicans and Democrats alike, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.  

That spending has continued in 2019. In the first six months of this year — a non-election year — opioid manufacturers’ PACs have already donated over $450,000 to members of Congress, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s “Pharma Cash to Congress” database. 

The Save Lives Act has been endorsed by End Citizens United, a grassroots-funded PAC seeking to reform the campaign finance system and limit the influence of corporate money in politics.

“Eliminating Big Pharma’s stranglehold over Congress is a powerful step in addressing the opioid crisis,” said End Citizens United Action Fund President Tiffany Muller. “Reps. Delgado and Rose’s bill is common-sense legislation that will prevent the companies perpetuating the opioid epidemic from buying off politicians.”

This isn’t the first time Delgado and Rose have worked to limit corporate influence over elections. Both lawmakers voted to pass H.R. 1, an anti-corruption bill that would establish public financing for congressional elections and require nonprofit “dark money” groups to disclose their large donors. Rose also introduced legislation to ban all corporate PACs earlier this month, with Delgado signing on as a co-sponsor.