Former administration official is a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company
March 14, 2018 (NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — In the details of Governor Haslam’s plan to address the opioid epidemic is an allocation of just over $1 million for a drug called Naltrexone, sold as the brand name Vivitrol. Vivitrol made headlines when one of its manufacturers, Alkermes, aggressively lobbied to get Vivitrol adopted in state contracts. The New York Times and NPR have reported on their lobbying efforts. In Haslam’s plan, Vivitrol is the only drug funded on a pilot program for opioid treatment in drug courts and jails.
The efficacy of Naltrexone has been debated; a recent federal government study showed that a competing drug delivers similar outcomes. The now-ousted Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price came under fire for suggesting Vivitrol (citing the drug’s brand name) was a more effective treatment than methadone or buprenorphine. Some 700 experts, including the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, signed onto a letter blasting Price for this claim.
Last June, amid local reporting by WPLN about increased political activity by Alkermes, Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said: “Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.” Given that statement, it is surprising that Vivitrol would be the only drug funded in a part of Governor Haslam’s plan to address a crisis that kills at least three people every day in Tennessee.
A lobbying firm working for Alkermes in Tennessee, Johnson Poss Kirby, retained five lobbyists, including Luke Ashley, a former legislative coordinator for Governor Haslam. Luke Ashley is the husband of Katie Ashley, the governor’s current Director of Legislation.
Further, today at 2:30pm — after suspending the rules that require transparency — the Senate Health Committee is considering legislation (SB 777) that effectively cracks down on opiate treatment. The legislation would make it harder for Tennesseans to be treated by buprenorphine or methadone, Vivitrol’s more cost-effective competitors.
Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said the following:
“Given the previous statements from the governor’s own Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner about Vivitrol, it is certainly curious that all of the funding for this program is going to that specific name-brand drug. The governor’s plan already comes up far short of what Tennessee families need, so what’s in it has to be as good as it can be to solve this crisis that is tearing families apart. It has to be smart and effective and about solving this very serious problem, not about who is making money.”
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