Republican gubernatorial candidate and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has made much ado about his response to Ohio’s devastating opioid epidemic—a public health crisis that has rapidly accelerated during DeWine’s tenure as attorney general. Throughout DeWine’s campaign for governor—on his campaign website, in campaign ads, and during debates with his opponent Rich Cordray—DeWine has repeatedly pointed to his lawsuit against five drug manufacturers as evidence that he has taken decisive action against companies that helped ignite the opioid crisis.
But documents obtained through public records requests tell a vastly different story. These records, requested by the research organization American Bridge 21st Century and provided to Plunderbund, reveal that between September 2012 and August 2013, Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office twice declined to go after the drug manufacturers that flooded the market with addictive prescription opioids. Instead, DeWine waited to take legal action against these drug companies until May 2017—less than one month before declaring his bid for governor.
The documents obtained through the public records request also reveal that DeWine’s office attempted to conceal evidence of the rejected lawsuits.
The attempted cover up was exposed after American Bridge received an internal memorandum on the opioid crisis from Deputy Chief Counsel Jonathan Fulkerson on three occasions. On the first two occasions that American Bridge received the memo, Mike DeWine’s office redacted the paragraph that detailed the rejected lawsuits. However, DeWine’s office failed to redact the paragraph when the memorandum was provided to American Bridge a third time.
These documents raise serious concerns about Mike DeWine’s response to Ohio’s opioid crisis, including whether the attorney general’s office is attempting to conceal the rejected lawsuits from voters and the public ahead of a critical gubernatorial election. American Bridge submitted the public records request March 6, 2018, in the heat of a divisive gubernatorial primary campaign between DeWine and Republican opponent Mary Taylor.
The information revealed through the documents also raise the question: If Mike DeWine had the opportunity to take on drug manufacturers before the opioid crisis exploded, why did he wait to pursue legal action until just last year?
DeWine’s delayed action may have something to do with the fact that he has accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from insurance and health care industries, including nearly half a million dollars from the pharmaceutical industry. In other words, instead of ruffling the feathers of those bankrolling his political campaigns, perhaps DeWine declined to take action until it was no longer politically feasible to do so.
Which makes the timing of Mike DeWine’s lawsuit all the more suspect: By the time DeWine finally took legal action against opioid manufacturers, Ohio politicos were already speculating that DeWine would soon launch his campaign to become Ohio’s top executive. And the politicos were right: Less than one month after DeWine announced his lawsuit against the drug manufacturers, DeWine announced that he was entering the race for governor.
Regardless of DeWine’s motivation, one thing is clear: DeWine’s response to Ohio’s opioid crisis has been far too little, far too late. Since 2011, the year DeWine was sworn in as attorney general, more than 20,000 Ohioans have died from a drug overdose. Last year alone, Ohio saw a record 4,854 drug overdose deaths.
Mike DeWine has been Ohio’s attorney general for nearly eight years, and in that time, drug overdose deaths in Ohio have skyrocketed. Worse, DeWine had the chance to take legal action early. Instead, he waited years as thousands of Ohioans died.
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