GOP gubernatorial candidate blasts opponent for holding opioid companies accountable
North Carolina Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson attacked Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein for winning over a billion dollars in restitution from pharmaceutical companies.
Republican North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is currently seeking his party’s 2024 gubernatorial nomination, recently criticized North Carolina Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein for suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis. Stein has helped North Carolina and other states receive billions of dollars from the industry to settle claims that companies knowingly profited from the misuse of their products.
Appearing at a July 8 New Hanover County Republican Party gala, Robinson said that a mother whose son died after using fentanyl had recently asked him how he’d address the issue:
I’m going to tell you what I intend to do. I don’t intend to do like our current attorney general did and sue the drug company. See, the drug company is not the one out here on the streets peddling the dope. The drug companies are not the ones to allow them to come over our border to bring it into your neighborhood and sell to your children illegally. You know who’s doing that? Drug gangs, gangs, uh, dope peddlers. When was the last time you saw Josh Stein going after some real dope gangs? When was the last time you saw him go after the fentanyl pushers that are coming across the border?
Medical experts say that pharmaceutical companies that sell opioids played a major role in the recent spike in addiction, and companies have admitted to breaking the law and knowingly profiting from addiction. In November 2020, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and violation of anti-fraud and anti-kickback laws.
“Purdue admitted that it marketed and sold its dangerous opioid products to healthcare providers, even though it had reason to believe those providers were diverting them to abusers,” Rachael Honig, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, said in a Justice Department statement. “The company lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration about steps it had taken to prevent such diversion, fraudulently increasing the amount of its products it was permitted to sell. Purdue also paid kickbacks to providers to encourage them to prescribe even more of its products.”
Starting in 2017, Stein, like other state attorneys general of both parties, filed suit against manufacturers and distributors of opioids, alleging their illegal business practices fueled the crisis. In July 2021, Johnson & Johnson and three other companies agreed to a $26 billion national settlement, with $750 million going to North Carolina.
“It has to be used for harm reduction, to keep people alive until they get healthy and well,” Stein said when he announced the settlement, according to television station WTVDin Raleigh. “These funds represent hope, hope for people and hope that they can get treatment so they can live a life free of addiction.”
Stein and other prosecutors secured $1.6 billion in a February 2020 settlement with pharmaceutical manufacturer Mallinckrodt. In December 2022, Stein and 17 state attorneys general reached an $11 billion settlement with CVS and Walgreens.
According to the Associated Press, North Carolina’s total share of opioid settlements has exceeded $1 billion during Stein’s time in office.
In response to an American Independent Foundation inquiry, Robinson appeared to change his tune somewhat. “I never said drug companies weren’t responsible. I did say, however, that it is time to hold criminals accountable for their actions,” he said in a statement emailed by his director of communications. “We cannot just go after the drug companies to solve this issue. We must crack down on the drug violence that is rampant in our communities.”
Robinson is incorrect about Stein’s work addressing other aspects of the opioid epidemic.
As attorney general, Stein convened a law enforcement opioid task force and worked with legislators to introduce the 2018 HOPE Act “to strengthen law enforcement efforts to confront the opioid crisis.” It passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that June.
This year, Stein called on state lawmakers to fund a fentanyl control unit within his office to help local prosecutors handle larger fentanyl-related cases. He also expanded the state crime lab’s drug chemistry and toxicology sections.
“In Buncombe County and across North Carolina, we have seen a sustained uptick in both overdose deaths and prosecutions of people responsible for bringing and selling fentanyl in our communities,” Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams said in a February press release. “I applaud the Attorney General’s efforts to deliver more resources to prosecute people engaged in trafficking fentanyl, reduce use, and save lives throughout our state.”
Robinson’s latest comments come as he has been the subject of national attention for his long history of racist, antisemitic, and anti-LGBTQ+ comments. In February 2018, he penned an attack on the film “Black Panther” because the title character was created by Stan Lee, whom he called “an agnostic Jew,” and “put to film by a satanic marxist. How can this trash, that was only created to pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets, invoke any pride?” He received bipartisan condemnation in October 2021 for a sermon in which he referred to “transgenderism” and homosexuality as “filth.”
Robinson will face State Treasurer Dale Folwell and former Rep. Mark Walker in the GOP gubernatorial primary. The winner will likely face Stein, who is currently the only major Democratic candidate running to replace term-limited Gov. Cooper.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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