Thursday, September 19, 2019

The greasy palms of Luther Strange and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama have given the state one of the most severe opiod-prescription problems in the U.S. -- as family behind OxyContin funnels profits offshore

Luther Strange and Jessica Medeiros Garrison

Alabama in recent days has taken a front-and-center role in the U.S. opiod crisis, and that seems fitting given that the state's former attorney general, Luther Strange, and largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL), have helped give the state one of the nation's most severe prescription-painkiller problems, according to a 2017 article at (of all places.)

Strange landed in national headlines over the weekend, thanks to an Associated Press report about his efforts pushing for a settlement that critics say is highly favorable to the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, the company behind OxyContin. The social-media presence for Jessica Medeiros Garrison, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, mostly disappeared -- coinciding roughly with Strnage's involvement in opiod-lawsuit negotiations.

Meanwhile, the New York attorney general stated in court documents last week that the office has traced roughly $1 billion the Sackler family allegedly transferred to offshore accounts in an effort to shield its wealth from possible collection in lawsuits. What if Luther Strange is found to have been involved in what appears to be a case of massive financial fraud?

Did Strange learn a thing or two about offshore accounts, perhaps via members of Alabama's crooked Riley family, from his days in the Alabama Republican Party, with ties to Birmingham's Bradley Arant Law Firm? What if political connections in the Northern District of Alabama allowed Strange to escape prosecution in the North Birmingham Superfund Bribery Scandal, but he lands in the "big house" from helping the Sacklers shift billions into offshore accounts? How huge could the OxyContin-related financial fraud turn out to be? From an article at Splinter News:

Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James subpoenaed 33 financial institutions with ties to the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The subpoenas are tied to James’ effort to track billions of dollars the family allegedly transferred out of Purdue Pharma to hide profits before the company declares bankruptcy, The New York Times and other media reported.

The findings announced on Friday come from only one of the financial institutions that responded to the subpoenas, the Times said.

The attorney general’s office said it found about $1 billion in wire transfers by the Sackler family, some of which went through Swiss bank accounts.

“While the Sacklers continue to lowball victims and skirt a responsible settlement, we refuse to allow the family to misuse the courts in an effort to shield their financial misconduct. The limited number of documents provided to us so far underscore the necessity for compliance with every subpoena,” James said in a statement.

The findings from only one of 33 subpoenas suggest the total amount of financial transfers to offshore accounts easily could top $30 billion. Will the IRS have an interest in this, perhaps with Luther Strange caught in the web of deceit? Are the Sacklers planning to commit bankruptcy fraud? It sure sounds like it.

No one should be surprised at Strange's chummy relationship with Big Pharma, Breitbart reports, given that the former U.S. senator and one of his biggest political benefactors, BCBSAL, have helped turn Alabama into a haven for prescription-opiod abuse. Reports Breitbart in its 2017 piece:

During a period he served as Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange received more campaign contributions than any other U.S .attorney general from members of a controversial lobby group peddling the dangerous prescription pain medication business amid an ongoing opioid crisis in Alabama. . . .

Backed financially by big pharmaceutical companies, Strange led an effort that culminated in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed by other attorneys general urging the agency not to approve generic versions of highly addictive opioids unless the companies use so-called tamper-resistant or abuse-resistant technology that at the time was mostly available to the major drug companies and not generic competitors.

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press previously found that the effort outlined in Strange’s letter essentially left the opioid market for several years to big drug companies like Purdue and Pfizer.

According to Breitbart, Strange and BCBSAL essentially have given everyday Alabamians a giant middle finger while lining their own pockets with Big Pharma cash. Perhaps that should not be surprising, given that BCBSAL long has harbored at least one criminal -- our former neighbor Mike McGarity -- among its employees. Could BCBSAL wind up facing massive civil liability if opiod lawsuits head its way? Let's take a look:

The issue of opioid prescription is critical in Alabama, a state that has the highest rate of prescription opioid use in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Also, in July, a report found that Alabama members of Blue Cross Blue Shield evidenced alarming trends of opioid prescription rates.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is the 12th largest donor to Strange’s Senatorial coffers, according to Open Secrets, contributing $15,000.

How has Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama contributed to the state's high rate of prescription-painkiller use? A 2017 story explains:

Alabama members of Blue Cross Blue Shield receive more opioids for longer periods of time and report higher rates of substance- abuse disorder than patients in almost every other state, according to a report released Thursday.

An analysis of claims filed by Blue Cross members ranked Alabama in the top three for opioid prescriptions filled, long-term painkiller use and diagnoses of opioid-abuse disorder. More than 26 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield members in the Yellowhammer State filled prescriptions for opioids in 2015, compared to the national average of 21.4 percent.

The study follows recent reports showing the death toll from opioid use topping 33,000 in 2015 and continuing to rise. Many of the deaths in recent years have been caused by heroin and illicit fentanyl - a powerful substance that has infiltrated the drug supply and caused a spike in overdoses. Deaths from prescription opioids have plateaued, but still account for the majority of fatal overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the report, the number of substance-abuse disorder diagnoses for Blue Cross members increased almost 500 percent from 2010 to 2016. Women age 45 and older have higher rates of substance abuse than men, and men have higher rates of abuse among younger members. Less than a third of members diagnosed with opioid use disorder in Alabama received medication to treat the condition.

The CDC identified Alabama as the state with the highest number of prescribed opioids per capita in 2015, with physicians writing 5.8 million prescriptions that year. State regulators have adopted some rules to curb high rates of prescriptions. Recently, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners adopted a rule requiring doctors to check the prescription drug database for certain patients.

How greasy are Strange's hands in the opiod crisis? The 2017 Breitbart article provides insight:

Strange was appointed to the Senate in February, after Jeff Sessions vacated his seat to become U.S. Attorney General. Prior to his appointment, Strange served for six years as Alabama’s Attorney General.

The AP and Center for Public Integrity report found that members of a major drug lobby group called the Pain Care Forum donated more money to Strange than to any other attorney general during a nine-year period.

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