PolitiFact: Cordray’s Claim GOP Opponent Is to Blame for Opioid Epidemic Is ‘Mostly False’

PolitFact determined Democratic Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray's claim that his Republican opponent is to blame for opioid addiction in the state is "mostly false."

The Democratic candidate said during a June 4 campaign event and in a new campaign ad that his Republican candidate, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, has contributed to the increase in the state's opioid deaths.

"Opioid deaths have tripled on his watch and there have been cuts to funds for first responders and people in the community fighting the crisis," said Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The fact-checking website determined that while opioid overdose deaths have in fact tripled from 2011 to 2016, according to state health data, it is an "overreach" to say DeWine is to blame for the deaths. PolitiFact's Amy Sherman pointed out that while Ohio is one of the most heavily affected states in the nation by opioid overdoses, it is "a national crisis."

Opioids (including prescription opioidsheroin, and fentanyl) killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record. About 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In October, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. The over-prescribing of opioids began in the mid 1990s amid a marketing campaign telling doctors that they should prescribe more opioids to help ease patients’ pain.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, said it is "silly" to blame DeWine — or any other state attorney general — for the increase in overdose deaths.

"There are certain levers attorney generals can pull to impact opioids, but they would not have any short-term impact on opioid deaths," he said.

DeWine has taken steps to address the epidemic, having filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ohio in 2017 against drug manufacturers and a lawsuit against four opioid distributors earlier this year.

"We believe the evidence will show that these companies ignored their duties as drug distributors to ensure that opioids were not being diverted for improper use. They knew the amount of opioids allowed to flow into Ohio far exceeded what could be consumed for medically-necessary purposes, but they did nothing to stop it," DeWine said. "And much like the drug manufacturers who continue to fail to do the right thing, these distributors are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and help pay for the damage they have caused."

DeWine has further taken action by committing money to assist addicts, victims, and scientists.

"[DeWine] has also devoted money to assist addicts and victims, added scientists and equipment to test drugs, sponsored training for law enforcement, formed a heroin unit and negotiated an agreement to reimburse local agencies that use Naloxone, a treatment to stop overdoses," Sherman said.

PolitiFact added that the attorney general ultimately does not have the funding to truly affect treatment and DeWine does not set the state's budget.

But bringing the epidemic under control requires reducing the incidence of new people addicted and increasing access to treatment. Those goals are not under the purview of an attorney general.

"I do not think it makes sense to blame the attorney general," said Kolodny. "I think there is a lot of blame to go around but pointing to a single state official is silly."

Kolodny has criticized the federal response both under Trump and Barack Obama and called for more federal money.

Orman Hall, who worked in Gov. John Kasich’s administration on the opioid epidemic, said he doesn’t believe law enforcement will solve this problem.

"Cordray's statement is overreach," PolitiFact said. "This claim rates Mostly False."