Why keep rewarding big pharma?

“What is now public in the past two weeks, what these pharmaceutical companies have done, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are responsible. … There is no doubt that they knew these drugs were addictive; there is no doubt they lied to the public … for a long period of time.”

That was Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this month, reacting to published data that showed the depth of the pharmaceutical industry’s involvement in sparking and fueling the substance abuse epidemic plaguing our region. New lawsuits were quickly filed once the enormity of their involvement became evident. Some lawsuits have been plodding along since last year.

But a report published by The Columbus Dispatch points out something disturbing. During the same years (and, in fact, still today) those companies were deliberately pumping poisons into our communities and acting as a kind of “legal” drug ring, they were also receiving huge tax breaks from Columbus. According to the Dispatch those tax breaks have been worth more than $4 billion since 2006, and the subsidy is growing at a rate of approximately $500 million per year.

DeWine’s office was quick to point out the law that created the subsidies that may have helped pharmaceutical distributors do their dirty work was passed during the Bob Taft administration, and that it helps all distributors, not just pharmaceuticals. Revoking the tax breaks wholesale would do more harm than good.

“Tax incentives are a matter of contract,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told the Dispatch. “It may be appropriate to discuss whether language should be included in the future to allow the state to exit such an agreement upon a showing of behavior of the incentive that creates substantial harm to Ohio. Ultimately, this would be a decision for the (DeWine) administration.”

Note his use of the words “in the future.” Ohio may be stuck continuing to provide the tax breaks that let pharmaceutical distributors squirrel away enough money to comfortably settle their lawsuits and continue business as usual.

Nevertheless, lawmakers and DeWine should go over those contracts with a fine-toothed comb to be sure there isn’t something that can be done now to avoid rewarding these companies for what they have done to the Buckeye State.