HUNTINGTON - Pharmaceutical companies and allied advocacy groups have spent more than $250,000 in campaign contributions in West Virginia since 2006, while the state remains one of the top states in the nation with the most opioid prescriptions written each year.

According to data compiled by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, the pharmaceutical companies and allied groups that have participated in the Pain Care Forum - a coalition of companies and advocacy groups that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues - spent more than $880 million from 2006 through 2015 on campaign contributions and lobbying expenses at the state and federal levels. They hired an average of more than 1,350 state lobbyists and more than 115 federal lobbying organizations each year during that 10-year period.

That spending is more than eight times what the National Rifle Association, state gun groups and top gun manufacturers recorded for similar activities during that same period.

In West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has received the most campaign contributions from pharmaceutical and allied groups, receiving $120,500 since 2006.

The contributions come from nine pharmaceutical companies and two allied advocacy groups, with the largest contributions coming from the American Society of Anesthesiologists. In 2012, the ASA donated $10,000 to Capito's campaign.

Ashley Berrang, communications director for Capito, said the senator has never allowed political donations to influence her decisions.

"You don't need to look any further than the heartbreaking stories of her constituents, including those in Huntington that she talked about on the Senate floor as recently as yesterday, to see what motivates her," Berrang said on Friday.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has received $66,750 in campaign contributions since 2006.

The contributions came from 10 pharmaceutical groups and two allied groups. The largest total contributions come from Abbott Laboratories, donating $15,000 over three years.

Jonathan Knott, communications director for Manchin, said he accepts contributions from anyone "who wants to invest in good governance and bipartisan solutions."

"He would be surprised to learn that he has received any contributions from the pharmaceutical industry given his mission of ending the opioid epidemic, including passing legislation that ultimately took 1.1 billion hydrocodone pills off the streets in 2015," Knott said.

Other federal representatives have also received campaign contributions from the organizations.

Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., received $18,100, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., received $43,550, and Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., received $15,000.

The Associated Press found Pain Care Forum participants contributed more than $24 million to 7,100 candidates for state-level offices from 2006 through 2015, with the largest amounts going to governors and the lawmakers who control legislative agendas, such as House speakers, Senate presidents and health committee chairs.

West Virginia Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, has received $4,050 since 2006 from Pfizer, Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and Republican governor's candidate, has received no campaign contributions from Pain Care Forum participants between 2006 and 2014, according to the data. He has been in office one term.

Senate Health and Human Resource Committee Chair Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, has received $1,500 and House Health and Human Resource Committee Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, has received $2,450.

Local representatives at the state legislature also received campaign contributions.

Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, received $4,000; Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, received $3,900; Carol Miller, R-Cabell, received $2,000; Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, received $1,800; Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, received $1,750; Don Perdue, D-Wayne, received $1,450; and Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, received $500.

Perdue is not running for re-election and Morgan is running for Cabell County Commission in the November election. Reynolds is running for state attorney general. His opponent, current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, has received $7,500 in contributions.

From 2006 through 2014, more than 356,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. Prescription painkillers and heroin account for the majority of the deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of overdoses increased by 37 percent in that period, with more than 47,000 people dying of overdoses in 2014.

From 2006 through 2014, 6,181 West Virginians died from an overdose.

In 2015, more than 227 million opioid prescriptions were written, enough to provide a prescription to nine of 10 U.S. adults. West Virginia ranks third in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions written with 1.13 opioid prescriptions written per person.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.


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