Rudy Giuliani and the corporate drug pushers

Giuliani helped the maker of OxyContin get away with it: a as a lawyer, as a consultant, and as the head of a PR front group called the Rx Action Alliance.

Before Rudy Giuliani was the great anti-terrorist, killing bin Laden with his mouth, he made something of a name as a drug warrior, heading the (disastrously unsuccessful) anti-cocaine efforts of the early Reagan Administration and ordering the (more successful) effort to suppress open drug-dealing in New York City. But it seems that his devotion to the drug war wasn’t quite as strong as his devotion to the dollar.

Right after he left office, he established a consulting venture called Giuliani Partners. Its history may turn out to be a rich vein of sleaze for oppo researchers to mine.

One of Giuliani Partners’ first clients was Purdue Pharma, the maker (or, as some would say, the pusher) of OxyContin, the first name-brand drug abuse epidemic since Bayer’s Heroin® brand cough syrup. OxyContin spread addiction and overdose deaths through rural areas which had never before known a serious opiate abuse problem because they were remote from places where heroin was sold, thus earning the moniker “hillbilly heroin.” *

If all Giuliani had done for Purdue was to help it set up the diversion monitoring program it had relentlessly refused to establish while its owners were getting rich on the backs of drug addicts, it would be hard to criticize him; someone had to do the job, and there’s no reason to think that he couldn’t have done so competently. (Some of us in the drug-abuse-control field decided that Purdue’s money was too tainted to take, even to do the right thing, but that wasn’t obviously the right choice to make.)

But that’s not all that Purdue wanted from Giuliani; there were other people who could have done that job better. Purdue wanted his name, and they wanted his influence.

Purdue wanted Giuliani to meet with DEA officials &#8212 the officials of an agency he had supervised, as Associate Attorney General, two decades earlier &#8212 to fend off the drastic regulatory action, or even criminal investigation, that DEA was threatening.

More than one physician has gone to prison on federal charges of “drug trafficking” because the prosecutor argued, and the jury believed, that he should have known that some of his patients were reselling the narcotics he prescribed to them. On that theory, Purdue’s owners and executives were by no means out of the woods, since they surely should have known that when a rural drug store started buying OxyContin by the thousands of tablets that something was going on other than an epidemic of bone cancer in the county.

Purdue and three executives just pleaded guilty to criminal charges (of having “misbranded” the drug by deliberately understating its abuse potential) and agreed to pay more than $600 million in fines. (Don’t weep for them; OxyContin revenues ran about $1 billion a year, a big chunk of which came from drug abuse rather than pain relief.) Through his law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, America’s Mayor helped negotiate Purdue’s plea bargain, attending meetings as recently as last summer.

One of the officials Giuliani lobbied was the DEA Administrator, Asa Hutchinson, who went from the House of Representatives, where he helped spearhead the Clinton impeachment, to DEA, to Homeland Security, and finally back to Arkansas, where he was the Republican candidate for Governor last year. Other folks at DEA say that Hutchinson put the brakes on the OxyContin investigation right after his meeting with Giuliani, so I guess Purdue got something for its money.

Most of all, Purdue wanted Giuliani as a front man. He set up an “astroturf” lobbying group called Rx Action Alliance. Giuliani’s photo still graces the Alliance’s website (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were pulled down soon**),


and the Alliance’s address is given as

Rx Action Alliance

c/o Giuliani Partners LLC, 5 Times Square, New York, NY 10036

The Alliance’s announced goal certainly sounds high-minded: who could be against “achieving a balance between addressing abuse and diversion and maintaining access for patients”? But it’s not hard to guess which side of that “balance” Purdue Pharma’s thumb was on.

The Alliance’s conflict-of-interest policy also sounds fairly pristine:

Corporate Support and Philanthropy Policy

Initial funding for the Alliance has been provided through a series of unrestricted educational grants by members of the pharmaceutical industry. The funding members do not have any greater, nor any less, weight in the deliberations of the Alliance than any other participating organization. Disclosure and recognition of funding sources are included on the Alliance website. The Alliance does not accept corporate support that is contingent on specific policies or activities or that violates its guiding principles.

But if there’s any further “disclosure and recognition of funding sources” on the website, I can’t find it. Nor is there any list of members, officers, governing board, or anything else that a real organization, as opposed to a PR front group, would have. (There’s a list of “participants,” but those turn out to be participants in meetings and on committees, not member organizations.)

And of course the fact that Giuliani Partners had been hired by Purdue Pharma is never mentioned; one of the Alliance’s “guiding principles” is “transparent discourse,” but it would be folly to carry transparency to the extreme of revealing who’s paying the bills.

ABC and Newsday focus on Giuliani’s role; the New York Times plays it mostly as a Purdue story, but Giuliani’s lawyer role gets some play. None of the stories mentions any of Giuliani’s rival candidates as a source, but they all have different bits, and somehow I doubt the stork brought the information. (Meier probably didn’t need to be tipped off, since he wrote a book about OxyContin.)

* That was the semi-official law enforcement and journalistic nickname for the drug, proving once again that there’s one form of ethnic prejudice that doesn’t have to hide itself.

** Yep. The website is “currently under renovation.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: