In The Know: Oklahoma attorney general sues pharmaceutical companies for ‘fraudulent’ marketing of opioids

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma attorney general sues pharmaceutical companies for ‘fraudulent’ marketing of opioids: Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sued more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies Friday — accusing them of making fraudulent marketing claims that greatly understated the addictive risks of opioid painkillers while overstating the treatment benefits. “We’ve had almost 3,000 overdose deaths in the last three years in Oklahoma,” Hunter said. “We need to hold these people accountable. Manufacturers have in a consistent and … coldblooded fashion marketed these drugs in a way that has misrepresented their tendency to be addictive and the extent to which they can be deadly.” [NewsOK] In recent years, prescription painkiller overdoses have been responsible for more deaths in Oklahoma than meth, heroine, and cocaine combined. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma Court Denies Stay In Lawsuit Challenging Auto Sales Tax Hike: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has denied a request to stop the state from collecting a new 1.25 percent tax on automobile sales. The court on Friday denied a stay requested in a lawsuit by Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson, allowing the tax to go into effect on Saturday. The court has scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit for August 8, the same day it will hear arguments in a lawsuit by auto dealers that also challenges the vehicle sales tax and a lawsuit by tobacco companies challenging a $1.50 per pack fee on cigarettes. [NewsOn6] By filing this lawsuit, Richardson is attempting to consolidate the anti-tax wing of Republican primary voters behind his candidacy [OK Policy].

Why States Are Struggling To Tax Services: As states struggle to align their tax codes with the modern service economy, expanding sales taxes to include activities like personal care, home repair, funeral services, computer maintenance and similar enterprises would seem to be a logical move. But states are finding it’s not so easy. Twenty-three state legislatures considered proposals this year to impose taxes on at least some services. But so far, none has made it into law intact — and most died outright. And in several states, new taxes on services that took effect this year are so complicated that tax offices are writing clarifying memos, like the one in North Carolina to distinguish between roof repair (taxable) and roof replacement (not taxable). [Stateline]

Oil and Gas Output Plummets Before Higher Taxes Kick In: An Oklahoma Watch analysis of more than 3,000 horizontal wells shows that more than half of a typical well’s projected lifetime oil and gas production will occur during its first three years, when it is taxed at a much lower rate. The analysis looks at all horizontal wells in the state that began production between February 2014 and January 2017. During recent legislative debates about the optimal level of taxation, lawmakers based their decisions on widely divergent estimates of how quickly horizontal well production is likely to decline. [Oklahoma Watch] Oklahoma’s generous tax breaks in the first three years of drilling are costing state services hundreds of millions of dollars annually [OK Policy].

As Trump looks for voter fraud numbers, election board records show it rarely occurs in Oklahoma: The request this week by President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission for detailed information on Oklahoma’s registered voters is not the first time the state Election Board has been queried about possible illegal votes. In January, three U.S. congressmen — Democrats Elijah E. Cummings, Robert A. Brady, and James. E Clyburn — sent the Election Board and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt a request seeking “information regarding confirmed incidents of voter fraud.” The result of the Election Board’s nearly three-month investigation into possible voter fraud in the 2016 general election? Nineteen possible instances of potential voting crimes, 17 of which were instances of double votes, such as when a person votes via absentee ballot, then attempts to vote in person on Election Day. [The Frontier]

How GOP health care bill would affect Oklahomans: Health care bills in Congress would increase insurance premiums for low-income and middle-class Oklahoma City residents buying coverage on a health care exchange but leave rates for high earners largely unchanged, according to a nonpartisan analysis. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that studies health policy, analyzed data from both the Senate bill and U.S. House legislation to repeal Obamacare. The analysis found a 27-year-old in Oklahoma City making $20,000 per year would be charged a slightly lower premium under the repeal bills, but would receive nearly $2,000 less in tax credits. As a result, the 27-year-old would pay a net premium of $2,420 for a silver plan, compared to $960 under Obamacare, and $870 for a bronze plan, compared to $0 under Obamacare. [The Oklahoman] The effects will be worst for older, lower-income enrollees, whose uninsured rate is projected to more than double within ten years. [OK Policy]

New Oklahoma policy could worsen school lunch shaming: Children who find themselves short on lunch money at some Oklahoma schools see their tray of hot food sent back to the kitchen, where it’s most likely tossed in the trash. Those same students leave the lunch line with what’s known as an alternate meal, usually a cold cheese sandwich and milk, a visible signal to their classmates that they lack lunch money. Even a low account balance can prompt a handstamp reminder — another obvious mark. Recently, school “lunch shaming,” has come under fire across the country with critics saying the practice leaves students stigmatized, embarrassed, shamed and maybe even hungry. Now, some child advocates fear a new state policy that took effect in Oklahoma on July 1 could exacerbate the problem. Under the new policy, school districts are allowed to carry students’ unpaid meal charges into the next school year. [The Oklahoman]

Teacher Of The Year In Oklahoma Moves To Texas For The Money: About exactly a year ago we brought you the story of Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. At the time, he and about 40 other educators were running for office in the state, wanting to make a change because, as Sheehan puts it, lawmakers weren’t prioritizing education. Funding for schools in the state has been cut tremendously over the past decade and teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country. “And unfortunately, it didn’t go the way that we had wanted,” he says. [NPR]

The danger of further cuts to Oklahoma higher education: Oklahoma has a huge problem. Our state does not produce enough college graduates in engineering, information technology, financial analysis, nursing, management and other economy-changing fields to fill 18,000 jobs we have open now. Projections show this skills gap will continue to get worse over the next several years. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is pushing an anti-education campaign that would further exacerbate the situation. Our group, Oklahoma Tomorrow, was formed by business leaders tired of our state being 49th in everything. [Devery Youngblood / NewsOK]

Oklahoma LGBT advocate breaks from Democratic Party: Troy Stevenson, a prominent LGBT advocate who roams the state Capitol halls during session, said this week he is leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent. Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, has been a Democrat all of his adult life and worked on several Democratic campaigns, including twice for President Barack Obama. Because he runs a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group in a Republican state, however, he works closely with GOP lawmakers on the group’s legislative agenda. Some Democrats, Stevenson said, don’t like that he praises Republicans for supporting gay rights and other issues on Freedom Oklahoma’s to-do list. [NewsOK]

EPA chief Pruitt pushing government-wide effort to question climate change science: The Trump administration is debating whether to launch a government-wide effort to question the science of climate change, an effort that critics say is an attempt to undermine the long-established consensus human activity is fueling the Earth’s rising temperatures. The move, driven by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, has sparked a debate among top Trump administration officials over whether to pursue such a strategy. A plethora of scientific assessments over the years have concluded that human activity — such as the burning of fossil fuels — is driving climate change, and it poses grave risks to the environment and to human health. [Washington Post]

Oklahoma chiefs meet Trump to talk energy and environment: When Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton met President Donald Trump on Wednesday, he came bearing a message: we can take care of the environment ourselves. “The main item I wanted to get across is that no one is wanting to give up our federal responsibilities, but we do want to take those responsibilities and put them on ourselves,” Batton said. Environmental regulations have limited access to natural resources and stifled economic development in Indian Country, Batton and other chiefs told the president in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. [NewsOK]

Public Service Company of Oklahoma Seeks $156 Million Rate Increase: Public Service Company of Oklahoma filed a $156 million rate increase request with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Friday. The increase, if approved, equates to an 11 percent jump. For the typical residential electric customer, PSO estimates the increase will be nearly 50 cents per day, according to a company press release. With the latest rate application, PSO aims to update its prices to reflect the costs of system investments to strengthen the electric grid, meet federal environmental requirements and better serve customers. The company stated its current prices are based on costs from 2014 and early 2015. [OK Energy Today]

Off-duty Tulsa cop who killed daughter’s boyfriend faces 3rd trial: A former Oklahoma police officer who said he was trying to protect his daughter when he fatally shot her black boyfriend in 2014 is on trial for the third time in seven months, after jurors in previous trials couldn’t decide whether he was guilty of murder. Experts say Shannon Kepler’s case illustrates a broad unwillingness to convict police officers, particularly in cases involving fatal shootings — and even when the lines between officer and civilian are blurred. [Associated Press]

Quote of the Day

“By waging a fraudulent, decades-long marketing campaign to profit from the suffering of thousands of Oklahomans, these companies have made in excess of $10 billion a year, while creating a generation of Oklahomans who have become addicts, convicts or have met their deaths from opioid overdoses.”

-Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is suing more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of greatly understating the addictive risks of opioid painkillers while overstating the treatment benefits (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of non-institutionalized Oklahomans who report having one or more disabilities in 2015. This is the 8th-highest percentage in the US.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

To Be Sick Without Obamacare: People who have any kind of medical condition are at the heart of the debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. About a quarter of adults under 65 have these so-called preexisting conditions, and they are most vulnerable to any change in the current law, which prohibits charging sick people more for insurance. The replacement bill that passed the House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act, would allow states to do just that for people with a gap of 63 days in their insurance coverage. It would also allow insurers to stop covering certain services, even for people with continuous coverage. [The Atlantic]

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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