Tim Ryan took money from an opioid distributor whose executives mocked drug addicts by calling them ‘pills’

On the campaign trail, Ryan attacks drug companies for profiting from ‘getting Americans addicted to opiates’

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan (D.)/Getty Images

Joseph Simonson • October 10, 2022 4:20 p.m.

During the campaign trail, Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Senate, enjoys talking to voters about his work as co-chair of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus and offensive pharmaceutical companies for profiting from “making so many millions of Americans addicted to opiates”. None of this stopped him from accepting money from a political action committee funded by an opioid distributor whose leaders mocked drug addicts as “pillbillies,” a Free Washington Beacon review of campaign finance documents found.

The $1,000 donation came from AmerisourceBergen PAC in November 2019. Emails revealed in 2021 in a lawsuit against the company for its alleged role in the opioid crisis showed AmerisourceBergen executives expressed broad contempt for poor white people suffering from addiction, which at the time was largely fueled by pharmaceuticals such as OxyContin.

In one exchange, a senior AmerisourceBergen executive circulated a parody song containing references to “hillbilly heroin”, “a crowd of Pillbillies”, and a reference to Kentucky as “OxyContinville”. Another email shared between the executives joked about how the crackdown on so-called pill mills — doctors who illegally prescribe opioids to clients — in Florida will lead to a “max [sic] the exodus of the Pillbillies to the north.”

The donation could turn out to be a political liability for Ryan, a Democrat running in a state that has been badly hit by the opioid crisis. The Associated press reported earlier this month that opioid distributors had donated at least $27,000 to Ryan’s political campaigns since 2007.

At the same time, according to the AP, Ryan voted against bills to increase funding for anti-opioid initiatives, such as drug treatment spending programs. In a statement to PARyan’s campaign said one of the donors, Cardinal, is a big Ohio employer.

The Ryan campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Ohio recorded more than 5,200 overdose deaths in 2020. This figure is largely attributable to the rise in the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which states Data show was implicated in 81% of overdose deaths in 2020.

Ryan’s Republican opponent JD Vance rose to prominence for his memoir Hillbilly Elegywhich provided insight into the drug crisis in Appalachia. Vance cited the experience of writing the book as an inspiration for seeking political office.

During the campaign trail, Vance’s message often focuses on his time in Ohio as the son of a mother who struggled with addiction. In response, Ryan attacked Vance’s dormant nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal, which focused on solving Ohio’s opioid crisis.

Although Ryan called Our Ohio Renewal “a masquerade” created to “advance [Vance’s] political ambitions,” former employees told the Free tag they were proud of what the organization had accomplished in a short time. Among these achievements, according to former staff members, is the “Kinship Care Research Project”, which posited that state governments should focus on providing children of drug addicts with stable homes.

Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order extending financial benefits to family caregivers — extended family members who are the legal guardians of children whose parents are absent — in December 2020. the next yearthe Ohio state government has established a service that allows social workers to help match adoptive children with extended family members.

The Free Washington Beacon in September reported on another donor-related headache for Ryan. Last month, Ryan flew to Los Angeles to attend a fundraiser co-hosted by a high-profile litigant who previously worked to minimize the financial damages available to young victims of sexual abuse by the former US Olympic doctor. Larry Nasar.

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