|WASHINGTON, DC — Grim-faced sheriffs peered from Washington D.C.-area television screens in hundreds of ads this summer, imploring the country’s leaders to reject proposals to import cheaper prescription drugs from other countries.
Importing drugs would “put lives I’m sworn to protect at risk,” Kentucky Sheriff Keith Cain declared from beneath the brim of a white cowboy hat in one of the spots. It, like the others, warned that deadly counterfeit medicines would slip through loose foreign safeguards and overwhelm law-enforcement agencies. The ads concluded by telling viewers they were paid for by the National Sheriffs’ Association, which represents 3,000-plus U.S. sheriffs.
In reality, the ad blitz was secretly paid for by at least $900,000 in grants from the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a nonprofit that’s been funded and operated by the pharmaceutical industry’s trade association. It was a lucrative arrangement for the financially strapped sheriffs’ group, which had been rejected by six banks last year as it sought to refinance its real estate assets to pay overdue bills, according to its internal records. The organization pocketed proceeds of at least $125,000, according to internal emails obtained through more than a dozen public records requests.