Savannah’s opioid lawsuit renews focus on Rep. Buddy Carter

ByDonald L. Leech

Nov 1, 2022

For years, Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter has been dogged by accusations that, as a longtime pharmacist in Pooler, he and his company amassed a fortune selling prescription opioids. Less than two weeks before Election Day, the issue threatens to disrupt his hard-fought re-election campaign.

Mark Tate, a Savannah attorney, filed a motion in Chatham County Superior Court on October 19 to add Carter, a licensed pharmacist and businessman, as a defendant in a five-year lawsuit on behalf of relatives of Kevin Bolton, who died of an opioid overdose in 2016. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from opioid manufacturers and distributors for the sister and two children of the former high school graduate Jenkins. Last week, Tate withdrew the motion.

Carter, who has represented Coastal Georgia in the U.S. Congress since 2016, called any attempt to link him to alleged opioid abuse “baseless” and “without merit.” In a statement to the WTOC, he denounced Tate’s actions as a “politically motivated media stunt”.

Tate told the WTOC last week that a “procedural issue” prompted him to withdraw Carter’s name from the lawsuit, which lists Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, McKesson Corp. and 24 other companies and individuals as defendants. He said he also supported the claims in the lawsuit.

In an interview Monday with The streamTate did not elaborate on his decision to include and then exclude Carter from the trial, saying only that “it was just something I had to do to make sure everything was moving forward.”

The legal drama, while opaque, draws attention to Carter’s prior business dealings as a pharmacist Pooler whose business received the fourth-highest number of opioids in Chatham County from 2006 to 2014, according to federal government records. It also sheds light on his campaign finance ties to McKesson, his former opioid distributor.

A spokesperson for McKesson did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Carter, a Republican, will face Savannah’s attorney Wade Herring, a Democrat, Nov. 8 in the race for Georgia’s first congressional district.

Tate did not contribute financially to either man’s campaign efforts. In the past, he financially supported former President Barack Obama.

Carter Pharmacy Inc. Ranks 4th in Prescription Opioid Sales

Carter, the former mayor of Pooler, opened his first pharmacy in 1988 and within a decade his business consisted of three outlets. It also provided medicine to 14 nursing homes in the Chatham County area.

Carter’s business growth coincided with the explosion of the opioid epidemic, leading to the overdose deaths of nearly half a million Americans between 1999 and 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2020, an average of 44 people died every day from prescription opioid overdoses, totaling more than 16,000 deaths. In 2020, more than 56,000 deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) occurred in the United States, which is more deaths than any other type of opioid.

From 2006 to 2014, the Carter Pharmacy, Inc. in Pooler, owned by Carter, had significant prescription painkiller business, according to a database maintained by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and obtained by the Washington Post and HD Media after a year-long legal battle over the disclosure of public documents with the government and the pharmaceutical industry.

During this nine-year period, Carter’s company received the 4e the largest number of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills in Chatham County – 2,876,010 pills, according to the database.

Walgreen Company in Savannah received the most prescription painkillers – 3,954,610 – according to the database.

The DEA has tracked the path of more than 100 billion doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone from manufacturers to retail pharmacies across America. But the agency did not track the pills after they were shipped to pharmacies.

A total of 80,276,636 painkillers were provided to Chatham County during the data period, enough for 34 painkillers per year per person in the county, according to DEA data.

In an interview published earlier this year, Carter said he sold the institutional business in the late 1990s but kept his three pharmacies, including the last he sold “recently”.

The family business was lucrative. Financial disclosure forms analyzed by OpenSecrets, a Washington-based research organization that tracks money in politics, show him with a median net worth last year of $32,346,527.

Carter becomes an anti-opioid advocate and receives contributions from opioid suppliers

In 2017, Carter became a leading advocate for efforts to curb the opioid epidemic, helping introduce legislation that would require federal agencies to produce materials to better educate pharmacists about when they are licensed. by law to refuse to fill a prescription for a controlled substance.

Yet the congressman has also received political contributions from pharmaceutical companies, including McKesson Corp., which from 2006 to 2012 was the nation’s largest distributor of prescription opioids. It was also Carter Pharmacy, Inc.’s top prescription painkiller supplier from 2006 to 2014, according to DEA data.

From the 2014 election cycle to the 2022 cycle, McKesson Corp. and its affiliates have made political contributions to Carter totaling $53,000, according to data collected by OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington that tracks money in politics.

During the same period, the company paid $17,500 to Carter’s executive PAC, called Buddy PAC, and McKesson Corp. The employee political fund gave him $37,500. Leadership PACs are vehicles for politicians to donate money to other politicians and lay the groundwork for their own campaigns for higher office.

In all, McKesson Corp. and its affiliates and its employee political action committee donated $108,000 to Carter and his PAC leadership.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, McKesson said he was suspending all contributions to members of Congress, “including those who, even after violent and unlawful attack, voted for s oppose the certification of the presidential election.”

Despite Carter’s votes to decertify the election results in Pennsylvania and along with 120 other House members to decertify the results in Arizona and his statement declaring his intention to oppose certification of Georgia’s electoral votes, McKesson remained generous.

Carter and his PAC leadership received contributions totaling $42,500 from McKesson and its affiliates, as well as its employee political action committee, for the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.