By LAURA E. WEISS, CQ
It began as a suggestion from a county health official to leaders of a group of nuns’ money management program. They were addressing climate change, modern-day slavery and immigration — why not the opioid epidemic?
A year and a half later, the mammoth coalition of investors born from that idea wields $2.2 trillion of influence, urging the largest U.S. drug companies to take accountability for playing a role in the opioid crisis. The group, Investors for Opioid Accountability, has cut deals with companies in the business of making or distributing opioid painkillers to review how they oversee sales of the highly addictive drugs and make other corporate governance changes aimed at improving supervision of opioid sales.
“No one is untouched by the opioid crisis in the country — or even globally now as it’s beginning to turn out — but we lead with the investor lens because that is our responsibility and our duty to give an investor voice to it,” says IOA co-leader Meredith Miller. She says the coalition”s 46 members — including state treasurers, public pension funds, faith-based investors and union benefit funds — are hearing from their ministries, citizens or union members about the crisis.
IOA’s shareholder proposals include requests for reports on board oversight of risks related to opioid sales, mechanisms for recouping executive pay in the case of misconduct, disclosure of lobbying spending, independent board leadership and other adjustments to oversight mechanisms and how the CEO and other top leaders are paid.
IOA has claimed several victories so far. The coalition’s opioid risk report proposal won support from 62 percent of investors in Assertio Therapeutics Inc., which makes opioid painkiller Nucynta. The same proposal neared majority approval at AmerisourceBergen Corp., one of the “big three” U.S. drug wholesalers. IOA says it has a commitment from another large distributor, Cardinal Health Inc., to publish risk reports, recoup executive pay in cases of misconduct and split the roles of CEO and board chair. McKesson, the country’s sixth-largest company, and several manufacturers have also agreed to changes including reviews of how directors oversee opioid sales, avoiding votes on IOA’s proposals.
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