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Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt listens at a news conference, Aug. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP) Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt listens at a news conference, Aug. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt listens at a news conference, Aug. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe September 23, 2022

In Nevada Senate race, Cortez Masto misleads about Laxalt’s record against opioid companies

If Your Time is short

  • Adam Laxalt received $20,250 in campaign donations from drug companies between 2014 and 2018.

  • As attorney general, Laxalt opposed a plan from Reno’s mayor to independently sue drug companies, saying it could affect a multistate investigation that involved Nevada. But when the city ultimately sued the companies, Laxalt supported the move.

  • Laxalt also sued Purdue Pharma in May 2018, alleging that the drug company deceived Nevadans about prescription opioids.

In the tight Senate race in Nevada, Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has criticized campaign contributions from drug and oil companies to her Republican opponent Adam Laxalt.

A 15-second Facebook ad focuses on Laxalt’s track record as Nevada’s attorney general from 2015 to 2019. 

"While other states took multiple drug companies to court over the opioid epidemic, Adam Laxalt took their campaign cash and used his office to block local attempts at holding one of the worst offenders accountable," a narrator says in the ad. "Laxalt’s only in it for himself."

Laxalt received campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies from 2014 to 2018, when he was first running for attorney general and then for governor. He also pushed against the city of Reno’s plans to sue opioid manufacturers. But the ad implies, without evidence, Laxalt did this as a result of campaign contributions. The ad also leaves out that Laxalt’s office was involved in investigations against opioid companies. 

Contributions to Laxalt’s campaigns

Laxalt’s political career started in January 2014 when he launched his campaign for attorney general, a race he won. In 2017, Laxalt announced he would be running for governor. He won the Republican primary in June 2018, but lost to his Democratic opponent, Steve Sisolak, in the general election.

Nevada’s campaign contributions database shows that between 2014 and 2018, Laxalt received $20,250 from Pfizer, Mallinckrodt and Purdue Pharma — all companies that manufacture opioids. Cortez Masto’s campaign pointed PolitiFact to this database as backup for the ad’s claim. 

Laxalt and Reno mayor argue over suing opioid manufacturers 

In June 2017, Laxalt announced his office was part of a bipartisan group of 41 attorneys general investigating the role of drug manufacturers in the opioid epidemic. The group did not identify any companies by name at the time. 

On Sept. 19, 2017, Laxalt and the other attorneys general issued subpoenas to the opioid manufacturers Endo, Janssen, Teva/Cephalon, Allergan and Purdue Pharma. They also demanded information from opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.   

A few months later, the city of Reno began exploring the possibility of independently suing opioid manufacturers. Laxalt reached out to Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve to discuss how this possible legal action could affect the multistate investigation, according to reporting by the Nevada Independent. 

On Nov. 6, 2017, Schieve responded that the city likely had different concerns and ideas from the state over what a settlement should look like. 

Laxalt told Schieve in a subsequent letter that the city’s effort might "unintentionally, undermine Nevada’s position in the multistate investigation." The letter was co-signed by the state’s top consumer advocate, Ernest Figueroa.

Laxalt said the attorney general’s office had more experience in multistate litigation and had already undertaken investigations and lawsuits over deceptive marketing and sales.

"We should avoid actions that would let the companies under investigation pit Nevadans against Nevadans," Laxalt wrote.

However, the letter did not say the attorney general’s office would block the city’s efforts. 

Schieve replied that Laxalt’s effort to deter the city’s lawsuit is "unsupported, and unfortunately pits ‘Nevadans against Nevadans’ when in fact the more claims being pursued by Nevada localities, the larger recovery may be achieved."

Laxalt’s office sues opioid manufacturer

In May 2018, Laxalt filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P., which manufactures OxyContin, an opioid medication. Laxalt accused the drug company of deceiving consumers about prescription opioids. (This lawsuit involved only Nevada, not the multistate investigation.)

This was the first lawsuit filed by Nevada against an opioid manufacturer, according to a news release from Laxalt’s office.

Reno files lawsuit against opioid manufacturer

On Sept. 18, 2018, the city of Reno sued Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers and distributors, including Mallinckrodt. 

Laxalt said he welcomed Reno to "the ongoing fight to curb Nevada’s opioid epidemic" spearheaded by his office.

In June 2019, Aaron Ford, who succeeded Laxalt as attorney general, dropped Laxalt’s lawsuit against Purdue and filed a larger one, naming 40 defendants, including Mallinckrodt.

Our ruling

Cortez Masto claimed Laxalt took "campaign cash" from drug companies "and used his office to block local attempts at holding one of the worst offenders accountable," while other states sued "multiple drug companies to court over the opioid epidemic."

The ad contains an element of truth: Laxalt received more than $20,000 from drug companies between 2014 and 2018. Laxalt in late 2018 discouraged Reno’s mayor from suing drug manufacturers.

But the ad leaves a misleading impression; Laxalt did not "block" the effort. 

Laxalt said he worried the city’s action could undermine an ongoing investigation by a multistate coalition that included Nevada. Separately, Nevada sued Purdue Pharma, alleging deceptive practices. 

Reno ultimately sued the opioid companies, and Laxalt supported the move. 

We rate the claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Email exchange, Josh Marcus-Blank, Communications Director for Catherine Cortez Masto for Senate, Sept. 13, 2022

Email exchange, Brian Freimuth, Press Secretary for Laxalt for Senate, Sept. 13, 2022

Facebook, ad, Aug. 18, 2022

The Hill, Campaign Report — Why Nevada could be make or break for Senate Democrats, Sept. 7, 2022

Washington Post, Cortez Masto’s misfired attack on Laxalt’s opioid record, Aug. 17, 2022

Nevada Secretary of State, Campaign Finance Disclosure, accessed Sept. 14, 2022

Nevada Attorney General, Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt announces ongoing investigation to address opioid epidemic, June 15, 2017

The Nevada Independent, With drug abuse on the rise, Reno mayor plans lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, Oct. 20, 2017

The Nevada Independent, Reno mayor says AG expressed concerns about city suing opioid manufacturers, Nov. 8, 2017

The Nevada Independent, Laxalt to Schieve: Reno lawsuit against opioid manufacturers could undermine ongoing state litigation, Nov. 9, 2017

The Nevada Independent, Reno mayor blasts Laxalt for pitting 'Nevadans against Nevadans' amid opioid lawsuit disagreement, Nov. 13, 2017

KOLO, Schwartz to Laxalt: Resign and drop out of governor's race, Dec. 15, 2017

District Court Clark CountyNevada, State of Nevada v. Purdue Pharma, May 15, 2018

Nevada Attorney General, Attorney General Laxalt Files Lawsuit Against Opioid Manufacturer to Combat Nevada’s Opioid Epidemic, May 15, 2018

The Associated Press, Nevada attorney general files wide-ranging opioid lawsuit, June 17, 2019

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In Nevada Senate race, Cortez Masto misleads about Laxalt’s record against opioid companies

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