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Former CVS CEO Tom Ryan accuses McKee of ‘slandering’ company in new TV ad

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Former longtime CVS Health chief executive Tom Ryan lambastes Gov. Dan McKee over a new attack TV ad that criticizes Rhode Island’s largest private company for allegedly helped fuel the opioid crisis.

McKee released the new ad Friday afternoon as his campaign seeks to curb the momentum of his main Democratic rival Helena Foulkes, who worked with Ryan for years as a senior executive at CVS. Foulkes gave a well-received debate on Tuesday and was later endorsed by the Boston Globe.

In the new McKee ad, a narrator accuses Foulkes of “running misleading advertisements with the money she made by injecting opioids into our homes”. Onscreen, a headline from the GoLocalProv website reads, “CVS and Foulkes haunted by role in opioid crisis.”

McKee is far from the first person to criticize CVS executives over opioids: The company was one of several drugstore chains recently ordered to pay damages for the outbreak in Ohio, and Foulkes has was repeatedly confronted with questions about the issue during the election campaign.

But CVS is also by far the largest company in Rhode Island, ranking 4th in the Fortune 500, with approximately 7,000 employees statewide. It built its headquarters in Woonsocket in 1981 and has grown tremendously in the years since.

Ryan – who retired in 2011 as CVS chairman and CEO after 17 years at the helm – told 12 News he was outraged by the publicity.

“I’ve been in Rhode Island politics for a long time, so I’m not terribly surprised,” Ryan said in a statement. “However, a sitting governor publicly attacking and slandering Rhode Island’s largest business and one of the nation’s most philanthropic corporations, in an effort to win an election, is unconscionable.”

In a reference to CVS’s role in administering the statewide COVID-19 vaccine doses, he said, “CVS was the governor’s most valued ally because he took ‘shots in the arms” and now in a desperate attempt to keep his job, he has unjustly slandered this loyal partner.

Ryan added, “Come election day, I hope all CVS associates, family members, loved ones and vendors take note of what the governor thinks of CVS.”

Ryan has donated to a super PAC supporting Foulkes as well as his campaign, but he has also contributed $1,250 to McKee’s campaign since last year. Ryan is one of Rhode Island’s most prominent businessmen, a member of the URI Board of Trustees, and a namesake donor to the Ryan Center, the university’s arena for basketball and basketball games. other events.

Brexton Isaacs, McKee’s campaign manager, backed the accusation in the TV ad.

“Helena Foulkes owes the families an apology for failing to provide the necessary leadership as the opioid crisis exploded on her watch,” Isaacs told 12 News in a statement. “Let’s be clear – our ad is about Helena Foulkes’ failure to deal with the opioid crisis.”

“Helena Foulkes is running for governor, citing her corporate background, but her leadership failure has forced the company to now pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement payments to families and communities that have been devastated,” Isaacs continued. “Hard-working employees here in Rhode Island should be outraged by Helena Foulkes’ lack of leadership.”

Foulkes pushed back against those criticisms, saying she moved quickly at CVS to try to cut prescriptions issued by doctors involved in the pill factories. She blamed Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company owned by the Sackler family that became the poster child for the opioid crisis.

“Everyone in the system has been duped by Purdue Pharma, which makes me angry,” Foulkes said last year on WPRI’s Newsmakers 12. “It was a really complicated time, it was hard to see the data in all of our stores, and I think it took all of us too long.”

Spokespersons for CVS’s current management did not immediately respond to questions about McKee’s announcement and Ryan’s response.

The McKee campaign’s decision to attack Foulkes head-on over CVS’s role in the opioid crisis – echoes by surrogates such as State Senator Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston – quickly became a topic of debate among political observers in Rhode Island.

Critics of the move have pointed out that in addition to its role in Rhode Island’s economy, CVS has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Governors Association, which backs McKee for re-election. But McKee’s defenders noted that he was not the first sitting governor to criticize CVS.

McKee also faced his own negative opioid money headlines.

After being reprimanded by his chief opponent in 2018, McKee agreed to donate $4,000 in campaign contributions from members of the Sackler family because of the money Purdue Pharma made from opioids. Jon Sackler had also donated $20,000 to an outside group that helped McKee win the 2014 election for lieutenant governor.

Attorney General Peter Neronha reached a $45 million settlement with Purdue and the Sacklers in March, but said in a statement at the time, “there is not enough money to undo or compensate Rhode Islanders for the wrongs perpetrated by Purdue and the Sacklers.

Isaacs said McKee donated the Sacklers’ money “over four years ago” while Foulkes did not apologize for the crisis, and added that the opioid issue “is personal to the governor. McKee”. He noted that McKee helped cities and towns in Rhode Island stage a lawsuit against opioid companies when he was lieutenant governor, which raised tens of millions of dollars in settlement money that are now used to deal with the crisis.

McKee and Foulkes take on Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, former Secretary of State Matt Brown and community activist Luis Daniel Muñoz in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. The eventual Democratic candidate will face the winner of the GOP primary between Ashley Kalus and Jonathan Riccitelli.

Ted Nesi ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and a 12 News political/economics editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.