The decades-long opioid epidemic in America has seen many different culprits come into the national spotlight over the years. Is it the fault of lawmakers, who have done too little to regulate certain drugs? Is it the fault of doctors, who overprescribe them? Or is it the drug manufacturers who are to blame?
Just as addiction is a complex disease, so is the cause of the addiction crisis. All of the above factors have certainly played a role, but in recent weeks it is the manufacturers that have been at the forefront of the debate. One of the biggest settlements in US history is about to be reached between several huge opioid distributors, and a coalition of state and local governments that have seen their communities be devasted by the epidemic.
Since 1999, according to Vox, nearly 500,000 people have died from opioid overdoses, either from prescribed painkillers or from an addiction to illicit drugs that began, for many, with a prescription. The pharmaceutical companies that manufactured and distributed these drugs assured the medical community that their products were not addictive and in fact actively marketed the drugs in that light.
Civil and criminal lawsuits have been launched against opioid manufacturers for years for their role in the country’s epidemic, which is significant. By aggressively pushing their drugs on the medical community and downplaying their addictiveness to medical professionals and the general public, they have contributed to the spread of serious misinformation about opioid use. Their efforts have directly contributed to the over-prescription of these drugs across the country, which has been definitively linked to the increases in opioid-related deaths.
Now the three major drug distributors and one manufacturer (McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson) are reaching an agreement with state and local governments for a $26 billion settlement. That money would be used to fund programs for addiction treatment and prevention within the communities that have been move affected by the epidemic. The companies have also pledged to institute stronger drug monitoring programs, to prevent drugs from being overprescribed or sold illegally. They hope that this settlement agreement will prevent future lawsuits, and help them avoid meeting the same fate as Purdue Pharma, which pled guilty to criminal charges and will have to dissolve the company in order to pay its fines.
Is it Enough?
This settlement has been a long time coming and many are thrilled with the result. In particular the lawyers on the case feel that the settlement is great news from a financial perspective and will mean increased access to addiction treatment for tens of thousands of people, which is true.
Some of the states they represent, however, feel differently. West Virginia in particular, according to the New York Times, does not feel that the settlement goes far enough. $26 billion – some of which will be used to pay off considerable legal fees – will not be enough to reverse all of the damage caused by the opioid epidemic. (And it also doesn’t come close to the $206 billion settlement with tobacco companies.)
And, while these companies are making financial restitution, they are not admitting fault as Purdue Pharma did, or taking personal responsibility for their actions. For the individuals who have lost family, friends, and loved ones, or who perhaps have struggled with addiction themselves, there can be no dollar figure that would ever make up for their suffering. Some indication from these companies of the pain they have caused, however, would surely go a long way.
Hopefully, time will show that the money won in this case will make a significant difference to the lives of real people and help get communities back on their feet.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call us today at 1-877-MyRehab and we’ll help you on the path to recovery.