A recent column in the local paper attempted to exonerate big pharma of blame concerning the nation's opioid crisis. The writer overlooked a few unsavory facts about big pharma's conduct, however.
Drug companies have made and continue to make false and misleading statements about the benefits (and risks) of opioids. Some of them have been taken to court and found liable for this conduct.
They disseminate misinformation through through medical journals and sales pitches. They operate 'front groups" such as the American Pain Society, American Chronic Pain Association and National Pain Foundation, to promote opioid products.
52,404 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 80 percent of the drug-related deaths were due to misuse of opioids. The prescription opioid category accounted for the largest share of opioid deaths, at 17,536.
Distributors, unethical or uneducated doctors and pill mills indeed share some of the blame, but the manufacturers themselves must also be held accountable.
In their zeal to make a profit, they have committed acts that make them just as liable for opioid deaths as the distributors, physicians and pharmacies further down the pipeline in the drug supply chain.
Do drug companies need a dose of the same justice administered to big tobacco in 1998? Then, the industry, 46 states, and six other jurisdictions entered into the largest civil-litigation settlement agreement in U.S. history.
In the settlement, the companies agreed to make annual payments to the states, in perpetuity, to fund public-health programs and anti-smoking campaigns.
With the tobacco-industry lawsuits, however, customers were using the product as instructed and got sick. With opioids it’s a different story: Customers are often not using the pills as directed, and so it is harder to blame the pharmaceutical companies for the effects of that misuse.
In the end, looking for someone to blame for the epidemic might be less useful than figuring out how to stop it.