Two legal cases that made headlines this week provide a sense of the magnitude of the opioid crisis in this country and the financial reckoning for drug manufacturers and distributors.
On Monday, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis, marking the first time an opioid manufacturer has been deemed responsible in court and made to pay damages.
On Tuesday, NBC reported Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, makers of OxyContin, have proposed to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits against the company for $10 to $12 billion.
That’s right, billions.
While neither of these cases is finally resolved, legal experts say they will have implications for the thousands of other cases pending against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
When it’s all said and done, drug companies are likely going to be responsible for billions of dollars in legal settlements. They should be held accountable.
The financial toll of the crisis is staggering.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers published a report in 2017 pegging the cost of the crisis at just over $500 billion in 2015. That includes lost productivity, as well as costs borne by taxpayers, such as ambulance runs, jail treatment costs, and the cost of caring for children whose parents have died from opioid overdoses.
There is a mountain of evidence showing these companies and their subsidiaries created a public health crisis by launching aggressive and misleading marketing campaigns that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.
They are directly responsible for a deadly public nuisance — the legal theory used in the Oklahoma case — that continues to reap a grim toll on this nation and here in Franklin County.
To put it in perspective, in recent years, opioid overdoses have been the nation’s largest cause of accidental deaths, ahead of even automobile accidents. That is telling as to the scope of this epidemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tallied more than 400,000 opioid-related deaths across the country since 2000, including more than 47,000 in both 2017 and 2018, according to the Associated Press.
State officials say over 100 Franklin County residents have died due to opioid overdoses since 2018. The overall number of deaths attributable to opioids in this area since the crisis began is obviously much higher.
There is no debating that this area has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. The headlines in this newspaper are replete with examples of the crisis locally.
Last week’s lead story in the Weekend Missourian noted that Narcan use was on the rise here. Narcan is used to treat drug overdoses — many of those are a direct result of the opioid crisis, according to local officials.
Last month we reported a high number of opiate prescriptions were filled in Franklin County from 2006-12. The Drug Enforcement Agency said 33,403,420 prescription pain pills were doled out by pharmacies and doctors in Franklin County from 2006 through 2012.
That equates to 47 pills per person per year. That is higher than the state average of 38 pills for the same time period. It is a staggering number with real-life consequences.
The opioid crisis has ravaged Franklin County. It is one of the reasons the county joined a lawsuit targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors last year.
The real story of Big Pharma’s role is being revealed through these legal cases. It’s a story of profits and greed.