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Trump and Trial Lawyers Target Drug Companies Over Opioid Addiction

Making drug-company shareholders foot the bill for a public health crisis is flaky and counterproductive.

Jose M. Osorio/TNS/NewscomJose M. Osorio/TNS/NewscomThe opioid addiction issue is headed for the next stop on what is now a well-worn path: from public health crisis, to subject for award-winning and heart-tugging journalism, to payday for trial lawyers.

The lawyers are poised to do to prescription drug companies, pharmacy chains, and drug distributors what they did to tobacco companies and asbestos manufacturers—wring from them a multibillion dollar settlement, with a sizeable chunk going to the lawyers themselves.

They may even do so with an assist from President Trump. "Hopefully we can do some litigation against the opioid companies," Trump said earlier this month at a White House "Opioids Summit." "I think it's very important because a lot of states are doing it, but I keep saying, if the states are doing it, why isn't the federal government doing it? So that will happen."

Somehow the Democrats usually on high alert at the risk of President Trump "interfering" with the "independent" Justice Department apparently managed to make peace with the presidential involvement, so long as it involved Trump siding with the trial bar against the for-profit pharmaceutical industry.

The Justice Department was acting as Trump was talking. On March 1, federal government lawyers filed a "statement of interest of the United States of America" before Judge Dan Polster of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Judge Polster is presiding over the consolidated cases known as In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation. It is so vast that just the docket listing the names of the parties and their lawyers is 222 pages long.

The potential damages involved are vast. The federal lawyers, who asked the judge for 30 days to "evaluate" whether to participate in the lawsuits, cited a report by the president's Council of Economic Advisors, who "estimated that in 2015, the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504 billion."

It wasn't so long ago that Republican presidents stood for reining in civil litigation rather than piling on to it. But then again, it wasn't so long ago that Republican presidents stood for free international trade rather than tariffs, either.

As usual in these sorts of cases, "liability" is likely to be more about having the deep pockets available to fund settlements than with any thoughtful or thorough reckoning with moral or logical responsibility. Don't expect much effort to target the congressmen and senators who voted for the ObamaCare legislation that expanded insurance coverage for these drugs, or for the Food and Drug Administration bureaucrats who approved them, or, with few exceptions, the doctors who prescribed them. Certainly don't blame any of the users themselves. The targets of the suits instead are mostly large publicly traded companies—Abbott Laboratories, CVS Health, Costco, Express Scripts, Wal-Mart—whose shareholders will wind up paying the price of any settlement.

Also as usual, there is little consideration given to the potential unintended consequences. The same issue of The New York Times that carried the news of the government's statement of interest before Judge Polster also carried a book review lamenting the "sluggish progress" and "dry pipeline" in developing new medicine to treat mental illness.

It's already so expensive to discover a new prescription medicine and to go through the clinical trials required to prove safety and efficacy that most big drug companies have more or less given up on early-stage research and development, preferring instead to purchase smaller, venture-funded start-ups whose products show promise. Adding the possible costs of litigation and settlement for potential abuse even after a product has been approved by the FDA makes the hurdle for investing in a new drug even higher.

Trump is fond of invoking the "forgotten man." It's a category that might include people with diseases that go uncured because drug companies are spending on lawyers, settlements, or insurance premiums instead of research and development.

That's not to say that the drug companies are entirely blameless. If evidence proves that their employees or executives intentionally engaged in fraudulent behavior in connection with opioid abuse, those individuals should be held accountable. But the idea of making public company shareholders foot the bill for a public health crisis is so flaky and potentially counterproductive that it's the sort of thing only a trial lawyer, or a politician, could have dreamed up.

Photo Credit: Jose M. Osorio/TNS/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Somehow the Democrats usually on high alert at the risk of President Trump "interfering" with the "independent" Justice Department apparently managed to make peace with the presidential involvement, so long as it involved Trump siding with the trial bar against the for-profit pharmaceutical industry.

    Bingo. It's not a good thing when those great minds think alike on something.

  • DajjaI||

    I was prescribed opiates for a sports injury in high school and they never warned me they could be addictive. So this lead to a life of crime and anonymous sex for decades and then it got so bad that I overdosed many times and almost died. Now I'm in Recovery and teach the kids my story so they don't repeat the same empty life of crime and sex that I had and overdose and die. Sue the ass off these companies!

  • markm23||

    Did you never read the insert that came with your pills? That contained plenty of warnings. If your doctor didn't also warn you, you should sue him - but I think you liked the stuff so much you ignored all warnings.

  • Darth Soros||

    Opioid addiction seems to be the new obsession among the statist Trumpkins (the Cousin Eddies of the Right). Not saying it might not be a serious problem, to those who have it and their families, but it seems to be one of those terms they just learned last week and like to fling around. They justify tariffs because, they feel, it will help keep US workers from becoming unemployed opioid addicts. Or else they call people who disagree them opioid addicts.

  • SIV||

    Enjoy your Oxycontin-Tide Pod cocktail, cuck!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Such poetry.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Unfortunately, this idea is popular with progressives, so even if Trump isn't just bloviating, this is well under way in the blue states.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I look at Seattle, and I just want it to collapse on itself. They're so fake over there. They don't really give a shit, they only care that they are perceived as caring.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It would also do us well to note how similar this is to the War on Drugs... we attacked the suppliers, the foreign cartels, the jungles of central America etc., now we're going to do it in the civil courts with corporations.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Baffling to me that there is a constituency for this new WOD. Everybody knows somebody who had an injury or disease that required pain relief and the vast majority use opiods with no negative consequences. But it's been declared an epidemic and there are addicts and evil drug dealers and somebody has to save the children. We've been down this road many times before and never get to the end. Can't believe anybody's buying this shit.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Yeah but, corporations.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    There is an overlap between people who want to hurt corporations, because in companies in general and pharmaceutical companies specifically are viewed as so evil that any hurt against them is valid, and the government who just wants money.

    So, in areas such as Seattle it makes perfect sense to pursue this. You have a constituency who actively wants to you steal money from someone. All done under the guise of helping. When this happens and no one is helped though, we will see no recognition, no realization, and no deeper thought.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Where is the increase in opioid deaths coming from, commercial or illegal sources? MAYBE if we quit restricting access to commercial opiates, fewer people would migrate to street opiates.

    I'm of the opinion that if you're in severe pain (physical or psychological), you're going to alleviate it however you can. While those who are addicted should seek treatment, I'd prefer they have access to medically prescribed opiates than heroin.

    I also accept that whatever path is chosen, lives will be lost. There is no perfect fix here.

  • Kwix||

    Where is the increase in opioid deaths coming from, commercial or illegal sources?


    The largest increase in overdose deaths are due to illicit opiates (heroin) being cut with Fentanyl, a very powerful opioid commonly used for pain relief transdermally. The problem is that when directly injected Fentanyl's margin of error is very small. Enough, you are high as a kite, a wee tad too much and you are dead and it's all person specific.

    This is 100% the result of the never ending war on drugs.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    That's what I assumed. Our government's favorite solution? Further restrict access to legal opiates. And marijuana, and possibly LSD.

  • JFree||

    This is 100% the result of the never ending war on drugs.

    Oh BULLSHIT. Fentanyl is dangerous because it is dangerous not because it is illegal.

  • TLBD||

    Yes, as with any "War" that the United States involves itself in:

    If what you're doing has the opposite of the intended effect, you just need to try harder.

  • AlmightyJB||

    All drugs should be legalized.

  • Sigivald||

    It wasn't so long ago that Republican presidents stood for reining in civil litigation rather than piling on to it

    It wasn't so long ago that Republican Presidents were actually Republicans, which Mr. Trump certainly is not in any meaningful sense.

    (He is also ludicrously wrong, especially with the idea that "if they states are doing it, the Feds obviously should be", because that's not even an attempt at an actual rationale.)

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    Trump and Trial Lawyers Target Drug Companies Over Opioid Addiction.


    Trump and Trial Lawyers
    Sitting on a tree
    K
    I
    S
    S
    I
    N
    G
    Stormy Daniels.

  • Woodys mom||

    A few years back, the Federal Govt via regulating agencies mandated that Patients had a RIGHT to be pain free. So all manner of silly ways to quantify individuals pain were devised. Then, hospitals & prescribers were told to jump on board the juice train or FACE censure. Now look where that fucking idea got us. Now we're supposed to tell folks to suck it up.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Two solutions: decriminalize everything as in Portugal, so folks who want to cop a buzz can get mescalin or weed. 2 OR, pull the troops out of Afghanistan, thereby cutting off the pipeline that prohibition-on-steroids which prompts asset-forfeiture politicians and First Responders™ to deal smack on the black market.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Two solutions: decriminalize everything as in Portugal, so folks who want to cop a buzz can get mescalin or weed. 2 OR, pull the troops out of Afghanistan, thereby cutting off the pipeline that prohibition-on-steroids which prompts asset-forfeiture politicians and First Responders™ to deal smack on the black market.

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