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Monday, August 2, 2021

Ending the opioid scourge

With President Biden and Vice President Harris now scheduled to travel to the U.S. southern border to see the problems that exist down there for themselves, perhaps the nation’s attention can be refocused on the scourge of illegal opioids. Since the 1990s, these drugs and their illegal copycats containing lethal doses of fentanyl have been destroying families and futures while allowing drug gangs in the U.S., Mexico and China to grow rich. 

In October 2017, the Trump administration declared the problem to be a national health emergency. In just one year, the number of deaths by overdose was brought down by just over 4% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It looked like things were finally on the right track. 

Thanks to COVID-19, which shifted the focus to other pressing concerns, we’ve gotten off track. Illegal opioids once again flood the nation and fuel a reinvigorated epidemic that many incorrectly blame on the abuse of prescription medication. The data shows that while the number of prescriptions being filled went down between June 2019 and May 2020, the number of deaths due to overdose went up. 

You can thank the Mexican drug cartels and Chinese drug smugglers bringing their products across the southern U.S. border for that. Hopefully, that will get the attention of the president and vice president on their visits so they can instruct Attorney General Merrick Garland to lead an effort to focus on them rather than on the manufacturers of legal opioids whom the trial bar and more than a few states attorneys general are trying to hold responsible. 

Oklahoma has already done so, arguing pharmaceutical company marketing created the opioid problem, not the smugglers and the cartels. One company settled for $85 million. Another settled for $270 million. Johnson & Johnson took the case to trial and was ordered to pay $465 million.

These numbers caught the attention of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who announced he’ll be using the same legal theories as a template for his effort to convince a court Johnson & Johnson created a “public nuisance” by launching a marketing campaign to sell prescription drugs. 

This is a complete misapplication of the public nuisance standard, an extremely limited argument intended to apply to the misuse of property, not its marketing. These suits against “Big Opioids” are using it as a legal shortcut to generate favorable headlines and big payout. If the precedent is allowed to stand, if the tactic is repeatedly successful, every American company, both big and small, would be left vulnerable to similar abuse by greedy trial lawyers. And while the suits go on, the smugglers and the cartels will continue to move their poison across our border. The time to put the focus back where it belongs is now. 

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