Lawsuit aimed at Big Pharma a welcome step

One disturbing aspect of the opioid addiction crisis is the legal and commercial avenues through which it was propagated.

Long known and abused for their pleasing, analgesic effects, opioids gained force in this latest deadly resurgence amid the marketing of pain-killing opioid drugs.

Starting in the late 1990s, pharmaceutical manufacturers downplayed the addictive potential of powerful opioid painkillers and the prescription rates soared to the point where in some states, they outnumbered the number of people living there, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The drug companies’ sales and profits grew as overdose deaths rose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people in the United States die each day after overdosing on opioids.

In Pennsylvania, the drug overdose tally jumped from more than 4,600 deaths in 2016 to more than 5,200 in 2017.

In Erie County, there were 124 drug overdose deaths in 2017.

Amid those numbers is an uptick in heroin overdose deaths, which Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper puts at one person every seven days. Research indicates 80 percent of heroin users first misused prescription opioids.

Communities awash in opioids have paid a heavy toll and not in grief alone. Parents incapacitated by addiction or who turn to crime to support their habits endanger children and strain the public welfare systems established to protect them.

The criminal justice system contends not just with the crimes and violence associated with drug trafficking, but all of the property crimes committed by addicts to support their addictions.

Drug dealers are rightly prosecuted and imprisoned for diverting prescription medications or peddling the street equivalent, heroin. Users likewise face the consequences of their illegal actions in court.

Drug manufacturers deny they played a role in this epidemic. It is time to fully explore what part they played and hold them to account.

We applaud Dahlkemper’s administration and Erie County Council for following through on the process that began in October when council voted to hire three law firms to explore possible litigation against Big Pharma.

The lawsuit on behalf of the county has now been filed, joining lawsuits filed nationwide and in at least 18 other Pennsylvania counties, as well as the cities of Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre, as Erie Times-News reporter Matthew Rink detailed.

The complaint, among other things, accuses the companies of deceptively, fraudulently and unfairly marketing and distributing prescription painkillers to Erie County residents.

Filing the lawsuit costs the county nothing. If it wins, 25 percent of the proceeds will go to the lawyers.

The remainder could fund the prevention and treatment resources badly needed to close this dark, deadly and perhaps thoroughly avoidable chapter.

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