Recently, two California counties filed lawsuit against several large manufacturers of prescription opioids, alleging that the producers caused the nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic by waging a “campaign of deception” in order to generate sales. Lawsuit link
The flawed studies published in 1990s that understated the risks associated with prescription opioids certainly did contribute to the shift in attitudes toward opioid use. Similarly, the aggressive marketing of these products by their respective manufacturers significantly contributed to their widespread abuse. However, did the marketing alone cause the abuse? What happened to the free will of human beings when making decisions whether to prescribe or consume these products? Was the marketing campaign so persuasive that it overcame the clinical judgment of prescribing physicians? Maybe.
Regardless of whether the suit has merit, the question of who will benefit from this suit remains. Suing big companies is a great way for a District Attorney to gain publicity, particularly in liberally leaning jurisdictions. How about those harmed by the alleged misconduct? Who will benefit from this windfall if the court will buy the plaintiffs’ arguments or if the defendant firms settle? Ideally, the money would be used for education about the dangers associated with these drugs, implementation of evidence-based pain management guidelines and for treatment of those that are abusing these substances. Will this happen? Probably not. History shows that local governments frequently raided such funds for other purposes, such as funding pet projects of local politicians that had nothing to do with the subject of the lawsuit. I am looking forward to reading the arguments of both sides of this suit.