Opioid makers should pay for anti-addiction efforts

Summary and Analysis

Dr. Richard Bruno, a family physician treating the uninsured in Baltimore and a Democratic candidate for State Delegate weighs in on who should pay for addressing the opioid crisis. Dr. Bruno opines that, just as tobacco companies had to admit misleading the American public about the dangers of smoking and pay for the health crisis that they created, so should pharmaceutical companies now do the same in connection with the opioid crisis that they helped to create.

Excerpted from Baltimore Sun

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Twenty years ago, four major U.S. tobacco companies paid $206 billion for misleading the American public about the dangers of smoking under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. As tobacco companies have had to help pay for the cancer, emphysema, and other public health crises they helped cause by aggressively marketing dangerous products, it is now time for opioid manufacturers to pay their fair share for contributing to the opioid pandemic in our country.

For decades, manufacturers of pain medications — like Purdue Pharma, which makes Oxycontin — have knowingly relied on unscrupulous evidence to undersell the risks of opioids to doctors and the public alike. They have often cited dubious sources, like a now-infamous 1980 letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine in which the authors claimed that less than one percent of people treated with narcotics become addicted. Meanwhile, millions of Americans have become addicted and many thousands have died from overdoses of opiate-based pain medications and their illicit, less expensive analog, heroin.

Estimates of the societal cost of opioid addiction and related deaths put the figure at $193 billion. In our state alone, opioids have claimed the lives of 2,400 Marylanders just this past year.

Yet after causing millions to become addicted and making billions of dollars in the process, pharmaceutical companies have not repaid their debt to society. Anne Arundel County’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and prescribers, is likely to be one of many targeting these companies for the reckless endangerment they have been engaging in for years.