Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of deaths caused by opium overdose. Some states have even gone as far as calling it another opium war. It sure sounds like an ordinary drug abuse story, but the fact is, most of the deceased were not drug addicts at all. Most of the cases found that the drugs causing these deaths were purchased legally. Therefore, it is an ongoing effort to hold drug makers and distributors accountable for the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Campbell County, Tennessee, is one of the first counties that took a legal action against companies dubbed as “big pharma”. Represented by the law firm Jessee & Jessee, they filed a lawsuit using federal RICO laws as their framework. In their lawsuit, Campbell County stated that big pharma is responsible for purposely misinforming the public that opiates are safe and aggressively lobbying lawmakers to give them some leeway.
In early March, Scott County followed Campbell County’s lead and filed another lawsuit against big pharma. This action was initiated by the law firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and Taylor & Knight of Knoxville, TN. Using the same framework, they revealed some terrifying numbers on how these big companies, with the help of dispensaries, have lead people to believe that the use of their opiate products are common practice. Since 2008, there have been 170 prescriptions of opiate substance medicines for every 100 residents in Scott County. By 2016, Campbell County was in the top ten for most prescriptions per resident.
Some state prosecutors in Tennessee have filed several other lawsuits, based on what’s known as the “crack tax”. This tax basically requires all dispensaries to pay taxes to the state government. The problem with this approach is that these lawsuits are filed by state prosecutors but they will need to become federal litigation to really make a difference. The lawsuits will continue, but they will take a long time to have a real impact on the opiate problem. To make matters worse, big pharma continues to donate resources to the states where these drugs have become a problem. In short, they have produced the opiates as well as the counter drugs and have released them both to the public.
Opiates can be a very effective drug for reducing pain, but an opiate is still a dangerous substance that needs strict regulation and observation by these communities, medical providers and the government. The purpose of these lawsuits is very simple. They want to hold back and curb this epidemic before it gets any worse. Unfortunately, a strong opiate addiction can claim a life in less than a year. A swift and bold move is needed soon.
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