It’s common knowledge that Big Pharma giants are rarely served with the hammer of justice. On Tuesday, the Oxycotin pushers of Purdue Pharma were forced to pay a $270 million settlement after it was taken to court for deceptive practice “fueling the opioid epidemic”, according to the state attorney general of Oklahoma — showing us that it’s certainly possible to hold the corporations accountable for their marketplace immorality.
As reported by NBC News, the deal was reached in secret roughly two months before a scheduled televised trial in Oklahoma was set to take place. The charge against the pharmaceutical corporation was deceptive marketing, based on the conduct of representatives routinely selling narcotics to physicians on the assurance of the prescription painkiller being “rarely addictive”. At the same time, unveiled court documents reveal the company considered selling anti-addiction drugs to “an attractive market” of users addicted to their own narcotic brands.
Further explained by The Washington Post, the Purdue company itself will contribute $195 million towards the centres directly, alongside another $140 million divided unevenly between developing their own treatment drugs, compensation for Oklahoma’s struggling cities and the litigation costs of the trial itself, meanwhile, the Sackler family — the company owners — will pay $75 million of their personal earnings to the centres over the next five years. It seems justice even reached the very top of the corporate ladder this week.
“Instead of continuing on in court for many, many years, we have a settlement with a significant amount of money, to be used immediately,” Gary Mendell, founder of the anti-addiction group Shatterproof, told The Post. “To spare other families from having to bury a child, today was a very good day.” His statement was joined by Nicolas Terry, a law professor at Indiana University, who declared: “This is the starting gun. This is the beginning of the endgame.”
Purdue joins dozens of other drug companies in the 1,600 pending lawsuits filed by cities, counties, states and native tribes across America. This is officially the first case to settle based on their actions throughout the opioid crisis. The terms of the settlement dictate all proceeds are reinvested in new research, education and treatment centres from Oklahoma State University. While it’s unclear how those particular cases will resolve, Purdue’s recent surrender does indicate a possible trend of overdue accountability.
Since the Oxycotin brand was launched during the late-1990s — where advertisements used happy customers turned future addicts to sell a product they had no knowledge of — it’s easy to see how the crisis has established roots within America’s economy for decades. Since launch, estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declare over 700,000 deaths within the US are from drug-related overdoses, most of which caused by opioid products, freely sold to customers without any liability for their misdeeds.
A full history of the epidemic is highlighted perfectly by Vox, explaining the waves of opioid trends pushed by their manufacturers. Multiple studies have linked marketing for opioid painkillers to addiction and overdoses, alongside other sources establishing links between the supply of opioid painkillers to an increase in both sales and overdoses. This is particularly true throughout the second and third wave of the drug crisis once substances such as heroin, fentanyl and painkillers have conquered the illegal and legal markets — all to the mutual benefit of the customer, the dealer and the drug manufacturers across America.
This wasn’t some recent change of the business model to simply follow the crisis as a market trend. Instead, these companies fueled the trend themselves since their company launch, evidenced by a history of lawsuits for wrongful market practice. A notable example comes from 2007, back when there were over $630 million in federal fines served against Purdue for its “misleading marketing”.
This resulted in executives serving sentences of three years of probation and 400 hours of community service. Almost 10 years later, when the crisis was officially declared reality, the company was caught using the exact same practice. This time, however, met with a different legal system unwilling to take crumbs as compensation.
Even President Donald Trump has called for the Department of Justice to sue opioid manufacturers, though the federal government has filed no such case as of this time. The Justice Department has only indicated to filing a “statement of interest” against these companies, which essentially amounts to an op-ed on the costs the crisis has bled from the federal government. The next opioid-related trial against Purdue isn’t scheduled until the fall in Ohio, according to The Wall Street Journal, allowing the company and their accusers to reconsider their tactics.
There’s an assumption the lawsuits could follow the trends set after the tobacco epidemic of the 1990s when individual lawsuits across certain states were later lumped into a collective lawsuit under the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. “There are nearly two dozen other defendants with pending allegations against them in federal court,” wrote the executive committee for the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a statement. “We believe all of these defendants — opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies — must be held responsible for their role in the epidemic, and we will continue to pursue accountability for the thousands of communities we represent.”
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