As hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers move through the U.S. legal system, a trio of recent decisions gives a hint of what may be coming, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
Last week, a Boston jury convicted the onetime billionaire CEO of Insys Therapeutics and four former executives of racketeering for bribing doctors to prescribe opioid medication to patients who didn’t need it and deceiving insurers into paying for it.
The case marks “the first successful prosecution of top pharmaceutical executives for crimes related to the illicit marketing and prescribing of opioids,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. “Just as we would street-level drug dealers, we will hold pharmaceutical executives responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic.”
The same day, West Virginia settled for $37 million with McKesson Corp., the largest U.S. pharmaceutical distributor. In March, Oklahoma settled with Purdue Pharm, for $270 million. The settlements could provide a blueprint for more than 1,600 pending opioid lawsuits. Most have been consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland.
While the substantial payouts will help states fund treatment and other services, the drug companies in both settlements have denied wrongdoing, and experts say the settlement amounts are not large enough to change corporate behavior.
“You might say one of the essential functions the courts can play is where one party can hold another to account,” says Loyola Law School Prof. Adam Zimmerman. “To not have some kind of adjudication about what happened and who did what and who’s responsible, it feels like something’s lost there.”
For communities struggling to cover the tremendous public costs of the opioid crisis, from staffing for 911 calls to overdose-reversal drugs to treatment facilities, settlements provide urgently needed funds.