CNN reported this week that Mallinckrodt, a large opioid manufacturer, has reached a settlement agreement in principle worth $1.6 billion with attorneys general for 47 states and US territories. Mallinckrodt announced that the proposed deal will resolve all opioid-related claims against the company and its subsidiaries if it moves forward. Plaintiffs (states) would receive payments over an eight-year period to cover the costs of opioid-addiction treatments and other needs.
Compensation: recompense given for loss injury, or harm suffered. Are the settlements that are being levied against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, TEVA, Mallinckrodt, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp. really compensation for the millions of lives ruined by opioid addiction? Or for all the lives lost in the past 20 years?
As CA Atty General Becerra said: “Nothing can undo the devastating loss and grief inflicted by the opioid epidemic upon victims and their families, but this settlement with Mallinckrodt is an important step in the process of healing our communities.” Yes, it is important to make the perpetrators of crime feel the pain by losing some of what is precious to them– in this case, the almighty dollar. But, how can these companies that knowingly and deceptively promoted opioids beyond their legitimate purposes ever think they have compensated for the damage done? Yet, when you think about it, this mindset is not unique to big Pharma executives. When prominent people, especially those with millionaire or billionaire in front of their name, are routinely seen to be settling claims for personal, public, or corporate indiscretions or crimes, why would we expect anything different in this case?
For those who are still struggling on a daily basis with someone in active addiction, perhaps some of the compensation that will go to cities and counties to establish abatement funds to offset the expense of helping to combat opioid addiction and support to communities impacted by opioid abuse might trickle down to their loved one. Perhaps. But these settlements are merely one more step in an overall attempt by our country to reverse a costly and deadly 20-year trend. A trend that was begun by a single-paragraph letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980 by Dr. Hershel Jick stating that “less than 1% of opioid users would become physically dependent or addicted.” In 1983, Dr. Russell Portenoy took this letter and published a study based on 38 hospital patients and maintained that opioids were easy to quit and that overdoses hardly ever occurred. Up until this time, opioids had been reserved for cancer patients and palliative care and only for short durations because of the known concerns about addiction. Purdue Pharma then took this information, applied it to almost any pain, disappeared info on risk of addiction, and ran with it.
The rest is history. History that Americans, and the rest of the world, are now having to live with. For those of us who have lost loved ones from opioid addiction there is no way to be compensated. Our children, spouses, parents, friends are gone. Swept away by a preventable cause.