Big Pharma should help pay the cost of the opioid epidemic

Syringe wrappers and garbage cover an embankment along Philadelphia’s Gurney Street, which leads to Conrail tracks where addicts shoot up.

There are so many sad stories related to the opioid drug crisis it’s hard to keep up.

One of the latest involves an Upper Darby couple who overdosed in their bathroom last week, leaving their screaming little boys, ages 1 and 4, in a state of panic until police arrived.

Last year, first responders rescued 3,500 overdose victims in Pennsylvania. But they can’t possibly get to everyone — and they aren’t. The Upper Darby couple is lucky they were found before it was too late.

In Pennsylvania, 13 people are dying every day from opioid and heroin overdoses. That’s up 37 percent from last year, with the largest increases in suburban and rural areas.

Police, health care personnel, even librarians trying to help addicts who overdose inside their facilities, are overwhelmed by an epidemic that has already far outpaced the AIDS scourge as a national health crisis.

Pennsylvania plans to spend $10 million next year to give first responders doses of the opioid antidote Naloxone. But add to that what counties and towns are spending and it’s still only a fraction of the related costs taxpayers are paying to support health, emergency, and social services buckling under the weight of this crisis.

Isn’t it time for the pharmaceutical industry and medical practitioners to help pay for the roles they play?

Addicts cannot be absolved of all responsibility for their condition, though medical evidence indicates some people may be more susceptible to addiction than others. Neither, however, should the pharmaceutical industry, and the physicians who overly prescribe the opioid products they manufacture, be deemed blameless.

Big Pharma has made billions in profits from selling narcotic products while shamelessly marketing drugs to counteract the side effects of opioid usage, including a medication to ensure better digestion.

That’s why Ohio, Mississippi, the city of Chicago, two counties in California, the parents of a drug addict in Greenwich, Conn., the Teamsters union, and a host of others damaged by the opioid epidemic are suing the pharmaceutical industry. The case seems similar to the tobacco industry being sued for promoting products that cause cancer. Large plaintiffs law firms are seeking clients.

Attorneys general in Pennsylvania and New Jersey should consider lodging complaints too. As they dig through applicable state laws, they might seek advice from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who has sued Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan.

DeWine alleges the top five opioid makers violated state consumer, nuisance, Medicaid fraud, and other laws by downplaying the dangers of their drugs. He wants them to pay for increased burdens on police; health centers; workman’s compensation; and Ohio’s foster care system, in which half the children have one parent or both who are addicts.

Criminal statutes have been used to shut down pill-mill practices whose doctors are too eager to prescribe opioids. Communities should ramp up their efforts by pursuing civil cases as well. Big Pharma and Big Medicine should pay for the roles they play in these tragic stories.