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article imageOp-Ed: Purdue Pharma opioid settlement big precedent for Big Pharma

By Paul Wallis     Sep 11, 2019 in Health
Boston - A massive multi-billion dollar settlement by Purdue Pharma could be the beginning of the end for the ultra-obnoxious, irresponsible Big Pharma sector. In a range of ways, this settlement is a defining moment.
Coverage of the supposedly imminent settlement has been patchy. One of the Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has been under massive legal attack over claims of illegal marketing. A settlement has supposedly been reached, although details and numbers are floating about in different forms.
One of the occasionally consistent descriptions of the hypothetical settlement is that the owners of Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, will declare bankruptcy and that Purdue Pharma assets will be handed over to a trust operated by the claimants. Claimants include many states, counties and territories of the United States.
The Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis in the US is nothing less than ultra-ugly on multiple levels, and it’s been getting much worse over time. Like many types of drugs on the market, a rampaging black market has been operating for years, with many deaths and serious complications for users.
OxyContin is the high-profile, go-anywhere poster drug for the catastrophic opioid mess. About 2000 court cases against Purdue Pharma are being conducted to establish responsibility for the opioid epidemic.
OxyContin, however, isn’t the whole story. There are many other drugs and similar issues in this mix. Other painkillers like Fentanyl, an unrelated product, are under similar scrutiny as they hit the illegal market, killing people on a routine basis.
It’s almost impossible to quantify the opioid black market. It seems to have the same broad market reach as crack, cocaine, ice, and similar social blessings. The involvement of organized crime is frequently implied, in fact, it’s expected, but not a lot of solid evidence seems to be finding its way into the courts or media.
The legal issues for Big Pharma
The mere fact that the owners of the legal product are now implicated in “illegal marketing” raises quite a few legal issues for Big Pharma as a whole.
A few almost rhetorical questions and answers set the scene:
Is there a black market for dangerous addictive prescription drugs? Do birds fly? There’s a black market for just about anything which can be sold to addicts, and has been for decades, all the way back to methadone in the 1970s.
Would the Purdue Pharma case be a legal precedent for action against other problem drugs? Inevitably. This is one of the biggest legal actions against a pharmaceutical company in history. It’s a well-organized approach to a major, horrific, issue and many other pharmaceutical products could be seen as causes of deaths, injuries, etc.
How does this affect other big sellers in the pharmaceutical market? Like a nuke at a baby shower. The logic is simple enough - Opioids are addictive. So are many other drugs on the market, notably antidepressants. Many antidepressants are also getting attention for their quality, side effects, and frequent recalls. These drugs are prescribed to a gigantic number of Americans, so they are pretty much in the same demographic size range as opioids.
Does Big Pharma have a legal toenail clipping to stand on in terms of product risks? Yes and no, depending on the product, risk factors, and product safety issues. The legal issues related to pharmaceuticals are by definition potentially complex. A manufacturer isn’t necessarily guilty, or even liable, in some scenarios.
The problem for Big Pharma is that its decades of rabid greed, price gouging and almost total lack of interest in any negative effects or risks have effectively destroyed its credibility. It’s very much a matter of opinion whether any American jury could take seriously a claim of innocence of any kind.
The sheer (and justifiable) hatred which the pharmaceutical sector has brought on itself is coming back to bite it, hard. Purdue Pharma could well be just the first notes of a long hymn of hate against the many perceived and actual failings of the pharma sector.
This is a sector which has gloried in the fact that 80% of Americans are on some kind of medication. It has been shamelessly supported by those fine fellows of fun at Goldman Sachs, (aka the people who call their own clients “Muppets”) who actually made a bland, anti-humanity statement that curing people wasn’t good for business.
There are other issues, too:
Diluted drugs: Ever had a prescription which simply doesn’t seem to work at all? The oldest trick in the book in the drug trade, legal and illegal is to cut drugs with other substances, and not necessarily medications. The packet may say 5mg of Whatever, but you may not be getting a fraction of 5mg, and/or a lot of unknown filler materials, perhaps from other unrelated or dangerous drugs. (You might also get a nice dose of chalk. This is why deregulation is such an unmitigated disaster in health.)
Note: Don’t blame your pharmacist, (at least not yet), for non-functional medications. Most source their drugs from reputable suppliers, who may also be naïve enough to think that nobody cuts their medications. Another area long overdue for investigation.
Dangerous side effects and addiction: Why, you may ask, would a psychoactive drug have side effects including ‘suicidal thoughts”, etc.? There’s no good medical reason for any such side effect, particularly when these drugs are pointed at people with depression. Extrapolate this situation into the fact that many of these antidepressants are also addictive, and you can see the parallel with OxyContin. Would there be a black market for these drugs? Would there be a risk of deaths, overdoses, etc.? Of course. Same issues, different drugs.
Big Pharma – A sector long overdue for legal slaughter
The sheer insanity of Big Pharma as a sector hardly needs to be explained to anyone born since about 1980. With health costs going utterly nuts and causing bankruptcies nationwide, Big Pharma has been the big butt-ugly buzzard circling overhead. Crappy products and ridiculous prices have probably killed as many people as any opioid, over a much longer period.
The sector as a whole seems to have totally lost track, as well as interest, in any sort of rational pricing, product quality, or anything but a “fast meds” culture based on itself. “You want a TotalUtterCrud script to go with your hideous medical condition, whether it works or not?” is about as deep and meaningful as pharmaceuticals get these days.
Very sick vulnerable people and baffled, lost, unintentional addicts are on the receiving end of this repulsive culture. Destroy the culture, bankrupt the offenders, get some good case law in place, and we might just get a pharmaceutical sector which does things right for the first time in generations.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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