Litigation can help stem opioid epidemic

The Marquette County Board recently decided to throw its support behind a growing number of municipalities that are picking a legal fight with the “big pharma” industry.

The litigation is centered around opioids the drug companies created and allegations that these companies knew about and downplayed the addictive and harmful effects of these types of drugs.

Opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl, and other prescribed pain relievers like morphine, codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, or Oxycontin, which an MLive Media Group report cites as being manufactured by Purdue Pharma, and which has generated near $3 billion a year for that company.

A Crain’s Detroit Business article reports that quite a few municipal entities have filed similar suits against big pharmaceutical companies. Some of those include the cities of Detroit, Lansing and Escanaba, as well as the counties of Genesee, Macomb, Wayne, Oakland, Saginaw, Grand Traverse, Delta and Chippewa.

Aside from Purdue Pharma, a few of the other pharmaceutical companies and drug makers listed in the suits are CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Costco, according to the MLive report.

Exactly how these lawsuits will all shake out and which side the courts will ultimately believe remains uncertain. But from where we stand here in the Upper Peninsula, it appears to be a case worth pursuing.

Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch told county board members that lawyers representing them in the case have indicated high hopes of a successful lawsuit. If the courts sided with the county, that would mean the county would be reimbursed for expenses related to dealing with opioid abuse issues, such as law enforcement, emergency response and autopsy costs.

We can only imagine those combined costs would be substantial.

We’ve seen a number of people right here in Superiorland fall victim to opioid abuse, and have read some of their names in the obituaries. As many media headlines have shown, opioid abuse has captured the attention of law enforcement in greater numbers over recent years. Countless friends and families have been impacted by this unfortunate situation, often referred to as an epidemic by those aware of the widespread activity.

There’s no doubt that this is a big issue, with a lot of money and lives at stake. The battle looming in the courts will be challenging.

As Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha noted in a recent Journal article, perhaps the doctors prescribing the pills should be looked at rather than the drug manufacturers. We agree that there may be more than one component to the opioid abuse issue, and perhaps the best solution is a multipronged approach.

Regardless, we can’t deny that something has to be done to improve this situation, and society must take steps toward saving the lives of these victims one way or another.

Whether this lawsuit the Marquette County Board has signed onto is the best means to that end is, at this writing, unclear. But at the very least, we hope this legal action will raise awareness of the opioid abuse epidemic that has swept our state, and for all of us to begin an open and frank discussion of the matter, one which we hope will lead to a positive outcome.