Many American cities are suffering from a growing epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction. Are drug manufacturers to blame for the lives destroyed by their products? One mayor in Washington state believes they may be. Mayor Ray Stevenson of Everett, WA has filed suit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, claiming that this pharmaceutical company bears responsibility for the cost of opioid abuse in his city.
Consequences of the Opioid Epidemic
Everett, WA is not alone in its struggle with opioid abuse and addiction. Many American cities are dealing with a growing epidemic of drug abuse, with both human and financial costs. An average of 91 people overdose on opioids every day, a number that is growing steadily. In addition, the estimated cost of opioid addiction is $78.5 billion a year. According to Mayor Stevenson, the maker of Oxycontin bears much of the responsibility for this tragedy and thus should be footing their share of the bill.
Profit vs. Public Health
How could a pharmaceutical company be held responsible for addiction to its products? Stevenson argues that Purdue has chosen profit at the expense of public health. This case, which is on the docket for a federal court in Seattle, alleges that Purdue supplied OxyContin to doctors and pharmacists that the company knew were suspected of selling the drug to the black market. In other words, it is believed that Purdue knowingly chose to sell its product in ways that directly contributed to the epidemic. This in turn has caused huge expenses to the city of Everett, from emergency responders’ time to city-funded efforts to clean up used syringes.
This is not the first time that Purdue Pharma has been charged with inappropriately contributing to the opioid epidemic. In 2017, the manufacturer plead guilty to misleading doctors and other medical workers about the risk of addiction and abuse that come with OxyContin. The company paid more than $600 million as a result of this judgment. While the current lawsuit against Purdue has not listed an amount, but it may require a suitable amount to right the wrongs that OxyContin and similar drugs have caused in Everett’s community.
A Promising Precedent
If the Everett mayor is successful in suing Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic, this may open up a wave of lawsuits. Drug companies historically have been held responsible only for medication effects that resulted from negligence or misleading information. This lawsuit will instead hold them responsible for simply not controlling the flow of their products. This case could set an important precedent, allowing Purdue Pharma as well as other drug manufacturers to be sued not just by cities, but by individuals and even their loved ones.
The opioid epidemic has affected millions of people and shows no sign of improving. Could holding drug manufacturers responsible help reduce addiction? Who should be responsible for the lost lives and societal costs of a drug? Cities and citizens currently foot the bill, but this could change in the near future. This lawsuit will answer many questions that are becoming increasingly important as the American addiction epidemic grows too large and too costly to be ignored.
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