Julianna Pijar / Gavel Media

Settlements Are Not Enough

In Ohio, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, and other drug distributors are attempting to settle a lawsuit that claims the multinational corporations contributed to the opioid crisis. By both selling active ingredients to opioid manufacturers and wrongly marketing the pain drugs, these corporations are seen as a major reason America has the highest levels of opioid use, abuse, and opioid-related deaths in the world. For something that is such a colossal issue in America, not to mention that is ending the lives of around 130 Americans per day, why do these companies get to simply settle this lawsuit rather than seeing it carried out to trial?

The opioid crisis is a challenging subject to grapple with because there are so many factors that led to its rise. The Civil War first introduced morphine as an anesthetic on the battlefield. Fast forward to today, and now 21-29% of patients who are prescribed opioids in America end up misusing them. Some questions arise from this issue; are the pharmaceutical companies to blame for their misrepresentation and over-production of the various opioids, or is it the fault of doctors that put them in the hands of hundreds of thousands of Americans? Should the government have a closer eye on both production and distribution? Not all of these questions can be answered easily, but they must be considered.

Although there are many factors contributing to the crisis, these major drug companies are able to avoid learning their lesson by simply paying off the states and counties suing them. Instead of going through the grueling process of a trial and having to hear the impact of their harmful actions, they get to pay a settlement and walk away. Yes, they should not be expected to take all of the blame for the epidemic that is sweeping the nation, but they should still face some sort of retribution. They told doctors and users that their medications were safe and non-addictive, and instead of considering the health of their customers, they focused on profit. Medical companies, despite being private entities, have a public responsibility. Their product physically affects their consumer, and the weight of that seems to have been forgotten in the past two decades. 

This settlement is just a start; the distributors, including Johnson & Johnson, could also pay $22 billionover the next 18 years to cities and counties that also have cases against them. These payments are warranted for the harm done but in the end, this is nothing more than throwing money at the problem instead of forcing reform within each and every company. The opioid crisis is still a public health issue, and while the beginning steps of convicting those responsible are being taken, this country is a long way from gaining control of the situation—and the pay-offs that serve as a “get out of jail free” card will not suffice.