Expert: Opioid settlements come with limitations
The nation's three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker agreed to a $260 million settlement Monday over the toll taken by opioids in two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over the crisis.
This settlement is a promising start, according to a drug policy expert at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.
"What to watch for now is whether there will be a national settlement; last week there was a $48 billion deal proposed that ultimately fell through because the multiple jurisdictions involved couldn't agree on how the money would be shared," said Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy at the institute. "Certainly that will be a challenge, as states and localities will inevitably vie for limited resources, and it's possible that some governments will think they can get a better deal by settling separately."
Neill Harris is available to discuss the issue with the news media.
"Counties that have been hardest hit by the epidemic need this financial assistance now, and the settlements, if they are large enough, are a good alternative to drawn-out trials," she said. "There are limitations to these deals, though. Most of them allow the companies involved to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. The culpability of each corporate actor varies, but the terms of the settlements usually mean that any evidence on this matter is kept from the public, so we have no way of distinguishing bad actors from those who may have gotten caught in the fray."
Also, to Neill Harris' knowledge, none of these settlements require any company to change its practices. "This means, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry is allowed to continue aggressively marketing and lobbying doctors to prescribe their meds, practices that led to opioid over-prescribing, and the consequences of which, applied to a different drug, are unknowable," she said. "And the evolution of the opioid epidemic means that prescription drugs are no longer the main problem. The money provided to the counties can fund treatment and prevention efforts, but it won't do much to curb the influx of fentanyl into the U.S. market."