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Natasha Sweatte: The deaths among opioid users continues to climb and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest numbers are from 2015, and revealed more than 33,000 deaths occurred from the use of opioids. Officials say they believe the numbers have dramatically risen since then and now some states are fighting back at the drug companies, who they say misled doctors into thinking these opioids weren’t as addictive as they really are.
South Carolina sued Purdue Pharma LP Tuesday becoming the latest state or local government to accuse the Oxycontin maker of deceptive marketing practices. To discuss this further, let’s bring in Mike Papantonio, host of America’s Lawyer, here on RT America. Thanks so much for joining us today. So Mike, do you believe that these drug companies were deceptive in their marketing, and if so, do you think it’s to blame when referring to the opioid epidemic this country is currently facing?
Mike Papantonio: Well they had a plan basically … It wasn’t just … By the way, it wasn’t just the manufacturers. It was the distributors. The cases I’m handling nationally in Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, virtually all over the southeast, we’re being hired by counties and cities, not by the attorney general. It’s the counties and the cities who were involved in the biggest losses here.
Was there a plan that the companies, the distributors, the distributors such as McKesson and Cardinal, and the people that were actually the pill pushers, did they know what was going on? Absolutely. Here’s what’s so interesting about that. You would have a distributor in the same town where you had a, what we call these cultural blip, they call it zombieland. That’s the vernacular that is used out on the street right now. In zombieland is where a county or a city that used to be kind of the place that people wanted to live. It was kind of a place they wanted to raise their kids. All of a sudden, the opioids come into town and what you have is a destruction of that culture, a destruction of the business, and the people selling the drugs right there in that city, live right down the road.
The distributors, the salespeople that drive past the pill mills and see people lined up around the pill mills as 7:00 in the morning, 8:00 in the morning, standing there in their pajamas so they can get their pill, those distributors live right in the same cities, whether it’s in Ohio, whether it’s in West Virginia, Jefferson County Alabama, Kentucky. These are all places that we’re handling cases, not against the manufacturers. That case has to be handled. But the cases we’re focusing on, the ones that we think are more important are what the distributors did.
They were actually legal pill pushers. They don’t look like pill pushers. They don’t look like they’re part of the cartel because they have an Armani suit on, but the truth is when you drill right down to it, they actually built all this diversion, this abuse of the drug, into their business plan. They understood there would be pill mills. They made that part of their business plan to show that the first year the companies started selling this product, they only sold $45 million worth of Oxycontin. By year three, they were selling $6 to $7 billion worth of the same product. The only difference was it had hit the street.
That’s where the big money was for these distributors. I don’t know that the answer is the attorney generals because I handled the attorney general cases back in the tobacco days, and I don’t know that the money actually ends up where it needs to. The money needs to go back to the counties that had to pay for the extra hospitals, the actual dependency hearings in the court system. They had to pay for rehabilitation. They had to pay for the police, increase in police. The point being is this. This case is important in South Carolina, but I think the cases that are really going to move the ball are the cases where counties and cities are bringing the cases against the distributors.
Natasha Sweatte: Now a lot of states are tightening laws when it comes to opioids, not allowing people to have their prescriptions for a certain timeframe now. Unfortunately, many are turning to street drugs to treat their pain. What can we do about this issue?
Mike Papantonio: Well it’s the same part of the problem. This issue you’re talking about right there is called the tail of the opioid problem. What that means is after the opioid pill mills are closed down, what comes then out of a place like, places like Jalisco, Mexico, is you have this influx of black tar heroin, which is cheaper than the opioid. You have pushers all over cities where the opioid crisis is taking place.
You see, that’s part of the opioid problem. The opioid folks can’t stand and say, ‘Gee wiz, that’s not our fault.’ Well it is their fault. You had places that were pristine. They did demographics. This is where it really gets ugly. They did demographic analysis to figure out what counties they could move into and sell the most opioids, okay? If there were a lot of hospitals, if there were a lot of pharmacies, if there was economic despair in a county, where there is loss of jobs, loss of income, middle class was dropping. Those were the kind of places where you saw the opioid companies move into just in droves.
After they move in, they get people addicted. In comes the black tar heroin and the problem gets worse and worse. That’s called the tail of the problem, but it really is the same problem. What these folks need to be paying for …
Natasha Sweatte: But they’re trying … They’re trying to fix the problem by lessening how much of a prescription somebody can have, but at the same time, it’s actually hurting people who are already addicted. Maybe this law would be good for people who aren’t addicted, but unfortunately these pills are so addicting that almost everyone gets addicted it seems. So, how do we move forward on that?
Mike Papantonio: The only way you move forward is this. You’re going to have to have some of these places where this has happened, you’re going to have to have dramatic rehab kind of organizations go in there. People don’t understand this. A person that is addicted to an opioid, it affects the dopamine level in the brain. Once the dopamine level becomes imbalanced, it takes two years for that dopamine level just to return to normal. The idea of putting somebody in rehab just for a month is not going to solve the problem. This is long game, long term, and the companies that caused this, the McKesson’s and the Cardinal’s and the distributors that caused this, they have a responsibility to help those counties get back on their feet.
A lot of these counties, say the size of Jefferson County in Alabama, their losses will be $100, $150 million that they spent just on the opioid problem.
Natasha Sweatte: So sad.
Mike Papantonio: So the longer, it’s a long term fix. There is no short term.
Natasha Sweatte: It is.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah.
Natasha Sweatte: We really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. That’s Mike Papantonio, host of America’s Lawyer. We really appreciate your time.