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Via America’s Lawyer: The opioid epidemic finally became one of the largest stories of 2017 as the amount of people dying from big pharma’s prescription narcotics reached levels that not even corporate media could ignore. So as we begin a New Year, let’s examine the progress that’s been made in dealing with this public health crisis and find out which areas still require more attention from authorities. Mike Papantonio, host of America’s Lawyer, discusses this with attorney Peter Mougey.

Transcription:

Mike Papantonio:
The opioid epidemic finally became one of the biggest stories of 2017 as the number of people dying from big pharma’s prescription narcotics reached levels that even corporate media could ignore. Joining me to talk about this is Attorney Peter Mougey. Peter, let’s start with the quick overview of where things stand right now with the opioid crisis. What’s happening? Because it’s not the type of thing … I look at this story. The thing that amazes me most is, it was ignored for so many years by corporate media that people barely even know what this case is really about. What’s your take on all this?

Peter Mougey:
You’re totally right. This has been back in the recess, in the dark corners, for over a decade. Nothing’s been done and it’s typical. We’re waiting for the regulators. We’re waiting for Congress. We’re waiting for President Trump, the national health emergency. It doesn’t matter. Not much has been done. Not much has been done to curb it. We have one person dying every nine minutes. More people have than in the Vietnam war. On an annual basis, over 60,000 people. And we’re really not doing much. And once again the trial lawyers have stepped up representing cities and counties all over the country filing suit demanding that the taxpayers not be shouldered with the financial burden, so that right now is at the forefront of what’s going on around the country.

Mike Papantonio:
Are you a little amazed, Peter, that this has been going on for so long? There’ve been overdoses at incredible rates for about a decade right now. And it’s almost as if the corporate media didn’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t jazzy enough. Or maybe the McKessons that pay advertising dollars, or the Purdues that pay so much advertising dollars to corporate media, that had an influence on them not talking about the story. And because nobody was talking about it, Congress took no action. Nobody. Regulators certainly took no action. And here we are now with an epidemic that by most … If you listen to most experts, it’s going to take two decades to turn around. What’s your take?

Peter Mougey:
There’s absolutely no question. At the end of the day, the almighty dollar drives the story to the back corner and doesn’t get any spotlight. Whether it’s the advertising dollars from big pharma and spending money on ads with Main Street media, and that doesn’t get picked up, these stories, to protect Main Street. And, or you’ve got the revolving door with agents going from the DEA and lawyers to huge white shoe defense firms and backs, where everyone’s scared to tee it up with the industry because they know that their next job on the other side of the table representing pharmaceutical companies at big law firms will be jeopardized, so everyone walks around on eggshells. And everyone’s scared to push this story to the front, or scared to hold people accountable and companies accountable for the damage that they’ve caused.

So no, this story just stays in the background, and only when it gets so absolutely just a ridiculous over the top as we are now with overdoses, with deaths, with millions and millions of pills coming into small communities. Only then is it starting to get covered where people can’t ignore it.

Mike Papantonio:
Let’s talk about another part of the story, Peter, that corporate media is not talking. But that is, you have Attorney Generals throughout this country. Most of them are Attorney General today. They want to run for Governor tomorrow. They want to run for Senate. They’re on this track to move up the political stepping stones. And now the Attorney Generals, the history of Attorney Generals with this case is the first time they settled, they settled for $25 million. Now $25 million for this entire problem in the State of Kentucky for example.

Now the company has made $25 million, these companies, these distributors have made $25 million while you and I have been talking. And then the Attorney General in West Virginia, by the way, his wife just happens to work for the industry. He settles for $50 million. And now you have Attorney Generals that believe they want to pay a little bit of money and make this into some big political victory for them because they’ve got the companies at their back door saying, “Oh, you know Governor, Mr. Attorney General, we can make you look like a real hero by paying you $100 million and then you can tell the public you’ve done something.”

The truth is this. Here’s the truth. Correct me if I’m wrong because you’re out there in the field every day on this. If I look at the numbers, the typical community, the community whose lost money through police, hospitalization, EMT, dependency court, they have lost an average of $170 million just as of now, and the epidemic has really just started. The problems with the epidemic has just started. What’s your thoughts on that, Peter?

Peter Mougey:
No. You hit the nail on the head. I mean, AG in most cases stands for aspiring Governor. These AGs run these cases and want turnarounds really quick so they can use the $25, or $30, or $40 million dollar settlement. Splash across the headlines. Gets their name out there in the press. When most litigations cycles nowadays, unfortunately take five, six, seven years. So you file, do very little discovery, quick turnaround. And as you know, and I do as well, that most of these cases are taking much longer. They settle on the cheap. Get their mugs in the paper, and at the end of the day there’s been hardly any depositions taken. There’s been hardly any discovery done. And there’s a quick settlement. When the real damages, you could probably add a couple of zeros onto the end of these $25 million settlements.

You used Kentucky as an example for $25 million. About the same time, 2005, 2006, 25 Attorney Generals in the US globally, all together, settled for $25 million, meaning they took less than are on average about $1 million back into their home states. It’s crazy.

Mike Papantonio:
Okay. Let’s put this in perspective. The typical case, just so everybody watching this program understands, this is not about somebody who’s been in the drug business all their lives. The typical opioid case is somebody, typically maybe even high school. High school, they’re injured. Maybe they break their foot. They have a wisdom tooth pulled, and then they’re given 70 opioids, Oxycontin, you name it. They’re given these opioids. The experts will tell you it only takes two weeks to become hopelessly addicted to the opioid. All right.

So the pill mill sets up in somewhere USA. The pill mill is, you can drive by these pill mills sometimes and see people circling around the pill mill waiting to get their pills at 8:00 in the morning. The pill mill then closes and then comes in the heroin. This high school student, and tell me if this is not typical. I’ve looked across the board. This is a very typical case. Injury takes place, and then before you know it they’re not just hooked on opioids. They’re hooked on heroin. Did I get that right?

Peter Mougey:
You got it right. I mean, think about it. It’s just kind of common sense. The migration from prescription opiates to heroin is integral to this whole problem, and that at the end of the day, you’re 80 times more likely if you’re on heroin to have abused prescription opiates. It’s kind of common sense. No one starts by wrapping a tourniquet around their arm and putting a needle in to inject heroin. That’s not where you start. It’s a migration and the prescription opiates provide that springboard to heroin use. I’ll tell you what. Something I find even more disgusting.

I was with my co-counsel in West Virginia last week and we were looking through one of those needle exchange program packages, and it had syringes and cotton balls and spoons to reduce the hep-c and HIV. And sure enough, one of the companies that was selling, and their logo was on the inside of the package, was McKesson. So McKesson’s profiting from the needle exchange program. And this is the same company that was charged with responsibility for controlling the overflow of opiates into our communities. They’re making it every which way. It doesn’t matter.

Mike Papantonio:
Let me restate that. McKesson was one of the biggest distributors of the opioid that got people hooked on the opioid, and then turned them to the heroin problem. Now we find out, while they’re getting these people hooked on heroin, McKesson, the same people who are the drug pushers, no other way to put it, it is a drug cabal, a drug cartel, McKesson, Amerisource, Cardinal, Purdue. We could go on forever. These are nothing more than legalized drug pushers. So we find out McKesson, after they get the people hooked, after people now are on heroin, McKesson then starts selling them needles and syringes.

Peter Mougey:
That’s exactly right.

Mike Papantonio:
That is the story.

Peter Mougey:
That’s exactly right, in the needle exchange programs.

Mike Papantonio:
And you know what, that’s just the tip of the iceberg here. Isn’t it, Peter?

Peter Mougey:
It is. They’re even providing suboxone, which is the drug to help wean you off of the, whether it be heroin or prescription opiate, the drug that’s helped to cure the addiction. Now they’re profiting off of that as well. So we create the problem. Now we’re created the migration to heroin. Now we’re going to create the solution and profit off of that as well. All the while, while the local constituents, the taxpayers, are shouldered with the financial burden. So rather than our tax monies going to infrastructure, taking care of the poor, fixing the streets, education, health, safety, welfare, now we’re taking care of a generation of people that are addicted to opiates that is caused by big pharma.

Mike Papantonio:
Tax payers paying for it. I’ve got to close, but I just want to leave with this. Understand that Congress, once they understood how bad this problem was, they knew that people were dying in droves. Once they did that, they still came up with legislation that directed the DEA not to enforce the laws against companies like McKesson and Cardinal. Clearly, they said, “Don’t enforce these laws.” Why? Because they were getting so much money from the industry.

And you know the real ugly thing about it is, Obama signed off on that law. And now we live with this problem that has just gotten geometrically worse. Peter, thank you for joining us. We’ll do a lot more on this case. It’s one of the ugliest I’ve seen in 35 years.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.