One of the worst aspects of the opioid epidemic is the fact that it could have been fixed years ago, had it not been for corporate owned politicians. Ring of Fire’s Mike Papantonio and Farron Cousins discuss this issue.

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*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio: One of the worst aspects of the opioid epidemic is the fact that it could have been fixed years ago, had it not been for corporate owned politicians. You know, this story to me is nauseating and I know we’ve told parts of the story, the story’s going to be told more and more Farron, as the litigation continues, but I mean the thumbnail sketch is this. In our efforts to become tribal in our politics, that is, that the Democrats do no harm if you’re a Democrat, Republicans do no harm if you’re republican and we’re incapable of actually looking back and saying what’s real and what’s not real. And this is a perfect situation. Okay. So let me not be tribal here as I tell the story, since I’m one of the people taking the depositions of these, of these opioid distributors that distributed opioids all over the country. It makes me a little angry because I’m seeing firsthand what actually happened.

And we want to believe that somewhere in the political scale, in the realm of politics, somebody says, you know what, sometimes corporate money just isn’t important to me and I’m going to do the right thing. And I wish we could have said that about the eight years during the Obama administration. Let me preface it by saying, as you probably know, I appeared on television, television show after television show. Everything from CNN to MSNBC, to Fox News supporting President Obama, but I got to call shots like I see them. Now we learn that the opioid, during the opioid crisis, the very worst time of the opioid crisis, that the attorney general who had been appointed by Obama was Eric Holder and Eric Holder came from a law firm called the Covington & Burling law firm in Washington, DC. And he worked for them in their white collar criminal division and he took care of handling the cases of white collar criminals. Wall Street white criminals, pharmaceutical white criminals, environmental polluter white criminals, white-collar criminals, you name it.

Those are the people that handled. He had a partner named Houghton who was also a lawyer for Covington & Burling. And Houghton represented McKesson. Pick it up from there.

Farron Cousins: We’ll McKesson what we know during the Obama years, the DEA actually a local office really of the DEA over in Colorado had been working around the clock. They had kind of this consortium, 12 different DA’s from 11 different states. They were ready to make the move on McKesson for creating these pill mills all over the country. They had all the evidence they could show without a doubt, McKesson knew they were shipping millions of pills to towns with populations of a few thousand. They knew McKesson knew what was happening. They knew it was addictive. They knew they were the problem. So before these DEA officials could make this move. They had everything ready, put all their ducks in a row, was a slam dunk.

They found out that at the same time they were doing this massive investigation that Eric Holder had worked out this sweetheart deal with McKesson to allow them basically to get off the hook. They were going to fine them $1,000,000,000 is what they were going to do. They were going to strip their license and registration so that they couldn’t distribute these narcotics basically anymore, and they are, I believe what, the third or fifth largest publicly owned corporation, publicly traded in the in the country, McKesson is.

Mike Papantonio: Right. Right.

Farron Cousins: I mean they’re massive. But Eric Holder had gone behind their backs, made this deal, said we’re gonna fine you a little bit, a fine that actually only amounted to a few million dollars more than what McKesson CEO made last year. That’s how tiny it is.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah, let me put that in terms of what’s real here. Okay. The first of all, the lawyer for McKesson came from Covington & Burling the same place that Eric Holder came from.

They worked together. It wasn’t like they just were casual acquaintances. They worked together on cases. One had an office right down the hall from Eric Holder. They socialize together, they work together. They were friends. All of a sudden Houghton is the attorney from McKesson and regardless of what the DEA found and they found, they found conduct that was absolutely, it was criminal conduct. They were prepared to go forward with a criminal case. They wanted, they wanted a perp walk is what they wanted, which has been long overdue in this business in general. So all of a sudden this goes from we’re going to do all these bad things secretly without the DA even knowing about it, Eric Holder and Houghton the Department of Justice, they work out some secret deal and all of it goes away. And by the way, the CEO of this company that when they were fined $150 million dollars the CEO’s compensation package is $650 million dollars.

The CEO’s compensation package is $650 million dollars. So okay, where does all this go? It goes, it tells the story. It tells in those years that they could have done something. It was the absolute worst time for progression of death in America from opioids. Kids were dying from opioids. They would day one, they would be injured because you know, football injury, a cheerleading injury, minor injuries, ankle sprains, things like that. And they’re given these opioids because the doctors were lied to about the safety of opioids. The company that produced them. Purdue told everybody this is safe. They’re non addictive. Don’t worry about it. This is a special kind of narcotic, is what they were telling everybody. So you’ve seen it. You’ve written about it informed forums over the years. You’ve kept up with this in National Trial Lawyers. This is the comparison. This is 1999, this is the death map of 1999. Okay. This shows, if you look at the Brown here in 1999, this was the area people were dying. That was in West Virginia. Okay. Little bit of activity out here on the west coast, but really out of control over on the West, over in West Virginia. By 2016, this is the death map.

What this represents these brown areas that you see, just the brown area represents 30 human lives. 30 deaths for every 100,000 people. Okay. The tan area is kind of the mean. It’s only about 16 to 17 deaths per 100,000 people. The tan, as you can see by 2016 is all over, all over the chart. This is 20, this is 1999, this is the progression of death in America. This was done by the CDC. When I showed this in a deposition to one of the witnesses, the only, my reaction was this. He said he’d never seen it. Okay.

For somebody to have never seen the CDC’s death map, every year, they showed the progression of death in the United States, every single year. And as we look at this, we understand the problem is nobody did anything about it. Now, as you know, I’m about, you know, about as progressive as you’ll ever meet. I spent, I’ve spent 18 years all the way back from Air America days talking about progressive politics, but what we have to be cognizant of is this. When things become so tribal that we can’t tell the story. We can’t tell this story because we’re worried about, oh gee, that’s going to offend the democratic, the DNC is going to be offended by that. When we get there, we have lost the sense of justice and journalism in this business.

Farron Cousins: Well let me add a couple things to that too. Well, first of all on your point there about the tribalism, back when we started with Air America, it really was at the time, it was Republicans versus Democrats, but now today, politics, whether it’s Republican, Democrat, anything in between, it has actually become corporations versus the people.

Mike Papantonio: Right.

Farron Cousins: That’s what it is there. There’s no distinction other than on social issues. On corporate issues, there is no difference between somebody who calls themself a Democrat or calls themself a Republican, so there’s that. But in addition to Eric Holder working out the sweetheart deal as his own people are out there working on basically putting them in jail, we also have to remember what happened at towards the end of the Bush administration, they had basically already done the same thing the DEA agents were off there doing. They put together this packet of information.

Mike Papantonio: Right.

Farron Cousins: Said we can prosecute them. Not, not sue them, not fine them, prosecute them.

Mike Papantonio: Right.

Farron Cousins: Alberto Gonzalez said, I’m not going to touch that right now, so okay, we expect that.

So when Holder came into office before that secret meeting, before the DEA goes to Colorado and starts working on all this, they already had it. They had that prosecutorial bundle sitting there waiting to be used to go after these people. So his, one of his first moves as attorney general, whether he knew it or not, was to ignore this. You know, we can’t forget that either. It’s bad enough he made the sweetheart deal, but it’s even worse that he took the hard work of people who were trying to do the right thing and said, well, I’m going to tuck this aside because I don’t think that’s for me right now.

Mike Papantonio: Okay and another, it doesn’t change. We’re looking at now the Trump administration, the Trump administration is out there talking about, you know, we need to do something about this. The Trump administration is talking about we need to fight drugs by getting the kid on the street corner wearing a hoodie off the street from selling drugs.

Farron Cousins: Execute them he said.

Mike Papantonio: Oh yeah, he wanted to execute them didn’t he? Okay, well you want to execute somebody, execute the people who made the bad decisions here. These decisions, look, this death map, this map that shows 1999 versus, this is 2016. Let’s not forget, these are mamma’s, papa’s, children, grandchildren, these are family members. These aren’t just statistics and as we sit here and talk, 150 people every single day are dying from this and are we going to ignore the fact people at the top made those decisions? This didn’t just happen overnight. No, this didn’t just happen miraculously. People at the top of McKesson, Amerisource, Cardinal, Purdue, Mallinckrodt, all of the companies, they all made decisions that were going to make money and damn what happens to everybody else and this is the result of it. And unfortunately what we have to do, if we’re truly going to change culture.

My thought has always been that if we want to say to an MBA student, 20 years from now that this is how you conduct business. You conduct business in a way that’s responsible. You can make money. Yeah, it’s okay to make money. There’s nothing, Capitalism potentially is the best system in the world. The American system of Capitalism does work with regulations, but when you get to the point to where you lose that sense of responsibility in a culture to where these are, these are people you’re supposed to be taking care of and at the end of the day, this is the amount of death that exists in the United States, and you know these are decisions you made. There’s got to be a line. There has to be a line where we say, we just don’t cross the line and in order to do that, unfortunately people have to be prosecuted. Fines, don’t work.

Okay. Fines, when McKesson, for example, was fined $150 million dollars, that’s just the cost of doing business.

Farron Cousins: Right, and again, that was just a little more than what their CEO made in one particular year. So that’s no sweat off their back. They’ve made billions off this. But, you know, when you talk about the capitalistic system, yeah, there’s no problem with people making money. And right now we’ve got a conversation happening in this country, started by Third Way in a meeting last Friday actually. They said, oh well this new wave of progressives, they hate people being rich. Look, nobody’s got a problem with anybody making money. It’s did you make money doing this? Killing people? Yeah, everybody’s got a problem with that. Are you stepping on everybody and screwing over your workers? Then it’s a problem. Money isn’t the problem, it’s what these people are willing to do to get it, that’s the problem.

Mike Papantonio: And all we can hope is that we tell the story in a way that years from now when a child is sitting in an MBA class, they say, well, remember the story about what happened on opioids? People were really punished for that.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced