Our Opinion: Opioid-afflicted cities take on Big Pharma

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Over the past several years, opioid addiction has grown into one of the great scourges in American history. Many have died from overdoses; for others, misuse of the painkillers has destroyed the lives of individuals and families and worn holes in the fabric of our society. And then there are those — the pharmaceutical manufacturers and their stockholders — who have made a great deal of money from booming sales of the drugs.

Local and state governments, which have been left to deal with myriad ramifications of opioid addiction among their populations, among them rising property and violent crime, broken homes, medical emergencies, and children who have effectively lost their parents to the drugs' demonic grasp cannot even accurately compile figures on the cost of confronting these problems, so widespread are the effects.

Opioids do hold a legitimate place in the menu of medical options for pain management, and the development of an effective product ought to be allowed to make a profit for its creators. That said, there is evidence that the manufacturers of these highly dangerous substances may have intentionally misrepresented their benefits and drawbacks when marketing them to physicians. In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey has already obtained a half-million-dollar settlement from Insys Therapeutics, Inc. (a manufacturer of fentanyl) for slipping kickbacks to doctors in return for prescribing the drug for mild pain relief use, which is far from its intended purpose of alleviating cancer pain. Ms. Healey has joined her counterparts in other states to investigate whether other painkiller manufacturers have misrepresented the dangers of their products, as well.

Pittsfield suffers more than its per-capita share of opioid addiction, an affliction that has been ascribed to joblessness, despair and a raft of social ills often associated with a bleak economic landscape, and it is right that a city so beleaguered should join forces with others — among them, Lowell and Greenfield and possibly Boston — in exploring legal remedies for the financial and societal suffering it has had to endure as a result of this epidemic (Eagle, February 15). Since pharmaceutical companies have displayed little in the way of corporate consciences, hitting them in the bottom line is the only way to achieve redress. Already, Purdue Pharma, which makes the popular painkiller OxyContin and a selection of other opioids, has agreed to stop marketing those drugs to physicians and is axing half of its sales force. It is doubtful that Purdue's leaders had a sudden moral epiphany that caused them to turn away from their jingling cash registers; more likely it is the hundreds of civil suits the company faces over marketing practices that the courts may decide warrant restitution to victims — among those victims being local governmental entities across this country — that prompted the change in strategy.

Pittsfield's potential inclusion as a plaintiff in these suits costs it nothing but a 25 percent contingency fee for the attorneys arguing its case. North Adams, another city hit hard by the opioid crisis, has no reason not to join Pittsfield in this action, and we urge it to do so. The funds cities may or may not collect as a result will be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the battle so far, but any relief would be welcome — and justified.

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