There’s a pretty decent chance the average citizen like you and me has had a hospital stay.
There’s also a pretty good chance you’ve had some sort of surgery, whether major or minor.
And from that, it’s a pretty safe bet that you were at one point prescribed a painkiller — codeine, percocet, morphine or tramadol are some of the more well-known.
You know what else the odds say? That out of the more than 10 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids (stats provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2019), you may know at least one of them.
The term “drug addict” doesn’t conjure up positive images, but the reality is the opioid addiction isn’t just limited to someone who uses illegal drugs like heroin.
Three major drug distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, as well as manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, were named in a multistate opioid settlement, which Texas has now joined.
The distributors, which are supposed to monitor prescription drug shipments, are accused in hundreds of lawsuits of turning a blind eye while pharmacies across the country ordered millions of pills for people over the last two decades. Johnson & Johnson is accused of downplaying the addictive properties of its opioid products to doctors as well as patients.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Tuesday announced a $290 million statewide settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson. In addition to the funds from J&J, Texas is also slated to receive up to $1.2 billion from the three distributors, which will bring to Texas up to $1.5 billion in funding for statewide opioid abatement efforts to fight the opioid epidemic through treatment and recovery services.
So far, Palo Pinto and Parker counties have joined the litigation settlement with Johnson & Johnson, adding to the numerous cities and counties around the state.
From 1999 to 2019, nearly half a million people died from overdoses involving opioids, including prescription drugs and illegal street opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, opioid overdose deaths hit a record high of more than 93,000. All four companies participating in the settlement have denied wrongdoing.
And if the news brings about a sense of deja vu, it may be because it mimics the 1998 lawsuit settlement with “Big Tobacco” in which companies agreed to pay state governments as part of a $246 billion settlement. Tobacco companies were accused of being deceptive in how harmful the effects of smoking actually were.
What we hope will be the biggest difference in these two cases is that the majority of money in the opioid settlement must be spent on opioid treatment and prevention.
Mere fractions of the $200 billion-plus tobacco settlement have gone toward preventing smoking and helping people quit in many states. Much of the money, however, has helped to balance state budgets, lay fiber-optic cable and repair roads.
There’s no way to go back and undo the damage, but we’re glad those who may have suffered — or are continuing to suffer — are finally getting some assistance.
It won’t be a quick fix, but it is a step in the right direction.
To view a list of opioid-related resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute for Drug Abuse and other HHS and federal offices, visit www.hhs.gov/about/agencies/iea/partnerships/opioid-toolkit/federal-resources/index.html.