Seattle Times: Congress should hold opioid manufacturers accountable in the drug epidemic

State officials across the country are stepping up to show the leadership that Congress has failed to muster to urge that opioid manufacturers be held accountable for the devastation of the national drug epidemic.

Attorneys general from 36 states including Washington, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, wrote to Senate leaders last week, asking them to increase penalties on drug manufacturers that fail to report suspicious transactions and don’t maintain effective controls to keep their drugs out of the illegal market.

This is a reasonable proposal in the face of the scourge of opioid addiction and deaths and the complicity of at least one manufacturer.

About 764 people died in Washington state from opioids in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cost of the opioid crisis to Washington residents was $9.19 billion in 2016, with about $7 billion of those costs attributed to the financial impacts of overdose deaths, according to a new study from the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and another measure sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., would increase civil penalties from $10,000 to $100,000 per violation of reporting requirements. The maximum criminal penalty would increase from $250,000 to $500,000 for companies that willfully disregard or knowingly fail to keep proper reporting systems or fail to report suspicious activity.

Portman’s proposal, S. 2456, known as the Comprehenisve Addiction and Recovery Act, had hearings in April in the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism of the Committee on the Judiciary, but no further action has been taken. Cantwell and Harris’ proposal, S. 2440, known as the Comprehensive Addiction Reform, Education and Safety Act, has not made any progress since being introduced in February.

A related bill sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would renew grants to states and Native American tribes for opioid-related prevention and treatment while giving states money to improve their prescription drug monitoring programs. Those programs also can help catch and prevent overprescribing.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Purdue Pharma, the company that sells the painkiller OxyContin, for its aggressive and deceitful marketing in Washington state. Ferguson says the company lied to doctors and patients about the drug’s risks and effectiveness. In April, a King County judge denied the drugmaker’s motion to dismiss the case, setting the lawsuit on the path toward a trial.

The attorney generals’ letter sent to leaders of the Senate health and judiciary committees said because the drug manufacturers know their market better than anyone, they are well-positioned to identify suspicious activity.

Opioid manufacturers can identify which doctors are consistently prescribing more opioids than their peers and look for sudden, significant increases in opioid orders. But they have been ignoring their responsibilities.

These bills could push them back in the right direction.

Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers need to become part of the solution and help the communities devastated by the opioid epidemic.

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Seattle Times

This editorial was written by the staff of the Seattle Times. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.