Senator Bernie Sanders is seeking from the federal government to get serious and cramp down on the big drug companies whose products fuel the opioid crisis. The crisis is estimated to kill close to 60,000 Americans this year.
Sanders’ chances of winning in this era when the administration talks big about this emergency but cuts funding and has yet to appoint a “drug czar” who can get approved by the Senate and do something, are slim to none.
Sanders has called on Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate’s committee on health, education, labor, and pensions to hold hearings on the opioid epidemic just as the Congress once held tobacco executives accountable for the deaths caused by their products.
At those hearings tobacco executives at first denied their product as addictive, “but the hearings eventually led to change,” says Sanders, helping lower the rate of smoking in the U.S.
Those actions also led many states to reach multi-million dollar settlements with tobacco companies as well as forcing them to limit distribution, run ads to show the dangers and withdraw TV advertising.
In the opioid crisis, a few local and state agencies have also gotten settlements from opioid makers and distributors but they have been small by comparison, totaling no more than $300 million to date across all companies.
Last spring, for instance, Orange and Santa Clara counties in California forced Teva Pharmaceuticals to pay a $1.6 million settlement after accusations of deceptive advertising.
However, even as the death toll rises, none of the big manufacturers have been forced to pay settlements, and many of them have continued raising prices for the antidotes for opioid poisoning that are bought mainly by government emergency agencies to try and save lives.
While some of these companies have made billions each year in profits,” wrote Sanders recently, “not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in this crisis.
“Individual states have received small settlements from companies after taking legal action,” added Sanders, “but not enough to pay for the costs associated with the opioid epidemic. The states cannot do it alone.”
Alexander’s spokesman told The Hill they are planning more hearings, but even that leaves open doubts. Alexander’s last hearings on how states are impacted had only a few witnesses, including a journalist who has written a book on the subject, but who admitted he had no expertise in recommending what the government should legislate.