In a recent article in Public Health Reports, Drs. Derek Carr and Corey Davis from the Network from Public Health Law and Dr. Lainie Rutkow from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discuss similarities and differences between the emerging lawsuits against opioid pain reliever (OPR) manufacturers and the litigation against tobacco industry during the 1990s, which culminated in the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of 1998, and speculate that states and OPR manufacturers may pursue a settlement agreement (an “opioid MSA”) modeled on this tobacco MSA.
The authors argue that while the tobacco lawsuits provided billions of dollars to state and local governments, they did little to foster future reductions in tobacco-related harms, a missed opportunity that should not be repeated with OPRs. Current complaints against OPR manufacturers focus on how the OPR industry allegedly used many of the same practices employed by the tobacco industry to systematically increase the prescription and use of OPRs including paying front groups, disseminating misleading direct-to-consumer advertising, facilitating scientifically suspect research, and fostering high-volume OPR prescribers — all without a substantial reduction in overall pain prevalence. Courts have yet to evaluate the merits of these claims. For example, unlike tobacco, which provides no medicinal value and is often deadly when used as intended, OPRs can be used safely and are indispensable for treating certain conditions such as chronic pain. OPR manufacturers are also exploiting opportunities not available in the tobacco context such as the federal regulation of OPRs that may require a lengthy FDA review of the individual lawsuit claims. Authors conclude that states should be mindful of the lessons from tobacco lawsuits when considering litigation against OPR manufacturers.
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