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Public Health Reports: Reducing Harm Through Litigation Against Opioid Manufacturers? Lessons from the Tobacco Wars

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.

Full article

Public Health Reports is the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service and has been published since 1878. It is published bimonthly, plus supplement issues, through an official agreement with the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. The journal is peer-reviewed and publishes original research and commentaries in the areas of public health practice and methodology, original research, public health law, and public health schools and teaching. Issues contain regular commentaries by the U.S. Surgeon General and executives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health.

The journal focuses upon such topics as tobacco control, teenage violence, occupational disease and injury, immunization, drug policy, lead screening, health disparities, and many other key and emerging public health issues. In addition to the six regular issues, PHR produces supplemental issues approximately 2 – 5 times per year which focus on specific topics that are of particular interest to our readership. The journal’s contributors are on the front line of public health and they present their work in a readable and accessible format.

Visit the Public Health Reports homepage for more information about the journal.