There’s no price to compensate for human suffering

Pennsylvania has an opportunity to extract a modicum of justice from drug companies that brought untold death and suffering to vulnerable people in what has been dubbed the opioid epidemic.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is recommending state officials sign on to a $26 billion settlement with four companies, including Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors of opioids — McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The commonwealth would not get all of that money.

But we could get as much as $1.06 billion over a period of 18 years, with $232 million coming by April.

It’s impossible to put a price on human suffering. Millions of families have coped with immeasurable agony as a result of drug companies pushing opioids with the help of compliant doctors.

No amount of money can ever bring back the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who were among this epidemic’s victims. No amount of money can erase the pain of losing sons and daughters in the prime of their lives.

But the billions coming from this settlement might help prevent more people from dying, and it might provide some relief to families still reeling from an epidemic that has only grown worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Attorney General’s office is recommending Pennsylvania sign on to the settlement and use the money to provide treatment services and relief to people struggling now to overcome substance abuse.

The AG’s office makes a strong case for taking the money now rather than waiting for years of court trials and appeals that may not result in much more than what’s on the table now.

There is a catch to all of this. Every “government entity” representing more than 10,000 people that has filed suit against these four companies has to agree to settle.

That would seem almost impossible, but David Wade, senior advisor to the Attorney General, and Jim Donahue, executive deputy Attorney General, don’t think so. They think there’s a very good chance everyone will come on board to help people who need it now.

It’s important to note even if everyone signs on to the settlement, it only involves four companies. And it doesn’t include Purdue Pharma, which unleashed OxyContin on the world.

That company was dissolved last week in a bankruptcy settlement, but the Sackler family that owns it will have to pay out billions. Don’t worry about them, though. They’re still filthy rich and won’t have to face any personal responsibility for the disaster they helped to cause.

The judge who oversaw that settlement called it a “bitter” result. Bitter because the Sacklers, who pocketed billions from pushing poisons, are getting off light. Same could be said of Johnson & Johnson and the three companies that distributed death.

The billions they will pay represents only a modicum of justice for victims of the opioid crisis that has affected every state in the nation for decades.

But we have to agree with the AG’s office.

Waiting while cases work their way through the courts only to end up with less money or companies going bankrupt would be worse than accepting an admittedly bitter settlement.

We should take the billions offered now and insist that it be used to help people and their loved ones in the throes of an epidemic as deadly as COVID-19.


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