Webster Parish need not make the same mistake as Bossier Parish did in misdiagnosing the opioid crisis.
Recently, Webster Parish police jurors debated whether to join a number of Louisiana local governments in suing opioid manufacturers and/or distributors. A federal court in Cleveland is aggregating such efforts.
If they decide affirmatively, that would create an interesting bookend. Neighboring Bossier Parish, Webster’s partner in the state’s 26th Judicial District, at the end of last year was the first of the state’s local governments to sue.
And that also would repeat a mistake. The hype surrounding the increased prescribing of opioids and deaths resulting from overdosing, driven by the lawsuits’ argumentation, conveys the impression that makers and sellers too aggressively marketed the product, bamboozling doctors into dispensing painkillers far too widely to a drug-naïve populace, hooking ordinary citizens and leading some to their deaths.
In reality, data show almost no one becomes addicted, much less dies, from opioid abuse in clinical settings. Rather, the rise in fatalities has occurred largely among people experienced in illicit drug use. Further, within this group deaths most often come from a cocktail of illegally-obtained pharmaceuticals in addition to painkillers.
Thus, both hikes in prescriptions and fatalities mostly come from unethical doctors shuttling pills to unscrupulous individuals who sell them on the black market to existing addicts. Unlike what the bases of the suits would have people believe, the crisis isn’t caused by profiteering, but by systems permitting much greater abuse potential; in fact, Medicaid expansion appears as a likely culprit over the past few years.
If anything, the jackpot justice approach of Bossier Parish will make matters worse. Not only does that deflect from the true nature of the crisis, thereby distracting policy-makers from formulating effective countermeasures, but also, if successful, it will cost citizens as opioids become more expensive with the defendants raising prices to pay off judgments.
However, people genuinely in pain would suffer most from that outcome. Besides the higher prices, alleged reforms in the wake of a settlement and the stigma attached to painkillers that would discourage physicians from prescribing these would make it more difficult for such individuals to receive the relief available for their misery.
Unfortunately, the eyes of too many elected officials see dollar signs coming from litigation. They hope for a replay of the tobacco settlement in the 1990s that flushed government coffers, egged on by trial lawyers seeking huge paydays. Left out are the interests of the people, principally responsible doctors and law-abiding patients in pain.
Webster police jurors need not follow Bossier’s down the wrong path, while the latter can correct their error by dropping their legal action. The 26th District’s parishes more effectively would combat the opioid epidemic by increased law enforcement efforts, not through legal sideshows.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffsadow. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of this newspaper.