The judgment in the Oklahoma trial against Johnson & Johnson for their role in the opioid crisis is a good start to what deserves to be an ongoing pursuit of justice for the victims, their families, and the states. Any financial settlement is only a Pyrrhic victory unless the following non-negotiable conditions are met:
1. Every single penny must go toward treatment. There are not nearly enough inpatient beds to address this great need. Those that do exist are located at a great distance away from people in rural areas, preventing many from access to treatment. Funds must be allocated to provide Narcan at no cost to whoever needs it. We simply cannot afford for any settlement money to be handed over to the states in the same manner of the tobacco settlement money: In New York alone (where I live), only 2.3 percent of the revenues received over the past 20 years were spent on funding tobacco education and preventive services. Government at all levels must be held accountable to use the money to address the fallout of this crisis and not to satisfy budget shortfalls.
2. No financial settlement is acceptable without an admission of wrongdoing. With alarming frequency, corporations are permitted to settle out of court without admitting wrongdoing. No settlement, no matter how generous, should be accepted without full disclosure of the marketing tactics of this deadly profit-generating crisis. Emails, letters, and minutes of the meeting must be released.
3. Purdue Pharma and its subsidiaries must be forever prohibited from detailing any of their products to prescribers or directly to consumers. They have proven themselves to be unwilling to market their products in an ethical, responsible manner. Hopefully, this will serve as an example to other pharmaceutical companies to revise their own marketing approaches. Students of history may remember that the unconditional surrender by Japan in WWII included a permanent prohibition of a Japanese military except for purposes of self-defense. There is absolutely no reason for this not to apply here.
4. Richard Sackler must relinquish his license to practice medicine. He has failed to uphold the most fundamental principle of medicine, the promise “to do no harm.” From the very beginning, he acted knowingly and with complete and utter indifference to the truth in pursuit of profit, resulting in a devastating outcome. Full-circle justice would see him in an orange jumpsuit after forfeiture of all the proceeds of this crime.
And finally, those who prescribe any medication must seek out objective information not provided by representatives of the pharmaceutical companies. There are now so many resources available dedicated to the accuracy of prescribing information that there is no excuse not to do your own research. If this crisis has not drawn adequate attention to the necessity of obtaining unbiased, independent information, I don’t know what will.
We are in a position to demand and receive a full accounting without negotiation. We cannot permit the perpetrators of this widespread crime to dictate the terms of their punishment.
The people of this nation deserve nothing less.
Rosanne Aulino is a psychiatric nurse.
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