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Posted on April 3, 2019 at 7:12 AM
Steve Phillips

Recently a major pharmaceutical company settled a lawsuit with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million. The state had alleged that the company’s marketing of OxyContin had helped to fuel the opioid epidemic in the state. Pharmaceutical companies in general do some things that are very good and have many times had some questionable practices. Some of their pricing and marketing practices are morally questionable, but it seems to me that it is the role of the FDA to evaluate those marketing practices and discipline pharmaceutical companies when they market inappropriately.

It does not seem to me that states suing pharmaceutical
companies is an appropriate way to deal with the opioid crisis. The problem of
what we used to call narcotic addiction has been around for centuries. It has
been a problem long before any modern pharmaceutical companies existed. Whether
the narcotic being abused was opium, morphine, heroin, or prescription pain pills
the primary driver of narcotic addiction has always been hopelessness and
despair. This is true whether it involved the opium dens in China or the slums
of London, heroin addiction in the inner cities of the US or opioid abuse by the
rural poor of states like Oklahoma or Indiana (where I practice). Supply plays
a role in which narcotics are abused, but the underlying problem is a social
and spiritual one.

There are many factors that go into the hopelessness and
desire to escape that underlies narcotic addiction. One factor is economic.
People who are unable to find work to support themselves and have no hope of
being able to do so may turn to narcotics to escape. Those who are wounded by
broken families and have no hope of being able to find the wholesome family
relationships they desire frequently turn to alcohol and drug abuse. It would
make as much sense to sue those who have contributed to these economic and
social conditions as it would to sue pharmaceutical companies. Should states
sue manufacturers who have yielded to economic pressures and have left empty
factories scattered around our country while they profit from manufacturing
goods overseas? Should they sue musicians who glorified drug abuse in their
songs and modeled that in their behavior? Should they sue the entertainment
industry that has promoted sexual immorality and the breakdown of families?
Should they sue both state and federal legislators who have created a welfare
system that promotes dependence and generational poverty?

I do not think that this is the answer. There are many
things in our society that have helped to promote the increase in drug abuse
that we are dealing with today. It will take all of us working together
voluntarily to impact this crisis. Churches, businesses, physicians, hospitals,
pharmaceutical companies, and government at the local, state, and federal level
will all need to work together to help reduce the hopelessness and despair that
underlies the current opioid epidemic. Research and treatment like what will be
funded by the settlement of the Oklahoma lawsuit is needed, but working on the
underlying problem of hopelessness and despair is essential. Local churches
have the potential to impact that most effectively without needing to sue

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