Editorial: Summit County opioid lawsuit highlights need for change in health care system
March 24, 2018
Summit County is going after Big Pharma.
On Tuesday, it announced it has filed a lawsuit against several drug manufacturers, distributors and individuals for their alleged role in the opioid crisis. The county contends Big Pharma deceptively marketed opioids to doctors, ultimately endangering residents and forcing Summit County to spend significant money to fight the epidemic locally.
Several counties across the country — along with more than a dozen states — have filed similar lawsuits, but Summit County is the first in Utah to do so. The legal issues regarding Big Pharma's alleged complicity in the opioid crisis are complex, but it's a strong statement that county officials aren't content to sit idly by as opioids continue to hurt our community. The message rings particularly true given the county's extensive efforts to increase the resources available to people battling drug addictions and mental health disorders.
It remains to be seen whether the county will prevail, or how much money it would recoup in a victory, but the lawsuit is notable, in part, because it highlights the need for extensive change within our healthcare system.
The opioid crisis has afflicted thousands of ordinary people — mothers, husbands, children and neighbors — who were simply seeking medical care to treat injuries or illnesses. Instead of receiving care that improved their lives, however, they were prescribed addictive drugs that upended or ruined them.
Summit County, of course, has been far from immune, and most residents probably know at least one person who has struggled with addiction as a result of prescription drugs.
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Whether pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors are to blame for not being upfront about the dangers of opioids, as the county's lawsuit alleges, is for the courts to decide. And it should be noted that others say many factors have contributed to the problem, including doctors being too quick to prescribe opioids to relieve patients' pain.
No matter where the fault lies, of course, litigation is never going to repair the lives of people who have been affected by the opioid crisis. But perhaps the county's lawsuit, and the many others like it across the country, will send a message and spur self-reflection within the health care industry.
We trust the health care industry with our lives — literally. It must be part of the solution to the opioid epidemic and implement changes that ensure nothing like it ever happens again.
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