If Successful, Money From Lawsuit Should Be Used To Treat Opioid Epidemic

Chautauqua County is joining a spate of counties and states in suing major drug manufacturers for their supposed role in the opioid epidemic.

We’re not sure how successful the effort will be. After all, tobacco users used cigarettes as directed and got sick, creating public health situations that cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. In many cases addictive opioids are being obtained illegally, which becomes a problem that may be outside the pharmaceutical companies’ control. In other cases, legally prescribed opioids are being used in excess of prescription directions or the guidelines for safe use from the company and the federal Food and Drug Administration. We’re not convinced the legal argument used against the tobacco industry in the 1990s will work in the 2010s with major drug manufacturers.

The tobacco lawsuit and ensuing settlements can be instructive, however, in the off chance there is a settlement with drug manufacturers.

The payoff from tobacco companies hasn’t helped governments — statewide or local — find a way to get people to stop smoking. Money from the tobacco settlement was used for projects that had nothing to do with anti-smoking programs. Chautauqua County, for example, used part of its proceeds to build the most recent addition to the Chautauqua County Jail. Nearly 20 years after the settlement, Chautauqua County’s 24.7 percent adult smoking rate is significantly higher than the state average, according to a state Bureau of Tobacco Control publication from June 2016.

We hope, if there is any payoff to these lawsuits, that the money is earmarked specifically to drug treatment and prevention. Doing so could save the county money in the long run and, more importantly, improve the lives of those battling addiction.