RALEIGH – Just last week publicly traded health giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) suddenly slashed its third-quarter earnings prospects by a full $3 billion. The announcement came after another; a proposed opiod ‘settlement’ deal worked out by drugmakers and distributors and attorneys general in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. The total settlement draft, yet to be finalized, is nearly $50 billion.
All of it comes as society at large ostensibly searches for answers for an opioid crisis that is undoubtedly plaguing the nation, but the heavy hand of government has turned an honest need for solutions into a Big Government blame game. There are over 2,000 lawsuits by cities and counties and states aimed at suspects in the crisis. Those with the finger pointed at them by politicians and others face arbitrary, threatening, and burdensome laws (doctors) or what amounts to ransom in the case of these companies.
It’s all very convenient for Democrat N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, who has a knack for bringing or joining high profile cases against popular boogeymen for the purposes of reelection. True to form, the big suits against Facebook (antitrust) and Juul (regulation overkill) have all erred on the side of abusing or expanding government’s power in contravention of the U.S. Constitution. Here again, Stein jumps aboard a bandwagon to pump up his political stock.
The settlement framework calls for five companies to pay $48 billion. Reuters reported last week that drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health have offered to pay $18 billion in cash over 18 years, while J&J would pay $4 billion in cash. While that’s a huge number, it’s still a settlement, which means the companies likely feared the heavy hand of government would take them for even more if the case went to trial in an atmosphere ripened by years of progressive worsening of the opioid problem.
Reconsider for a moment that the premise of this settlement is to hold the drugmakers and distributors responsible for the toll of opioid abuse. Legal drugmakers, and legal distributors that make and sell legal products being held responsible for, ultimately, some individuals abusing those products against all recommendation.
Of the settlement Stein said in an interview:
“[…] my job is to try to protect the people and keep them safe and healthy. If we can get substantial funds into this state, that is dedicated to actually helping attack the problems and $48 billion is going to make a huge impact in our ability to help the people of North Carolina. […]”
One could be forgiven for thinking the job of the state attorney general is to uphold the N.C. and U.S. Constitution(s) and protect individual rights, and nothing more. That, however, wouldn’t elevate political profiles and empower a Big Brother sense of government so favored by the Left. And, in this case specifically, it wouldn’t provide a fall guy to provide a false sense of having slayed the opioid dragon.
Stein goes on to caution that they only want to punish these companies to a certain extent, not put them out of business, because that would collapse a good amount of the healthcare space, he says; how merciful.
Further, experience tells us that once this money is the hands of governments, its exclusive and effective deployment toward the stated goal is one of the least likely of outcomes. The landmark tobacco settlement, a similar cultural/government finger pointing scenario, hardly went as planned.
This settlement will not do a thing to solve the opioid crisis, because despite the good press for these state attorneys general, it completely miscasts blame for appearances sake while reinforcing a decidedly unconstitutional and illogical sense of justice. Blame the doctors, blame the pills, blame everyone else, but never give too much credence to individual responsibility lest its association with liberty threaten the accepted Big Government order.