America’s opioid epidemic will go down in history alongside the Spanish flu, typhoid, polio and AIDS as one of our worst public health disasters. Between 1999 and 2017, almost 218,000 people in the United States died from overdoses connected to prescription opioids, and almost as many more died from overdoses connected to illicit opioids. Of the 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, two-thirds of them were opioid-connected. Deaths continue at the rate of 130 a day.
A generation ago, states responded to the public health costs of smoking with lawsuits, leading to a $246 billion settlement in 1998 with tobacco companies. Today, state and local governments across America are seeking compensation in court from those at the heart of the opioid epidemic: the drug companies that made and marketed opioids and their distributors.
Let’s learn the lessons of the tobacco settlement and use opioid settlement funds to help those who have been at the tip of the spear in fighting the epidemic and are most needed to deal with its aftermath in the years ahead.