One of the biggest challenges with the regulation of prescription drugs is how to prevent the abuse of addictive ones. OxyContin, a powerful painkiller is probably the best known example. There are two ways to reduce the abuse of OxyContin: Punish the inventor and manufacturer of this valuable medicine; or go after those to take advantage of addicts who need help.
Although OxyContin is widely prescribed by physicians and valued by patients who need powerful pain relief, trial lawyers decided that the medicine, not the addiction, was the problem. Years ago, the decided they could make some money by suing the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Back in 2008, Heartland Institute’s Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly reported on the cost of this effort:
If anyone doubts tort claims are a burden on American drugmakers, consider the fees for Purdue Pharma L.P.’s defense of 1,400 lawsuits in 32 states, alleging that OxyContin, its prescription painkiller, is addictive.
Some 40 law firms were retained to defend Purdue, including 322 partners, 849 associates, and 1,023 paralegals, according to Purdue’s insurer, Steadfast Insurance Co., part of Zurich Insurance Co. of Switzerland, which contested the $400 million claim. The firms billed the company for more than 1.2 million hours of work, Steadfast alleges. The Wall Street Journal reports the claim was settled for $200 million.
Needless to say, this cost was a deadweight loss to medical innovation and did not help one single drug addict. Under Governor Rick Scott, Florida took a different approach: Go after “pill mills” that exploited addicts’ vulnerability. New laws allowed state authorities to shut down these pill mills. The result? A 23 percent reduction in deaths from drug overdoses in the following two years, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And no legitimate patients, physicians, or drugmakers were harmed by this solution!