Winning the WAR on Opioids

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Attorney Peter Mougey speaks with David Shuster on The Conversation about the massive opioid settlement that could help local drug education and...
Get some fascinating details on what will be the largest civil action settlement in US history. It involves 26 billion dollars proposed settlement against uh some of the biggest players in the pharmaceutical industry. This has to do with the opioid crisis and joining us to talk about this is Peter Mujay. He's an attorney at the Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm which has been involved at the heart of this. Um Peter, first of all, explain what are some of the details involving the settlement. Why is it so significant? Well, there's there's two main pieces to this. One is the monetary uh relief and two is the injunctive. 26 billion dollars with just four of the first offendants goes a long way with creating some much needed uh treatment uh education for those that uh that are at the heart of this epidemic. But then secondly is the injunctive relief. Relief which I think is just as powerful as the twenty-six billion. There's game changing transformative conduct that is going to be required of the defendants that will prevent Any further problems uh going forward and will help us get the uh opiate epidemic uh kind of abated or stopped here in the near future. What are some of these specific steps that these uh pharmaceuticals, these drug makers have to have to now do? The uh the biggest, the biggest component on the injunctive relief is the clearing house. So, every single pill made in the United States. There's over 100 billion over the last 10 years are tracked from the manufacturer to the distributor to the pharmacy. So, we can trace a pill going starting as it's aid coming rolling off into a bottle, shipped to the distributors, and then shipped to the pharmacies and what the distributors were required to do and why they have stroked a check for 21 billion dollars is because they were supposed to design a system to identify suspicious orders of unusual size, frequency, or pattern and they didn't do it. And once they identify the suspicious order, they were supposed to perform due diligence uh before it was shipped. Now, this clearing house is going to be run since the defendants couldn't do it themselves. The we've now hired a third party that's going to run a red flag algorithm through all of this data pop on these suspicious orders and ensure that that due diligence is performed to the order before the order is shipped. That will help close all of the loopholes in the system to ensure that these suspicious orders aren't making their way to pill mills across the country. You can describe what you have found in terms of the devastation to a lot of communities by the opioid crisis. Uh it's heartbreaking. You go into communities around the country and it's impacted communities in different magnitude. There's no doubt that there's a every community in the in the US has been hurt. But there are communities across the country where you go to playgrounds or out in public spaces and there are needles and spoons uh with heroin and uh pill problems uh on every corner. Uh there are communities in this country where you don't have to look further than the house next door or across the street to find someone that's overdosed or died. It uh it's reached every corner of this country. It's hit every different kind of socioeconomic uh group um and some communities are hit worse than others but it is hit and uh every single community in this country and uh touched families everywhere. Devastated families everywhere. And as I understand that uh a large portion of the 26 billion dollars will go right back to these communities. How will the money be spent to try to help them, to try to fix the problem, to try to um support people that we're going through this. That's uh one of the the issues that the defendants, the state attorney generals, the local government, and private council all agree on. 90% of the money that's secured in this settlement and paid for over a period of years will go back to treatment and education. So, as opposed to tobacco where a lot of uh in a lot of instances and a lot of states and moneys ended up in the general coffers and went to fixing potholes and covering budget shortfalls. That's not going to happen with this opiate money. 90% will be spent in our communities curbing the epidemic. It uh everything from educating kids that pills and mom and dad's medicine cabinets are just as dangerous as drugs you get on the street corners to treatment beds, uh uh physicians to help uh create treatment plans, uh really runs the gamut and it's flexible enough that communities can uh fashion it to meet their needs 'cuz every community in the country is not the same. Peter, I know, a lot of lawsuits, civil lawsuits can be very adversarial between the parties. What was it like working with and working against the pharmaceutical companies? Was it easy? Was it difficult? Was there uh acknowledgement from the start uh on their role in all of this and what they needed to do? Uh how would you, how would you describe this whole experience as a lawyer? That that's a great, that's a great question, David and and quite frankly, it runs the gamut. Um we had different responses from different defendants. A lot of finger pointing in the beginning, blaming doctors, victims, DEA, you name it. Everybody had a place to point the Some of the defendants embraced their role in the conduct early on. Some, for example, like Walgreens is a distributor and a pharmacy that that continues to refuse to engage in any settlement negotiations and look themselves in the mirror and understand that they had a role in this just like the other parties. So, it runs the gamut and I had the opportunity to be uh in the middle of the the litigation side and the trial side and the negotiation side and II will tell you that the negotiators that we dealt with uh as the faces of the companies wanted to address the problem and find solutions as much as anybody in the room. Litigating side was a different story but III feel like the negotiation side uh they were looking for solutions as well. I know it's a very uh it's a very complex case to put together when you're talking about this many defendants and this many parties and this uh amount of money. Uh what was there a moment when this really seemed to sort of gel where it really seemed like okay this is gonna work out? You know there there if it has, it still hasn't even crystallized yet. I'd know that these negotiations have been ongoing for years. Um II focus in in uh my practice and and what I would consider to be the most complex of the complex and this is outside the stratosphere of anything I've ever done before. Primarily to bring all these local governments under the tents and uh and the state government. So, up until today, we have a settlement proposal on the table. It is a Jane game of uh pulling the the sticks out at the bottom with it kinda we need every single city and county and state in the country to work collaboratively together to get this across the finish line. So, it continues to be very fragile going forward and over the six months, only time will tell if we can all work together to get this across the finish line. I can imagine the details are just going to the language and some of this must be uh must be remarkable. Uh you mentioned the tobacco settlement and while this is a quite different, a lot of people point to the the settlement with big tobacco as a major turning point in the war on tobacco. A number of people in our study suggested that the tobacco use dropped significantly after that that there was a clean inflection point. Do you see that being the same with the opioid crisis or is there a difference in terms of the trajectory that the United States is on right now with opioids? Well, last year, uh the data just came out and the the deaths are up 30% uh from the year before. The data from the CDC. So, unfortunately, we are still continue to be on the trajectory and a large part of that is as we kinda turn the spigot of pills off. We have a whole generation in our communities addicted to opiates and it and they're out of desperation. They are now looking at uh heroin and uh uh other types of synthetics uh opiates and which are causing deaths to spike. So, the pills are totally inversely correlated to heroin and the the folks that are addicted are looking for other spaces. The only thing to get us across the finish line is bring the deaths and overdoses down is going to be treatment and education. We can't arrest our way out of this problem and we can't just cut the pills off. And will that be the expectation that assuming the settlement does go through, somebody who a year from now looks up and says, oh my god, I'm addicted to opioids or heroin. They will have new opportunities, new avenues in their local community with rich to get research to which to get help in order to support them to win them off of this. David, that's our goal. We have worked with a team of experts on approved use for 90% of the 26 billion that's gonna go back into our community. So we've worked hand in hand in lockstep with those experts from the medical communities to create treatment and education programs to make sure that we start seeing these numbers trend downward over the next several years. It took us 20 years to get to this point and get to this this uh Herculean problem we have now. It's not gonna take us a year or two to dig out from it. This is a long-term problem. It's gonna take with a long-term solution but hopefully, we've got the building blocks in place to get us there. And hopefully, um there'll be other people who are not just part of this. Uh I'm thinking of doctors. I mean, there was the early finger pointing you mentioned at the doctors but clearly, there is a role, right? That doctors and others play in this, we're not necessarily part of the settlement. There is absolutely no question that there is blame to go around every side of the table and it it doesn't matter whether it's the regulators, it's doctors, it's everywhere. Everyone's gotta look in the mirror and think what can I do to help solve this problem and uh but the the refusing to accept uh responsibility for your particular space or the company's particular space is what we need to get this this uh this epidemic uh stopped. And Peter, you mentioned the local governments that should be part of this. If somebody sees this and says, uh huh, I'm a town manager in, I don't know, Southern Indiana. How do they simply reach out to your law firm and say, okay, what can we do to sort of help shape this? Is there a process for this local communities? The uh the eligible cities and counties uh across the country will be receiving notice from their state attorney generals and from their if they have hired council from their council all within the next uh thirty to forty-five days. So the roll out of this uh notice process is going to be extremely sophisticated and tremendous in scale to uh to make sure that everybody has noticed of of what's happening and what programs are available. Peter Mougey is an attorney with eleven Papantonio Rafferty Law Firm. Peter, uh congratulations on your work so far and good luck to you as you try to pull this thing across the finish line. Thanks, David. Thanks for having me.

Posted 2 months ago in Social Issues