LIMA — Under Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s direction, the State of Ohio is examining how to best pressure large pharmaceutical companies to take financial responsibility for the social problems caused by the opioid epidemic.
“We’re losing 12 to 15 people a day, who are dying of overdoses and drugs. Half the kids in foster care are there because one or both parents are drug addicts. We’re having to send kids outside of the state of Ohio because there are so many kids in foster care. Our county jails are detox centers today with tremendous cost. We have babies born in Ohio who are born addicted with lifetime costs for some of them,” DeWine said. “What’s more of a hidden cost is the fact that we have a large number of Ohioans who can’t pass a drug test today and, therefore, cannot get certain jobs.”
Currently, the State of Ohio is looking at several tracks to do so, DeWine said, but the path with the best chance is ongoing legal discussions between governmental bodies and pharmaceutical companies under the watch of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster.
“When a federal judge asks you to come in and talk, you come in and talk,” DeWine said. “That doesn’t mean there’s going to be a settlement, but there might be a settlement. There’s a chance.”
Allen County is currently examining if it should join those talks. Allen County Commissioners have spoken to Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Juergen Waldick about the possibility, but it remains up to Waldick to keep the ball rolling.
“We haven’t had extensive conversations. He more or less asked if we were okay with him pursuing it,” Commissioner Jay Begg said.
DeWine has also taken the initiative to approach pharmaceutical companies outside of federal negotiations to see if they are interested in discussions before going forward with state litigation. Two out of the five have already met with state officials. Two others have indicated interest. The final company, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, has expressed disinterest.
“We have to see if these drug companies are serious, and we have to get further along the path of negotiations,” DeWine said. “They can wait until we have a jury in Ross County — where we filed the suit — and take their chances with the jury. If they want to stonewall, we can’t stop them from stonewalling, but I filed suit because I want some leverage. And I thought if they do nothing, I want to start moving down the path of getting this in front of jury of Ohioans who are going to make the decision.”
To show good faith, pharmaceutical companies can take the lead in reversing some of the ways they influenced doctors to prescribe potentially dangerous drugs.
“Drug companies could today, unilaterally, be helpful in explaining the dangers to doctors. They changed the culture in the wrong direction. They could certainly change it in the right direction. They could start today,” DeWine said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.