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Any windfall from opioid lawsuit should address opioid crisis

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The costs of the ongoing opioid crisis are staggering. It is estimated the cost of the opioid crisis in the U.S. totals more than $1 trillion since 2001. Now, many governments are filing lawsuits against big pharma, accusing the drug companies of deceptive marketing practices. Wisconsin is among the latest of 45 states to file lawsuits. And they are having success. In recent weeks, Oklahoma and West Virginia have settled lawsuits against drug companies for a total of nearly $300 million. But how will the money be spent? If past history is any guide, it won’t be to lessen the problem of opioid addiction. Just look back to the big tobacco settlement of 1998. Under the terms of that settlement, states received $246 billion over 25 years. But little of the money went to smoking cessation programs or to otherwise address public health priorities. On average, states allocated just 30% of the tobacco settlement money to health care. Nearly as much went to cover budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the money was put aside, but later used to fund the transportation budget when times got tough. It is not clear Wisconsin will be successful in its suit against the drug companies, or how much the state may receive. But Wisconsin lawmakers should insist that any money from this lawsuit goes to pay for the costs of this public health crisis. Otherwise it seems these lawsuits are just about collecting a windfall, rather than addressing a growing public health concern.

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