Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has joined Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner in suing state Attorney General Josh Shapiro in hope of ensuring that the DAs’ ongoing litigation against pharmaceutical companies regarding their role in the opioid epidemic are not squashed by a $26 billion settlement deal. The deal, which Zappala and Krasner believe lets the big pharmaceutical companies off easy, is backed by three of those companies – AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson – and state attorneys general, including Shapiro.
“Accepting a contingent settlement of possibly a few million dollars isn’t acceptable,” Zappala said. “It doesn’t begin to come close to addressing the hundreds of millions of dollars of damage that has been done and thousands of Allegheny County residents’ lives that have been destroyed.”
The settlement proposal does not require the big three pharmaceutical companies to concede responsibility for the addiction crisis that has resulted in the death of around 1,000 Philadelphians for each of the last four years.
Krasner called the deal “more of a sellout than a settlement,” which threatens to end the lawsuit his office filed against the corporations two and a half years ago.
A joint statement released by the corporations says that the settlement, if all conditions are satisfied, “would result in the settlement of a substantial majority of opioid lawsuits filed by state and local governmental entities.”
Furthermore, Krasner complained that the money was too little. The best-case scenario, Krasner said, was that the city of Philadelphia would get $5 million to $8 million per year over the course of 18 years. Because there’s about 1,000 deaths from opioid overdoses per year, Krasner argued that a $5 million to $8 million annual payout would only be about $5,000 to $8,000 per overdose death.
“What this deal amounts to is not enough to pay to bury the people it has killed,” he said. “Never mind the cost of the fire department, the EMTs, the medical treatment, never mind the cost of the policing, never mind the cost of the increased crime, the trauma that has been inflicted upon the families of people who have overdosed and died, the trauma inflicted on these neighborhoods … that’s not enough.”
Last week, Shapiro responded to criticism that the deal was too little.
“When I announced the settlement a couple weeks ago, the first thing I said was $26 billion was not going to bring back the lives lost. And no amount of money will ever truly be adequate to dealing with this crisis,” he said. “But when you engage in these types of discussions … You recognize that you reach a point where you are in a position where you can bring back a meaningful amount of resources … Or you can litigate for decades and decades and probably never bring anything back.”
Shapiro said that Pennsylvania could see $1 billion from the settlement, but that number would go down if mayors and DAs decided to opt out of the settlement. If the mayors and DAs opt out, they wouldn’t receive any money from the settlement.
“So a DA or a mayor has a choice now to make,” said Shapiro. “Do they really want to go back and look at their hundreds and thousands – in Philly’s case more than a million constituents – in the eye and say, ‘I understand your suffering, I understand people are dying every day, but I am electing to litigate for decades and maybe decades and deliver nothing to you at your time in need.’ “
City Councilmember Mark Squilla voiced his support for the DA office’s lawsuit against Shapiro’s office.
“The trauma that’s associated with these deaths are not only from the people who are suffering from addiction, but their families and the community that’s surrounding them,” he said. “Kensington, Fairhill and Harrowgate sections of the city and all the city of Philadelphia have been suffering through this devastation. And we know that there are people responsible for this. And that responsibility should not be let go.”
The joint statement put out by the pharmaceutical companies called the $26 million sum “meaningful relief to communities across the United States.”
“The companies remain deeply concerned about the impact the opioid epidemic is having on individuals, families, and communities across the nation and are committed to being part of the solution,” reads the statement.
According to a Washington Post report, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen were three of the four top opioid pill distributors from 2006 to 2014. According to each company’s annual financial reports, those three distributors made $2.6 trillion in revenue from 2006 to 2014. As a result, the $26 billion settlement is arguably only about 1 percent of how much the companies made collectively in revenue during the rise in prescriptions of legal pain pills, “which resulted in nearly 130,000 deaths during the nine-year time frame ending in 2014,” according to the Washington Post.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that what happened here was a too cozy relationship between a bipartisan crew of centrist Democrats and right-wing Republicans,” said Krasner. “They all talk nicely in a room and then they all came out and they sold us short. That’s what happened. And we need to stand up.”