John Bel Edwards, a former trial lawyer before becoming a politician, is now using his power as governor to go after some deep-pocketed companies in court. Namely, oil, gas and pharmaceutical drug companies.
Edward’s lawsuit against “Big Pharma” claims drug companies purposely escalated an opioid crisis that has led to thousands of overdose deaths in the state. Louisiana is one of several states going after pharmaceutical drug companies.
“These drug companies led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive and even suggested that treating physicians prescribe greater dosage units to those who had already become addicted to opioids,” Edwards said in a statement.
But for millions of Americans in deep, chronic pain, opioids allow them to have a normal functioning life. In fact, the addiction rate for those using opioids legally prescribed from a doctor is surprisingly low. Sally Satel, a practicing psychiatrist at a Washington methadone clinic and lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, writes in Politico that overdose deaths are overwhelmingly attributable not to prescription opioids but to illicit fentanyl and heroin. These “street opioids” have become the engine of the opioid crisis in its current, most lethal form. The “street opioids” also have no connection to the pharmaceutical companies Edwards is going after in court.
In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that of the close to 90 million prescribed opioids per year, only about 2 percent, developed a “pain reliever use disorder,” which includes behaviors ranging from overuse to addiction. Only 2 percent.
If most of the opioid deaths are caused by drugs sold illegally on the streets, how is that the fault of the pharmaceutical companies? It isn’t. True, some doctors may over prescribe opioids and no doubt there is abuse. But if most patients who legally depend on opioids to legitimately cope with their physical pain do not become addicted, Edwards and sue-happy governors like him have no justification for going after pharmaceutical companies other than the fact they have deep pockets. Why not sue car companies for all the auto fatalities each year or gun manufacturers for gun violence?
Edwards' sue-happy ways are most evident with his going after oil and gas companies. Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a column entitled, “The Governor and Louisiana Lawyers Plot an Energy Shakedown.”
The column, written by Allysia Finley, notes tha Edwards "was elected in 2015 with substantial support from trial lawyers, and he’s now repaying them in kind. Mr. Edwards wasted no time shaking down Louisiana’s energy industry. Shortly after taking office in January 2016, he met with oil and gas companies and issued an ultimatum: Fork over billions of dollars to help restore Louisiana’s eroding coastline or brave a drawn-out legal battle. “
Those in the oil industry will tell you Edward’s sue-happy ways have cost jobs and potential new investment. They say the oil industry is booming in Texas while it is stagnant or declining in Louisiana. They blame it on the state and several parishes filling lawsuits against the industry.
The WSJ column highlights the connection between Edwards going after oil companies with campaign contributions he’s benefited from in the past. Here's Finleey: “The law firm spearheading the coastal parish suits on a contingency basis happens to be Talbot, Carmouche, and Marcello which raised $2 million for a super PAC to boost Mr. Edwards in 2015 and spent heavily in local races. “
We shouldn’t be surprised Edwards would go after deep-pocketed companies as governor when that’s what he did for a living before he became a politician. And after all, he is a Democrat, the party known for rewarding trial lawyers who generously give campaign contributions. The trouble with trial lawyers is that for the most part, they suck the life out of the economy. But if your focus isn’t the strength of the economy, but instead growing state coffers with large chunks of cash from lawsuits, Edward’s bent toward litigation is the perfect strategy.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.