Sheller PC’s founder, Stephen Sheller, joined other litigators, judges and state prosecutors at a conference to discuss the legal response to the opioid crisis. The forum was hosted by University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL). The panel in which Sheller participated, Corporate Responsibility and Civil Law Solutions, was moderated by Atty. Christopher Naughton, host of TV’s Emmy award-winning The American Law Journal.
Sheller PC is one of five private law firms assisting the city of Philadelphia in two separate suits against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers. In 2007, Purdue Pharma paid a $637 million fine for misbranding its prescription opioid drug, OxyContin. Cities and states are now seeking civil suits against manufacturers for the aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics believe to have caused the crisis.
A select type of plaintiff’s lawyers, those who handle whistleblower and false claims case, work with the government to prosecute corporate crimes. These trial lawyers, like Sheller, do most of the work investigating and presenting the whistleblower cases to the Department of Justice on a “platinum platter”.
Although opioid manufacturers may face more fines, panelist discussing the forums Criminal Law Solutions and Corporation Responsibility and Civil Law Solution agreed that criminal charges against opioid manufacturers and its executives were unlikely.
Why do mega corporations paying millions or even billions in fines not get charged criminally?
During the conference, Sheller said that not only should the pharmaceutical company executives should go to jail, but their lawyers should also be held accountable.
“Originally, they would have gone to jail, the Sacklers. So they hired the Giuliani firm, so they didn’t go to jail. The law firms involved, that has to be looked at in the context of this whole opioid problem.” Stephen Sheller, Sheller PC, Law 360 ‘Philadelphia Litigator Rips Opioid Defense Attys At Conference’
The focus of criminal charges is directed towards prosecuting high-prescribing doctors, pharmacies and even the opioid addicts themselves. President Trump joined the conversation and is finalizing an opioid plan which includes prevention and treatment efforts and stricter enforcement on drug traffickers– including the death penalty for dealers.
However, what the states really need is money. Money to offset the high cost of combating the opioid crisis at home. The opioid crisis has cost the U.S. $1 trillion since 2001, with costs rising each year. About a quarter of that cost is in healthcare, mainly for emergency treatment of overdoses. States are relying heavily on nonprofit organizations to help with treatment of opioid addiction, but the increasing number of opioid users are depleting their budgets as well.
Pennsylvania estimates it spends $5 million a year on the overdose drug naloxone. Overdose drugs are manufactured by the same pharmaceutical companies that make the opioids. In essence, Big Pharma is profiting from both opioids and overdose treatments.
“The companies who over-marketed the opioids like Purdue Pharma have largely gotten away without having to pay significant penalties. This is an example of companies choosing to make money in whatever way they can.” -Joel Lexchin, a health policy professor at York University told VICE News.
Health Policy Professor Joel Lexchin compared the opioid situation to tobacco companies selling both cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy, according to VICE.
Philly Litigator Rips Opioid Defense Attys At Conference, Law 360, March 16, 2018
Prosecutions of Big Pharma Over Opioids Unlikely, Panel Says, The Legal Intelligencer, March 18, 2018
Exclusive: Trump finalizing opioid plan that includes death penalty for dealers, Politico, March 15, 2018
Interview: ‘I don’t know how they live with themselves’– artist Nan Goldin takes on the billionaire family behind OxyContin, The Guardian, January 22, 2018
Big Pharma is profiting from both opioids and overdose treatments, Vice News, February 15, 2018
What is the Cost of Opioid Addition in Your State? Here are the Numbers, Nonprofit Quarterly, February 8, 2018