The definition of "government overreach" is in the eye of the beholder. It's sanctioned by members of the party using the heavy-handed approach, and decried as "socialism" or "fascism" by those on the other side of the aisle.
Some observers say Oklahoma's latest spate of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers is an example of overreach. Even as Attorney General Mike Hunter's press conference ensued Monday, viewers on live feeds were making that point. Many suggested if gun manufacturers couldn't be held accountable for shooting deaths, neither should opioid makers be blamed for deadly overdoses. Others countered that opioid use isn't protected by the Constitution, which prompted another idea: Automobile companies ought to be targeted, since vehicles kill countless Americans each year.
Officials are correct when they say greed is the impetus for overdistribution of narcotics. Unreasonable quantities have been oversupplied in areas where money, rather than need for pain relief, is the motivating factor. Perhaps well-meaning officials are spurred by earlier victories against the nefarious Big Pharma - including a $270 million settlement with Purdue, an $85 million deal with Teva Pharmaceuticals, and another cash-out with Endo Pharma. Then there's the Cleveland County victory of a $465 million nonjury verdict against Johnson & Johnson, which is under appeal.
But the battery of lawyers crusading on behalf of taxpayers is leaving out a few key elements - and those should be considered by anyone who is rightly cheering the pursuit of justice - or whose family has been devastated by opioid abuse.
First, how much is the litigation going to cost taxpayers? Few people keeping up with current events over the past several years failed to notice all the money then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt frittered away on frivolous actions such as the lawsuit against Colorado, which he claimed was sneaking its evil marijuana across our borders. Second, commenters on the livestreaming sites have a point: Prescription narcotics aren't the only things killing Americans. Where and when do we draw the line, and how do we prove ill intent of those who make and distribute them? Hunter did say he's looking for documents that companies have tried to hide, and he should have access to these. But why not seek similar documents from manufacturers of other products that routinely kill people?
Third, as mentioned by people watching the press conference, many deaths weren't caused by legitimate prescriptions, but for illicit drugs sold illegally, often lethal cocktails containing fentanyl. How do we balance street criminals against those in corner offices who push products within the boundaries of the law? And won't zealous attacks upon these companies prevent people from having access to a substance that literally makes a difference in their quality of life, or allows them to continue functioning in the workforce rather than consigned to permanent agony and disability?
Fourth, Hunter seeks "compensatory damages for the increased costs to Oklahoma's health care, criminal justice, social services, welfare and education systems, as well as the cost of lost productivity and lower tax revenue." His claim is well-founded - but can we really trust the money will be used to ameliorate problems caused by opioids? Or will that money - as taxpayers can be forgiven for suspecting - be used to line the pockets of certain state officials who have proved themselves just as greedy as Big Pharma?
Oklahomans need to keep an eye on actions that could block legitimate access to medications. Yes, addiction is a problem, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.