Bernie Sanders Senate bill would hold opioid execs criminally liable
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led a bicameral group of lawmakers in introducing the Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act, as Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan announced a lawsuit Tuesday against former Purdue Pharma CEO Richard Sackler and seven family members who served on Purdue’s Board of Directors for deliberately misrepresenting the risks of the drug OxyContin.
The Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act, introduced with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), prohibits illegal marketing and distribution of opioids; creates criminal liability for top company executives; penalizes drug manufacturers who illegally advertise, market or distribute an opioid product; and requires drug makers to reimburse the country for the negative economic impact of their products.
The opioid epidemic is estimated to cost the United States over $78 billion per year. In 2016 alone, over 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses. From 1999 to 2016, the number of opioid overdose deaths more than tripled, and U.S. life expectancy as a whole fell for the third year in a row in 2017, due in part to the increase in opioid-related deaths.
“We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured. They knew how dangerous these products were, but refused to tell doctors and patients. While some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year,” Sanders said. “At a time when local, state and federal governments are spending many billions of dollars a year dealing with the impact of the opioid epidemic, we must hold the pharmaceutical companies and executives that created the crisis accountable.”
“Communities across the country are being ripped apart by the opioid epidemic. Multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and their executives reaped large profits for years while their questionable marketing and distribution practices precipitated a devastating public health crisis,” Bennet said. “It is far past time for Congress to ensure opioid manufacturers, distributors, and executives fund our response to the crisis they created. Our bill will support programs that combat the opioid crisis and ensure we hold companies and their executives accountable for any future misconduct.”
“When I visit the communities that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, I see the victims of unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies that have put profits over the patients they were intended to serve,” said Khanna. “This bill holds opioid manufacturers and their executives accountable for decades of dishonest sales practices and malicious drug distribution. Over the past 20 years, more than 400,000 people have died of opioid overdoses, and millions more have been stricken by addiction. Their loved ones deserve justice.”
“Opioid companies have lied, cheated, and profited from the addiction and death left in the wake of the crisis they helped create. The criminal nature of these companies’ actions have destroyed families as well as strained the criminal justice and public health systems,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “This bill would create tools to hold companies and executives accountable for preying on patients using deceptive marketing tactics, as they proliferated these highly-addictive and destructive drugs on our streets.”
Any company found in violation of the Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act would be fined 25 percent of the profits from their opioid products. Drug manufacturers who illegally advertise, market or distribute an opioid product would also be stripped of any remaining period of market exclusivity for that opioid product, and would lose half of the remaining exclusivity period on other opioid products they have on the market. The legislation would also fine any company found liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic $7.8 billion—10 percent of the annual cost of the opioid crisis.
Organizations endorsing the legislation include Public Citizen, CREDO, American Medical Student Association (AMSA), National Collaborative for Health Equity and Prescription Justice.