Ignorance about prescription opioids is not bliss.
Nor is the lack of information about their manufacture, distribution or sale.
Yet, last week, a federal judge, overseeing more than
800 lawsuits filed by cities, counties and states against drug companies, ruled those local governments cannot release data about prescription opioids.
That Cleveland-based judge ruled that disclosing that data to the press would reveal trade secrets and “eviscerate” the terms under which the information was shared.
We cannot imagine what trade secrets would be disclosed aside from the fact that these drug companies have something to hide.
As to the terms under which this information was obtained, we were under the impression the Drug Enforcement Agency collects and monitors that data without strings.
The DEA had to agree to a long list of conditions, including it could be used only for law enforcement and litigation, to even share it with local and state governments.
Admittedly, release of this information might spark public outrage or repulse stockholders, yet the public’s right to know far outweighs those concerns.
Most importantly, these data would provide the public accountability for the grief, the misery and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people harmed by these drugs.
Some of that information was released in 2016 by a West Virginia judge, including such tidbits as:
- More than 780 million pills (opioids) streamed into our state in one six-year period. That’s 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.
- The records show one distributor shipped more than 300,000 hydrocodone tablets over four years to a pharmacy in War, population 800..
- Distributors shipped nearly 21 million prescription painkillers to retailers in Williamson — population 3,000 — in a 10-year period.
Perhaps knowing where the greatest concentration of vulnerable addicts live was one of those trade secrets.
The first trials of these companies are set to begin in March 2019, when that federal judge will hear three cases from local governments in northeastern Ohio.
In April, that judge did order the full release of nine years of data the DEA collects on drug sales for six states, including West Virginia, that have cases going to trial.
Then he wrote, “… The Court observes that the vast oversupply of opioid drugs in the United States has caused a plague on its citizens and their local and State governments. Plaintiffs’ request for the … data, which will allow Plaintiffs to discover how and where the virus grew, is a reasonable step toward defeating the disease.”
With all due respect, your honor, that observation should apply to the plaintiffs’ constituents, too.