An Oklahoma judge’s $572 million verdict against consumer products company Johnson & Johnson for its role in the state’s opioid crisis seems likely to be reduced on appeal.
But the verdict, along with Oklahoma’s prior settlement of another lawsuit against drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, brings something else to mind.
If the opioid lawsuits have the same ending as the nationwide tobacco lawsuits of 20 years ago, the states that receive the money — certain to be in the billions of dollars — should make absolutely sure that the vast majority of the cash is spent on treatment for drug abuse and addiction.
That did not happen with the tobacco money. Mississippi, for example, settled its lawsuit in 1997 for $4 billion over 25 years, with smaller payments continuing as long as the tobacco manufacturers remained in business.
Mississippi continues to receive money from the original 25-year settlement, but lawmakers who were starved for cash didn’t wait long to start raiding the tobacco trust fund they set up. First Democrats used the money to balance the state budget, and Republicans did the same thing once they gained power in Jackson. The trust fund was emptied a few years ago.
Gov. Haley Barbour, a one-time tobacco lobbyist, seemed personally offended that anyone would let that much money sit there when the state had plenty of use for it. His persuasive skills won out, and more of the settlement payments went into the state’s general fund than into the tobacco trust fund.
Defenders of this will argue that at least some of the tobacco money got spent on health care — the Medicaid program, for instance. If that is true, it’s still difficult to believe that the bulk of the money went to treat illnesses linked to tobacco use.
On the Fox News show “Special Report With Bret Baier,” Washington Free Beacon editor in chief Matthew Continetti said Tuesday that, of the $250 billion that will be paid by tobacco companies to states between 1998 and 2023, only 22 percent of the money will be used for treatment of tobacco-related illnesses or programs to help people quit smoking.
If that’s accurate, it would be shameful if the same thing happens to the money from any opioid settlement. There are thousands of Mississippians right now trying to overcome substance-abuse damage. Money from opioid manufacturers should be spent to help these people get clean and rebuild their lives.
Oklahoma, which won its lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, is a case in point. The state is in line to receive $270 million from settling its lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, but it has set aside most of that money to establish an addiction research center.
That’s an easy topic, and here’s the research: If too many people take too many addictive drugs, a significant number of them will become addicts. End of research. States ought to use settlement money for treatment.