Legislator introduces resolution to hold pharma companies responsible


    State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, has introduced a resolution that would urge the governor and attorney general to initiate a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies responsible for causing the opioid epidemic.


    Caltagirone said the aim of H.R. 943 is to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable, close the floodgates of new addicts pouring into our prison and health care systems, and recover the costs of addiction treatment.


    “Despite being aware that prolonged use of opioids can lead to addiction, certain pharmaceutical companies chose to put profits before patients,” Caltagirone said. “Marketing efforts by these companies — and not any medical breakthrough — rationalized prescribing opioids for chronic pain and reversed the medical community’s understanding of the dangers of widespread opioid use.


    “Some companies’ sales pitches included claims that the risk of addiction was less than 1 percent, despite several studies to the contrary from as early as 1992. These tactics were effective,” he said.


    According to the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. sales of prescription opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, even as the resulting prescription-related opioid deaths followed the same trend.


    “To this day, certain pharmaceutical companies are engaged in fraud, conspiracy and negligence in the development and marketing of these drugs. These tactics have resulted in billions of dollars in pharma profits, to the tune of $8 billion in 2012 and projected profits of $15.3 billion in 2016,” Caltagirone said.


    “As companies make billions, Pennsylvania pays the price. Our state is in the midst of an opioid and heroin epidemic, causing thousands of overdose deaths and eviscerating communities and families.”


    Recent data show more than 10 million prescriptions for opioid medications were filled by Pennsylvania residents in 2015. The Drug Enforcement Agency said at least 2,497 Pennsylvanians died from overdoses in 2014. Overall, the opioid epidemic has cost the Commonwealth an estimated $874 million in health care costs, with an additional investment of $34 million slated to create more treatment centers.


    Caltagirone said that H.R. 943 seeks to remedy this injustice.


    “States have historically filed lawsuits against industries that engage in illegal business practices, like the tobacco industry in the 1990s, in order to protect their citizens and recover costs of treatment. This resolution would likewise direct any funds recovered to a reserved account to be used to fund drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.


    “If we succeed we can stop this epidemic, save lives, and limit the financial burden facing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its citizens,” he said.


    The resolution has been referred to the House Health Committee.