BATON ROUGE — The executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) was pleased to see the state's governor and attorney general finally come to an agreement on how to handle a dozen pharmaceutical company lawsuits related to the state's opioid epidemic.
“Too many Louisianans have been directly impacted by drug abuse and addiction, and it’s important that our leaders are pursuing legitimate solutions," Melissa Landry, LLAW executive director, recently told the Louisiana Record.
On Feb. 20, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry announced that they would work together in handling the lawsuits in hopes that their combined efforts would produce the best results in holding the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the state's opioid epidemic.
The settlement was reached after a public power struggle between the two state officials from opposing political parties was scheduled to be resolved in court.
The public arguments began when the governor, a Democrat, filed lawsuits through the Louisiana Health Department in September 2017 against pharmaceutical companies seeking damages for Medicaid payments that the state made regarding prescription drug abuse and treatment.
The Louisiana Department of Health lawsuits claim that the pharmaceutical companies are to blame for the raging opioid addictions, alleging that the companies marketed opiates as non-addictive. The suits claim that by fraudulently leading people to believe that opioids were not addictive, the companies are responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths.
Landry, a Republican, agreed that something should be done about opioid abuse, but wanted to include more of the state’s agencies in the process and said that the governor didn’t have the authority to file the lawsuits.
Under the newly reached agreement, the lawsuits will now be broadened to include more of the state’s agencies as plaintiffs.
The non-profit Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch is keeping a close eye on the lawsuits to make sure lawyers aren't the only winners in the litigation.
“Regardless of who is in charge, the litigation being brought by the state must serve the public interest, and not merely the profit-seeking interests of the trial lawyers involved," Melissa Landry said.
Louisiana has more prescriptions for opioids than it has residents, with 110 prescriptions to every 100 residents, according to the governor's website. Hundreds of deaths are attributed to opioid abuse, and the situation has grown into an epidemic with no signs of improving without intervention.
While suing the pharmaceutical companies could be a reasonable remedy for the damage caused by the epidemic, Melissa Landry said it must be done carefully.
“The only way to do this is by limiting legal fees, and ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the process," she said.
“Thus far, it appears the state is on the right path, but LLAW will continue to monitor these cases closely and we urge media watchdogs to do the same ... because any resolution to this litigation that doesn’t truly help those who are suffering would be unconscionable. “