Opioids were over-prescribed and their harms downplayed. Now 30-plus states want the makers and distributors to pay. (Pixabay)

As the costs of responding to the opioid epidemic rise, more states, cities, and counties are opting to sue “Big Pharma”—the large pharmaceutical companies—and the distributors that allowed pill mills to flourish in West Virginia and other places. At least 13 states had between 96 and 143 prescriptions for every 100 residents, and another 12 have between 82 and 95.

According to a Dec. 16, 2018, CBS 60 Minutes report, at least 30 states and almost 1,500 local communities have filed suit to recoup opioid-related costs. According to Mike Moore—the former Mississippi attorney general who successfully brokered the $250 billion tobacco settlement in 1999—thinks a victory could put Purdue Pharmaceuticals out of business due to the size of a jury award.

Assuming that an opioid settlement can be negotiated, how should it be spent? The obvious answer—to fund drug rehab for the many opioid addicts throughout the country and alternative pain treatments that don’t carry such a risk of addiction—is not mandatory. It wasn’t the case with tobacco.

With the tobacco settlement, not much of the money went specifically or directly to stopping smoking or treating people for the health consequences of smoking. Not that it had to. The states have been paying those costs from before the settlement, so this is considered reimbursement, not a grant.

Often the states just deposit the money in their coffers for whatever. UPI credits the American Lung Association for a claim that in past years, tobacco settlement funds in some states have actually gone to support tobacco farmers and producers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did recommend 14{b340406b661c1e5732b86e4172a84f651d0df9d8967334cfa4a3aae0d4c8bfbd} be spent on such programs, but it was not a requirement. According to a United Press International report, less than 3{b340406b661c1e5732b86e4172a84f651d0df9d8967334cfa4a3aae0d4c8bfbd} of the settlement funds received this year funded smoking cessation programs.

The states may go for a quick money grab again, and assume they problems with opioid addiction will resolve themselves without new dedicated funding, or believe that federal funds may be used for that purpose.