Make drug abuse crisis villains pay

More than 10 years ago, a representative for a drug distributor wrote of the opioid products his company was receiving, “Keep ’em comin’! Flyin’ out of here. It’s like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh, wait, people are…”

In reply, a sales representative for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals wrote, “Just like Doritos keep eating. We’ll make more.”

In fact, over a period of seven years, more than 853 million prescription pain pills were shipped into West Virginia, as we reported last weekend. The total for Ohio from 2006-12, was nearly 3.4 billion pills, according to the U.S.Drug Enforcement Agency.

Here in our area, more than 72 million pills went to the six Northern Panhandle counties, with another 62 million flooding the four East Ohio counties.

Many of those opioid painkillers went to drug addicts or, in some cases, created new ones. Some in the drug industry knew precisely what they were doing to earn big profits.

Statistics including those cited above were released through a lawsuit filed against more than 400 defendants — pharmacies, drug distributors, manufacturers and prescribers — in Ohio. Many other lawsuits have been filed in attempts to make those responsible for the pain pill epidemic pay. Some have been settled.

Defendants in such cases are accused of intentionally “turning a blind eye” to the plague they knew they were helping to unleash — failing to do anything to ensure opioid pills were not being misused in exchange for continuing profits from them.

More Americas die of drug overdoses each year than were killed during the entire Vietnam War. In 2017, the death toll was 70,237. West Virginia’s overdose death rate is the highest in the nation. Ohio’s is No. 2.

No amount of money will bring back the people killed by substance abuse. No cash settlement can repair all the damage done to families and communities. But should they be found liable for the beginnings of this epidemic, the companies at fault should be forced to pay the most the law will allow.

And where criminal culpability is found and proven, the guilty should be punished severely — as the greedy drug pushers they were.