The Public Health Value of Opioid Litigation

Published in: The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Volume 48, Issue 2, pages 279–292 (June 2020). doi: 10.1177/1073110520935340

Posted on RAND.org on July 31, 2020

by Rebecca Lee Haffajee

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Opioid litigation continues a growing public health litigation trend in which governments seek to hold companies responsible for population harms related to their products. The litigation can serve to address gaps in regulatory and legislative policymaking and in market self-regulation pervasive in the prescription opioid domain. Moreover, prior opioid settlements have satisfied civil tort litigation objectives of obtaining compensation for injured parties, deterring harmful behavior, and holding certain opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies accountable for their actions. In this way, opioid litigation represents progress over prior public health litigation campaigns involving tobacco, lead paint, and asbestos, which had more limited tort litigation effects. Although opioid litigation is not a comprehensive solution to the opioid crisis, it can complement other strategies and infuse much needed money, behavior changes, and public accountability for prescription opioid and related harms.

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