A disgraced doctor is on his way to prison for his role in America’s opioid crisis as the largest trial dealing with the crisis unfolds.
The United States has been grappling with what has come to be known as an “Opioid Epidemic,” with hundreds of people dying every day due to opiate-related overdoses. The tragic circumstances have caused the Trump administration to issue calls for the death penalty to be used against drug dealers. The U.S. government, the medical establishment, and the judicial system are each formulating a strategy for how to deal with the crisis.
Amidst this chaotic scene, some doctors are beginning to receive punishment for contributing to the deaths of drug-addicted individuals. Earlier this month, a Rhode Island doctor was sentenced to more than four years in prison after he confessed to taking bribes from Insys Therapeautics, producer of Subsys, a powerful fentanyl-based cancer spray. U.S. District Judge John McConnell in Providence, Rhode Island, punished Jerrold Rosenberg for falsely diagnosing patients with cancer in order to get insurance approval for prescribing Subsys. Reuters reported that between 2012 and 2015 Rosenberg was paid $188,000 by Insys in the form of speaking fees. In addition to jail time, Rosenberg is ordered to pay $754,736 in restitution to victims. Rosenberg is not alone in facing prosecution for his role. Reuters reports that “federal prosecutors in Boston have accused seven former executives and managers at Insys, including billionaire founder John Kapoor, of participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys and to defraud insurers into paying for it.”
There will likely be more indictments and sentences for those involved in the legal drug industry. Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio has recently been tasked with resolving more than 400 federal lawsuits filed by cities, counties, and Native tribes against manufacturers of the opioids, the distributors, and the pharmacies which sell the drugs. These companies include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, Walgreens and CVS health. Judge Polster is now dealing with the cases under a process known as multidistrict litigation, or MDL. The NY Timesreports that Polster has ordered the lawyers to prepare of a settlement, but emphasized that he did want to be “just moving money around.” The judge stated that he wants to provide meaningful solutions for the opioid crisis.
Interestingly, Forbes reported that Judge Polster “warned everybody involved to ‘maintain strict confidentiality’ about settlement discussions. Attorneys can confirm they’ve met, Polster said, ‘but nobody is to disclose to the media or any other outside party the contents of the discussions, or to provide the media assessments or commentary regarding those discussions.’” Why exactly Polster believes these companies deserve secrecy regarding the settlement remains to be seen; however, it will likely spur fears that the judge is protecting the opioid industry.
Further, if the judge actually wants to provide meaningful solutions then his courtroom should be willing to address the role of U.S. foreign policy in increasing opium production, specifically in Afghanistan. As far back as 2015, rumors have persisted involving the CIA and the poppy fields of Afghanistan. To make matters worse, the U.S continues the failed policies of the Drug War by targeting plants like kratom, which have been shown to helpful for opiate addicts. Until these underlying issues are addressed financial settlements and even prison sentences will not put an end to America’s growing opioid crisis.