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Is it time to broaden responsibility for the opioid crisis?

Opioid addiction is the newest drug crisis in America. Arkansas is not immune. According to one expert from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, we are in the midst of an epidemic of overuse, abuse and death tracing to opioids. This past summer, that educator told state lawmakers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the death toll in the state from opioid poisoning in 2013 at about 3.6 per 100,000. Overall, Arkansas ranks in the middle of all the states for numbers of prescription opioid overdoses.

No wonder the alarm bells are sounding. Unfortunately, policymakers are still at a loss as to how to best respond in a positive way. In the meantime, the first line of defense rests with the criminal justice system and that has resulted in a steady rise in prescription drug crime charges.

No one is arguing that if the law is broken that those responsible should not be held accountable. However, when addiction is a factor it seems fair to ask whether the circle of responsibility doesn't deserve to be widened somewhat. If manufacturers of these drugs have misrepresented the potential dangers of using their products and that contributed to the problem, shouldn't they be held accountable in some way?

That seems to be the question posed recently by comedian John Oliver. In a recent episode of his weekly HBO show, Oliver offered a funny but well-documented segment suggesting that the maker of OxyContin downplayed the highly addictive nature of its product in its initial marketing, relying on questionable statistics. He said it seems the company's purpose was to convince overworked primary care doctors that the drug was safe. Prescriptions soared starting in about 2000.

Oliver also suggested that sales representatives for some opioid manufacturers have used deceptive language to get insurance coverage approved and expand the use of their products beyond conditions for which they had been approved.

Prosecutions of companies aren't likely to happen any time soon. Individuals will continue to be the main targets for authorities in Arkansas and elsewhere. For effective rights protection, anyone charged with prescription drug offenses should seek the help of skilled, diligent legal counsel.

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