Sanders Introduces Legislation to Hold Opioid Makers Accountable

WASHINGTON, April 17 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Tuesday to hold drug companies accountable for the extraordinary harm they have caused by fueling the opioid crisis.

Sanders’ bill, the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act of 2018, prohibits illegal marketing and distribution of opioids, creates criminal liability for top company executives, penalizes drug manufacturers who illegally advertise, market or distribute an opioid product and requires drug makers to reimburse the country for the negative economic impact of their products – an amount that the CDC estimates to cost more than $78 billion each year.

“We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured. They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients. Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year,” Sanders said. “At a time when local, state and federal governments are spending many billions of dollars a year dealing with the impact of the opioid epidemic, we must hold the pharmaceutical companies and executives that created the crisis accountable.”

At least 63,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016 alone – more than the number of Americans killed in the entire Vietnam War – and the epidemic is projected to kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade. For years, big drug companies have failed to warn doctors and patients about the dangers of opioids and have made billions in profits by pumping their products into the health care marketplace using highly aggressive advertising schemes without adequate warnings.

Sanders’ bill bans any form of direct-to-consumer marketing of an opioid that falsely suggests that the product has no addiction-forming or addiction-sustaining qualities or risks. Any company found in violation would be fined 25 percent of the profits from their opioid products. Drug manufacturers who illegally advertise, market or distribute an opioid product would also be stripped of any remaining period of market exclusivity for that opioid product, and would lose half of the remaining exclusivity period on other opioid products they have on the market.

The legislation would also fine any company found liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic $7.8 billion – 10 percent of the annual cost of the opioid crisis.

Aside from small settlements received by individual states, no drug companies have so far been held fully accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. In 2007, Purdue Pharma – the maker of OxyContin – pled guilty and agreed to pay more than $600 million in fines for misleading the public about the risks of the drug. But the company still made $22 billion off of the drug in the past decade. 

Additionally, the bill prevents companies from supplying a state or community with an unreasonable number of opioids. Over the past decade, the Drug Enforcement Administration has brought a dozen civil suits against drug distributors for flooding small towns with opioid pills. In West Virginia, for example, one wholesaler delivered nearly 100 million doses of opiates over a five-year period to West Virginia – a state with a population of only 1.8 million.

Organizations endorsing the legislation include Public Citizen, CREDO, American Medical Student Association (AMSA), National Collaborative for Health Equity and Prescription Justice.

Click here to read a summary of the bill. 

Click here to read the text of the bill.

Contact: Josh_Miller-Lewis@sanders.senate.gov