Isn’t Suing Drug Companies Over Opioid Addiction a Bit Like Blaming McDonald’s for Making You Fat?

The opioid epidemic is very real, and very ugly, both here in North Dakota and nationally. But does a lawsuit looking to hold the pharmaceutical industry responsible for drug addiction make sense?

This from the Bismarck Tribune:

Three Native American tribes from the Dakotas filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against major opioid manufacturers and distributors, seeking monetary damages for an epidemic that has had devastating impacts for tribal members.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate filed suit in U.S. District Court in South Dakota against 24 opioid industry defendants.

The tribes are represented by former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon and former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson who now lead the American Indian Law and Policy Group for national firm Robins Kaplan.

“The prescription opioid crisis has hit Indian Country hard,” said Purdon, adding Monday he is “hopeful” that other North Dakota tribes also will file suit.

It’s understandable that Native American communities would be particularly upset over this issue. Per the article, the CDC says non-medical use of opioids in twice as prevalent among Native Americans as among whites.

But regardless of the race of those taking the drugs, are the drug companies themselves responsible for the abuse of their products?

Is McDonald’s to blame if you eat too many cheeseburgers? Is Smith & Wesson responsible if you rob a bank using one of their guns? Is Budweiser on the hook if you drive drunk?

To be fair, this lawsuit filed on behalf of the tribes does allege some serious wrongs perpetrated by the drug makers.

“The 100-page complaint accuses the opioid industry defendants of fraudulently concealing and minimizing the addiction risk of prescription opioids,” the Bismarck Tribune reports. “It also alleges the defendants failed to comply with federal prescription drug laws intended to prevent diversion of opioids and prevent their abuse.”

If those things are true the drug makers should be held responsible for them, because they’re tantamount to these companies facilitating the use of the illicit use of their products.

But even if they are true, it’s not like the drug companies are shoving pills down people’s throats.

Taking drugs is still an individual choice. I know that’s an unpopular sentiment to some, but every drinking bender or drug binge starts with a sober decision made by an individual.

Supply follows demand. Where there is demand for a thing, there will be supply. We should know that by now after generations worth of failed government policy aimed at controlling and/or prohibiting alcohol and drugs. The best policy is not to attack supply, which is a fool’s errand, but rather to address demand.

We’d all be better off addressing why people want illicit access to drugs than pursuing prohibition policies and suing drug companies, though that’s a less lucrative path for lawyers and bureaucrats.

Rob Port is the editor of, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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