The best politicians are those who continue to surprise constituents by doing the unexpected. By that measure, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is one of the best.
Few would expect a Republican politician in a red state to attack big business. Yet that is what Hughes did on Monday. On the first day of the 2018 legislative session, Hughes declared war on opiate drugmakers. We’ll call it Hughes’ War.
Hughes said his eyes were opened to the epidemic’s tale of personal addiction and community decay after he spent time in the downtown Rio Grande area. “It was news to me … that you could stay well within the prescription of your doctor given you to manage pain, and you could find yourself physically addicted.”
Hughes is partly offended by the business of the opiate industry — the profit motive behind cruelly endangering so many lives. “I want the crush of liability to be felt across this country to the point where it doesn’t make business sense anymore.”
At a time when nearby headlines clamor that “special interests gave Utah lawmakers $9 of every $10 in campaign funds they raised,” it is refreshing to see a politician go up against companies that likely have larger lobbying budgets than most American families make in a year.
Of course Big Pharma is not solely responsible for the opioid crisis. But it played a large role, and it likely did so knowingly. One of the legal theories counties and states across the nation are relying on is the claim that pharmaceutical companies marketed OxyContin as a 12-hour relief solution, when they knew the pill would not last for 12 hours, thereby causing withdrawals and addiction.
Big Pharma should be held accountable if it is truly liable. As we argued previously, whether Big Pharma’s aggressive marketing tactics reach a level of criminal behavior or civil liability is for the courts to decide.
At Hughes’ urging, counties across the state have decided to sue. Hughes hoped to get the state on board as well, but Attorney General Sean Reyes has opted instead to first seek a global settlement as part of a multistate coalition that has started investigating the problem. They have not actually filed suit against any companies, but are seeking cooperation and hope to negotiate compensation for states and residents.
Hughes’ War is likely only the first indication that during his last session, Hughes will likely be known not as a lame duck, but, in his own words, as a “wounded wolf.”