It’s no secret that there’s a rift between the Utah Legislature and the Attorney General’s office. It started last year when Attorney General Sean Reyes refused to disclose a legal opinion the Legislature asked for.
The rift continues as Speaker Greg Hughes fights a war on Big Pharma for its responsibility for the opioid epidemic. Hughes has been very vocal about his wish that Reyes, as AG, would lead out on the litigation front, but Reyes has his own ideas about when to move forward.
The House, though, is ready now. Rep. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is sponsoring a resolution, HJR12, to encourage the AG to join the six counties in the state that have already announced plans to sue opioid manufacturers. Even though it is an $11 billion industry, Big Pharma has thus far been off the hook for the costs born by cities and states ravaged by addiction, crime and homelessness.
McKell said, “Our counties are leading out, but it should be our state.”
There’s a reason the Legislature has a “growing anxiety” about this issue. Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jennifer Dobner reported late last year, “On average, 24 Utahns died from prescription opioid overdose in each month of 2015, data from the Utah Department of Health show.” “From 2013 to 2015 — according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — those numbers left Utah ranked seventh nationally for overdose deaths.”
Reyes’ chief criminal deputy said that Reyes is “a prudent litigator,” and is therefore waiting to file suit. Reyes is currently part of a 41-state coalition investigating the issue. There isn’t much 41 legislators can constructively do together, much less 41 states.
The AG is proud of his role in the DEA360 program, which is a Utah-specific federal program that will help pay for increased law enforcement, education and partnerships with doctors to prescribe fewer opioids. Reyes is acutely focused on “the cartel leaders who are profiting off of blood money.”
Drug dealers aren’t going away. But decrease the profit for opioid manufacturers and you’ll decrease the supply.
Interestingly, McKell is also the sponsor of a bill the House passed last week that would criminalize assisted suicide. House Bill 86 would amend the state’s homicide statute to include assisted suicide as a second-degree felony.
A trusted doctor or merciful family member can’t legally help a terminally ill person choose to die, but, if something isn’t done soon, Big Pharma is free to keep the pills coming.